Saturday, November 30, 2013

Distant Thunder

"We have just received a document which has been given to the world under the title of a ‘Statement of Certain Scottish Grievances’…  The two most important heads of complaint are, that a revenue of £5,764,804, raised in Scotland, is transmitted to England and disbursed for Imperial purposes, and that the representation of Scotland is unfairly small as compared with that of England…  We would venture to suggest to the consideration of our Scotch friends the following two points:–  1.  Does Scotland contribute more than her fair share of the public revenue?  2.  Is the revenue disbursed in the wisest way for the general advantage of all portions of the empire?  If this be not so, no doubt it is the duty of every member – be he Scotch, English, or Irish – to raise the question in Parliament.  So, again, with regard to Parliamentary representation – the Scotch are dissatisfied with the present arrangement.  We share their dissatisfaction.  We are of opinion that the representation on this side of the Tweed is in an unsound condition, and it is our full intention to endeavour, by constitutional means, to get the inequalities redressed.  But does this constitute a reason for threatening to resolve ourselves once more into the kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, and what not?...  A politician who recommended such a course for the adoption of a minority would be justly deemed a fit subject for Bedlam; and yet, here we find a number of our Scotch friends – who are old enough to know better – affixing their signatures to a parcel of trash about Bannockburn and sticks of sulphur of which a schoolboy in his calmer moments might feel ashamed."

It’s an editorial from The Times (a London newspaper).  It could have been written yesterday.  Or even tomorrow.  It’s actually from the issue dated 7th July 1853.

Here’s another item from that newspaper, this time reporting a Commons debate on Irish Home Rule, held on 2nd July 1874.  J.A. Roebuck was first elected to Parliament for Bath, in 1832, when he was among the most radical of the radicals, even leading the campaign in 1834 to free the Tolpuddle Martyrs.  By 1874, now representing Sheffield, he was among the most reactionary of the reactionaries:

“Mr Roebuck said he wanted before he left the House to express his opinions upon this great question…  He had to ask himself whether this proposition to give a limited Parliament to Ireland was for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom.  The arguments that had been used in support of this motion were arguments which, if carried to their natural and logical conclusion, would call back the kingdom of Wessex and re-establish the Heptarchy.  That was the real effect of the arguments of hon. gentlemen who had talked about Nationality... he called upon hon. gentlemen who represented Ireland to desist from talking about a fantastic Irish Nationality and calmly to consider this question in the large and generous spirit in which he wished to address himself to it.”

The point common to Roebuck and the editor of The Times is that constitutional change produces a domino effect.  Before you start, it helps to know where you’ll end up.  The Irish Home Rule debates inspired the first faint movements for Home Rule in Scotland and Wales.  It was the breakthroughs by Scottish and Welsh nationalists in the 1960s and 1970s that inspired our own founding.  Suppose England does become an independent state, shorn of its Celtic dependencies.  What sort of England should it be?  A mini-UK, continually sucking power, wealth and talent to London?  Or an England with strong regional institutions to hold that trend in check?

The frequent response from those in England is that events among our neighbours have no effect upon us.  It’s all put down to being part of the English character, which it is, but only in the sense that the English seem to have given up on politics in the belief that in our top-down society we have no ability to change anything.  (We don’t, which is why we need to build our own.)  A history of our future might reveal that our surroundings mattered quite a lot.  Joining the EU has been hugely beneficial in exposing English thought to ideas previously judged unsound by the London regime, ideas like popular sovereignty and subsidiarity.  That the EU itself does little to honour these ideas is not the point; the point is that our own thoughts now have other tracks to follow than those laid down by ever-suspicious Normans and Tudors.  Devolution, or even independence, will go on surprising us too.  Without leaving our own island, we can go and see things being done differently, then come home and ask ourselves why we can’t equally be constructing a new society.

One recurrent theme in politics is the divide between the revolutionaries and the gradualists, between those who believe that nothing will change until everything changes and those who believe that concessions can be wrung, and wrung to the point where a real transformation is clearly visible.  In one sense, it’s a false distinction, since only a movement that has gradually built itself up is in a position to launch revolutionary change.  The real distinction is perhaps between those who push on to the goal and those who pause half way.  Always bearing in mind, of course, that the goal itself may be changing over time as the context for your community’s life also changes.

Reading the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence, it’s not hard to see it as a claim that, while everything is capable of changing, nothing will actually change very much.  Many more decisions will be made in Scotland, but a host of cross-border arrangements will remain in place.  Scots will still be able to watch EastEnders and Doctor Who.  Independence will deliver all of the positives that are claimed for it, while the cross-border arrangements will mitigate all of the negatives to the point that no-one will think them worth noticing.  It all sounds so reasonable that you wonder why it hasn’t happened already.

It very well might be as reasonable as it sounds, a simplification of our constitutional architecture that will benefit both sides of the border.  A long-overdue unbundling that will turn the anomaly that is Scotland within the Union into one part of a grown-up family of nations with enduring social ties.  No-one outside the far Right will argue today that the Republic of Ireland should re-join the UK.  One reason for that is not its treasured independence but the continued diluting of it where this makes sense: all those cross-border arrangements that allow life to go on without unnecessary hassle.  Some are quite unexpected: the Department for Transport in London remains partly responsible for lighthouses around the whole of Ireland, 91 years after the south left the UK.  Attempts to alter this following the Good Friday Agreement have been abandoned; the legal complexities are just too great.  Transitional arrangements for Scottish independence may be equally complex, and equally not as transitional as they first appear.

Independence then is NOT the final step if what you seek is total separation.  But why would you seek that extreme solution, if you can make your own decisions as a sovereign entity but still be on good terms with the neighbours?  It’s not just a question for the Scots.  It’s a question for us too.  It’s a question for those who say that England can’t be regionalised, nor can local self-government be constitutionally guaranteed, because the fruits of sovereignty are indivisible.  It’s centralism or nothing; London power or nationalist revolution.  Only if you insist.

In 1956, the party that we (among others) can claim as our predecessor, Common Wealth, published Our Three Nations jointly with Plaid Cymru and the SNP.  Besides names familiar to WR members, like John Banks and Douglas Stuckey, the authors included names familiar on a wider stage such as Gwynfor Evans and Robert McIntyre.  (Despite the title, O3N is one of the first books to acknowledge the possibility of autonomy for Cornwall, as well as for the English regions.)  We can hardly fail to wish Scotland luck as it first debates, then judges how much autonomy it currently requires.

The Victorians were often a far-sighted lot.  They recognised that the dispersal of decision-making would alter the character of these islands irrevocably.  They were right to predict that, but quite wrong to fear it.  The post-imperial era will only truly begin when power returns to where the story began.  When it returns to Wessex.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Receiving The Water Bill

DEFRA – to some cynics the Department for Eliminating Farming and Rural Activity – is piloting a Bill through the Westminster Parliament to change how the water and sewerage industry is regulated.

It tells us that “privatisation of the water industry has been successful in attracting over £116 billion of investment… Without this investment, water companies would need to collect all of the money needed to upgrade the infrastructure from their customers, which would make bills around a third higher than they currently are.  Water companies would also have to collect money from customers in the year that they spend it on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, which would make bills more volatile from year to year.  The Government places a high priority on ensuring that the water sector continues to remain attractive to investors…  We need to encourage greater innovation and efficiencies alongside this investment, and to deliver it without undermining the reputation for stable regulation which attracts investors to the sector.”

What utter rubbish!  What economic illiteracy!  Ever wondered how Victorian councils funded all those mighty civil engineering works?  You know the ones – the reservoirs, the aqueducts and the pipelines – that bring water from the hills to the cities, and which now grease the sovereign wealth funds of assorted dictatorships.  They didn’t do it by putting the whole cost onto one year’s rates bill.  They did it through access to capital markets, just as the water companies do now.  They issued bonds secured on the rates for however many years ahead were needed to pay off the debt.  After that, the profits were their own, though some deliberately didn’t think in terms of maximising profits: cheap, clean water was deemed its own justification.  That was in the days when pluralism ruled, the days before totalitarian liberalism intervened to order that every alternative to naked market forces must be shut down.  Except for those clothed in a highly lucrative and stable regulatory regime.

So today it seems the key question is no longer what needs to be done to maximise community benefit.  The key question is how investors can be attracted by having the scent of helpless consumers’ money waved before their nostrils by a succession of tarts posing as governments.  Attracted indeed to take part in what has been aptly termed ‘the tollbooth economy’, one in which the essentials of life are parcelled out among private monopolies.  It’s one where investors are no longer willing to lend to public authorities for a fixed return if instead they can have their own direct slice of the action, and have the poodle politicians to deliver it to them.

Wessex has ten main water suppliers, which are, from the Tamar eastwards, as follows:

·        South West Water (based in Exeter) – once publicly owned, now part of Pennon Group plc
·        Wessex Water (Bath) – once publicly owned, now part of the Malaysian group YTL
·        Bristol Water (Bristol) – always privately owned, currently owned by Capstone Infrastructure (a Canadian investment trust), the Catalan group Agbar (itself partly French-owned) and the Japanese group Itochu
·        Severn Trent Water (Coventry) – once publicly owned, now a public limited company
·        Thames Water (Reading) – once publicly owned, now owned by the Australian-based consortium Kemble Water (some of the shares in which are owned by the governments of Abu Dhabi and China)
·        Sembcorp Bournemouth Water (Bournemouth) – always privately owned, currently part of the Singaporean group Sembcorp
·        Cholderton & District Water (Cholderton) – always privately owned by the Stephens family as part of the Cholderton Estate
·        Southern Water (Worthing) – once publicly owned, now owned by the investor and pension fund consortium Greensands Investments
·        Portsmouth Water (Havant) – always privately owned, now a private limited company
·        South East Water (Snodland) – always privately owned, currently owned by Australian and Canadian investment funds

Why is there more private ownership than there ever used to be, and why is water now such an attractive and secure investment, especially for foreign investors?  Because we have a gutless State that expects our loyalty yet will not exercise its duty to provide and protect the framework of community life.  Its duty now is to the owners of capital and no-one else.  Concerns about financial engineering at the heart of the water industry go unheeded.

This should come as no surprise, given that the British State is irrevocably captured by the City of London.  Every aspect of potential policy is judged by whether or not the City benefits.  The City’s trade is no longer in facts but in fictions.  Without laws and the power of force to compel obedience to them, its wealth, and therefore the standing of the whole British economy, is as fleeting as the blips on its computer screens.  One reason why we as a party support deep cuts in the military budget is because we fear that the military today have no real role in the defence of the realm but exist mainly to enforce the City’s writ at home and abroad.  Third World regimes that seek to repossess their common wealth for the benefit of their own folk will not be tolerated.  (Think Suez.  Think Mossadegh.)  It can’t be allowed, not least because that sort of thing might even encourage us to do the same.

There are some superficially good bits to the Water Bill that will increase the supply to Wessex with minimal effort.  It will make it easier for those with private water supplies – farmers and industrialists – to feed the surplus into the public supply.  It will also make it easier for water companies to trade bulk supplies across their boundaries.  Not exactly a national water grid – which isn’t really practical – but a poor man’s version perhaps.  It’s not the solution because it’s not addressing the real problem.  We’ve noted before that Wessex is running out of water, for domestic and for industrial consumption.  The chalklands are being sucked dry and that’s because nothing must stand in the way of London overspill housing.  That’s the real problem we aren’t allowed to mention.

These measures at the margins aren’t going to transform the industry because they won’t alter the fact that the distribution network is a natural monopoly.  No competitor is going to lay a whole new set of water mains.  As with electricity, gas, telecommunications and railways, somebody owns and operates the network while being forced by the regulator to allow others access to it for a fee.  Those others can be little more than trading and billing operations, with a foreign call centre attached.  They don’t actually get their hands dirty at all.

So if there’s no real competition in the provision of real services, what’s the benefit to the consumer?  There isn’t one: it’s a tollbooth economy.  Indeed, in the water industry there is what is called the ‘special merger regime’, which means that even if a merger offers clear cost advantages to the consumer it might still not be allowed, if the number of companies would fall below that needed for comparison purposes if the regulator is to have any idea of what is really going on.

Public provision would be cheaper, if only the democratic sector would allow itself to have access to capital.  To do that requires a model of State action that is now all but illegal under international law.  The laws are made by the glove puppets of private capital, with or without public consent.  In politics, you can have any colour, it seems, as long as it’s blue.  The ongoing theft of public assets is legal; the repossession of private ones therefore requires first a revolution of the mind.

So the answer is?  Solidarity.  Among decentralists.  It isn’t to fight private centralism with public centralism on the Soviet or Labour model.  It isn’t to sneer at nationalists in Scotland or Catalonia for not seeing the ‘big picture’ and to predict their imminent demise at the hands of global finance.  It’s to recognise how they fit into the big picture, like every other bit of the jigsaw of resistance.  It’s to support local and regional initiatives wherever they may be, and never to lift a finger in defence of the property claims of private corporations.  (They’ve had their chance and they’ve abused it shamelessly.)  It’s to demand not the dissolution of the EU for the benefit of the liberal imperialist nation-states but its transformation into a true Europe of the regions, where subsidiarity really does what it says on the tin.  There’s no shortage of solutions, and never has been, only a shortage of mainstream politicians willing to argue for them.

Scotland and Wales, along with the Crown Dependencies, are part of the seedbank of alternative economic models.  Some better than others, no doubt, but all different from the One Solution imposed throughout the English regions whether we like it or not.

Welsh Water, though initially privatised along with the rest, is now owned by a not-for-profit company.  Scottish Water has never been privatised, despite Gordon Brown’s attempts to put it on the sales list to fund his spending habit.  Scotland’s independence White Paper issues a call for Royal Mail in Scotland to be returned to public ownership.  Scotland’s canals have never left, while those in England & Wales now have.  The Coalition plans to privatise English Heritage, judging conservation to be no part of the core functions of government.  Alex Salmond and his colleagues could hardly be clearer that they won’t be following suit: This Government does not measure the worth of culture and heritage solely in money – we value culture and heritage precisely because they embody our heart and soul, and our essence."  It’s a different world.  Everything in England that ought to be cherished is regarded instead as a resource to be exploited, preferably by foreign capital; England itself is viewed as nothing more than a base for economic and military aggression.

Why the difference?  It comes down to the fact that in the Celtic fringe the home State and the community are viewed as complementary, not as sworn enemies.  In Scotland’s governance, the contribution of civil society is welcomed as that of a critical friend.  In England’s governance, the contribution of civil society is welcomed as that of an abused domestic servant, carrying the burden of ‘the Big Society’ while the toffs trouser the cash that is meant to pay for the services our government used to provide.

The problem is that it isn’t ‘our’ government and never has been.  The mixed economy and the welfare state were a fleeting illusion in England because England isn’t English.  England is Norman.  Scotland’s constitutional bedrock is the sovereignty of the people.  England’s is that the Crown in Parliament can do no wrong.  It can be held to account only in accordance with concessions it has chosen to make.  Magna Carta doesn’t apply in Scotland because it was never needed there.  It is applauded in England only because the English are the most conquered subjects of all.

Hope lies in the regions, not in London.  The political and economic elites that govern the UK from London are completely interchangeable through the revolving door of jobs and directorships.  That system cannot be taken over.  Labour tried, and failed so miserably that it was Labour that was captured instead.  Increasingly, those in Scotland and Wales now recognise that.  We need to follow them into making our own decisions.  To be English, rather than simply Anglo-Norman, is not to dream of occupying the citadels of power but to deny them the legitimacy they crave.  It is to build the regional alternative, to link up with the technicians and the administrators, with those who are sick of the bankers and the lawyers, with all those who can envisage a better way.

Before nationalisation, the electricity industry included companies with some rather interesting names: the Cornwall Electric Power Company, the East Anglian Electric Supply Company and the Wessex Electricity Company.  In water, there was the Wessex Water Board, later subsumed into the Wessex Water Authority.  In telecommunications, Post Office Telephones had a South-Western Region that stretched as far east as Southampton.  In radio and television, the BBC’s West Region once did the same.  And we once had Wessex Trains.  Wessex has had so many opportunities to get it right, to form a joined-up, self-reliant region within a free England and a co-operative Europe at peace with itself and the world.  So many opportunities.  And every one of them thrown away to take up again the London yoke.  The message needs to be hammered home again and again: if you can’t join them (and you can’t, without betraying all around you), then beat them.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Write Lines

Although politicians from the London parties routinely associate the words ‘education’ and ‘choice’, the thing most striking about their policies is that they offer the electorate no choice at all.  Would you guess, from following the roll-out of academies and free schools, the constant undermining of local democratic choice, which party was in power?  The transition from Labourtory to Torylabour is seamless.

(Note, however, that despite this unanimity there are no academies or free schools in Wales, where education policy is devolved.  Welsh Labour and UK Labour are increasingly different parties.  The choices offered therefore are not determined by what the party is called but by the milieu in which it operates, in Labour’s case by whether it has a nationalist rival to keep it true to its roots.  An interesting lesson for Wessex!)

The parties are equally united in their enthusiasm for more taxpayer-funded faith schools, notwithstanding the recent scandal in Mercia that was absolutely predictable and irrespective of whether it is the faith element that is actually key to standards.  On Michael Gove’s watch, a deal with the Church of England will allow it to incorporate former community schools with no religious character into its Diocesan Academy Chains, with bishops having the power to appoint governors.  The non-religious choice is being squeezed out as provision is outsourced.  In our rural areas, where the CofE dominates primary provision, choice doesn’t exist and never has.

Does the faux-Maoist mantra of constant revolution in the classroom and the abdication of any common responsibility chime with public opinion any more than the similar churning of the NHS?  No, it doesn’t.  According to a YouGov poll recently, only a third of the adult population approves of State funding for faith schools; nearly half actively disapproves.  Meanwhile, free schools are being desperately flogged.  Planning rules have been ripped up, to allow children to be herded into redundant cinemas, factories and prisons, with local communities barred from commenting on anything besides noise and traffic.  All because local communities, through their councils, might otherwise sabotage the Coalition’s flagship policy.  So if free schools can’t pass the local democracy test, let’s not have local democracy.

Here’s a radical decentralist alternative.  One, abolish Gove’s job, along with his entire department.  Two, devolve all schools spending to councils.  Three, let them make every decision that cannot be made at the level of the school itself.  Decisions such as planning and building new schools in line with population changes, schools they are currently banned from initiating, as totalitarian liberalism insists they be.  Or making provision for area-wide services, such as educational psychology, the music service and, where cost-effective, school meals and transport.  Heads should be able to find better things to do than waste their time juggling budgets for outside contractors.  Four, tell the evangelical bishops and the misogynist imams to fund their own hobbies henceforth unless they can fairly win control of their council first.  Five, scrap academies, free schools and all other experiments in segregationist child abuse and reinstate community-accountable education.  Six, for a proper level playing field, give all schools the same freedoms that these cotton-wooled cuckoos enjoy.  And above all, seven, remind voters that the way to get rid of a bad Labour council with destructive education policies isn’t to transfer all its powers to a bad Tory minister in London.  It’s to vote for real change.

It was always predicted that centralisation would prove too unwieldy to work and last week, with half of all secondary schools now rebranded as academies, Gove had to fess up.  The idea of running tens of thousands of schools directly from Whitehall has been abandoned.  It will be replaced by eight regional bodies, to be known as ‘Headteacher Boards’ (HTBs).  What’s the betting that there’ll be a ‘South West’ and a ‘South East’?  And what happens to the viability of each HTB if the density of academies / free schools versus traditional arrangements varies from region to region according to what’s popular locally?  You know, that choice thing.

Two black marks for the price of one.  Not just an unaccountable, self-regulating firewall of a bureaucracy to save the Education Secretary’s skin when the wheels finally come off the three-party liberal bandwagon.  Worse than that.  One that is neither central nor local but, yes, regional.  How off-message can you be?  Why, even readers of the Torygraph are bemused by the ramifications.  What does the future now hold for Gove?  Detention, or expulsion?  We know what report we’d like to write.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

British Balderdash Conspiracy

One reason why our publicity is largely channelled through this blog is that London hacks simply can’t be trusted to tell the unvarnished truth.  Wessex is a really straightforward idea with which they really struggle.

At the start of this month we gave an interview to the BBC.  Their researcher – who is actually from Wessex – was tasked with writing a piece on movements for regional independence in England.  You can read the result here.

Now, when a journalist is handed a brief that already contains all the answers, and just wants a few quotes to fit, giving interviews is something of a lottery.  You can say what you like, stress what you like, but words will be omitted to change the sense and other stuff will go in over which you have no control.  Journalism isn’t exactly a very forensic profession.  If you think it qualifies as a profession in the first place.

So even if you make clear, as we always do, that we aren’t seeking independence from England, that is how we are made to be.  Even if the answer to the question of where Wessex is on the map is to define its scope and point to its eight shires, the article reverts to the stereotype and it becomes Greater Dorset.  Wessex is more colourful than ‘The South West’ and ‘The South East’.  That’s our view, long-established and with good cause.  It isn’t more colourful than England and we wouldn’t claim that it is (only that it’s the finest part of England, in our unbiased opinion).

Three cheers then for Tim Berners-Lee!!!  For liberating the truth from journalists and allowing the oppressed to type it for themselves.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Some Folk With Attitude

The folk of Wessex think of themselves as free, but are slaves to their own poor self-esteem, forever doubting their capacity for self-rule.  Nine hundred years after the brutal conquest of their land, they have so little pride left in them that they cheerfully reject at every election the escape route offered by regionalism, preferring to submit yet again to five more years of the London yoke.  Even a devolved assembly as limited as those of Scotland or Wales would give them some little voice, which could not be completely ignored when their fate is to be determined.  You can be sure the voices of London’s Mayor and Lord Mayor are both heard loud, clear and shrill, so why should ours stay silent?

Yet there remain also those who would stir the indifference of the majority to reconsider whether they could not in fact do better than this.  We stand in the midst of that agony of reappraisal that is British politics today, that realisation that the common wealth has been squandered for nothing but shiny baubles, the realisation that the bonds of serfdom are being re-imposed, literally through choice, because too many believed all that was too good to ever be true.  We stand in the midst of that agony, but we are not part of it.  We saw it coming decades ago.  We warned.  We were ignored.  So if we will be listened to now, we can speak with the cool certainty of conviction.

Politics in England needs to be transformed, with parishes, shires and regions, each tier in turn, as the territory widens, possessing a diminishing share of the responsibility (not power) of government.  Economics, here as everywhere, needs to be transformed, with democratic debate revolving around the benefit to the community of any investment, not its profitability for others.  Culture in Wessex needs to be transformed, turning a despised provincial existence into the golden thread linking a self-confident community to its past and future.  We aren’t looking for protest votes.  We’d rather have the support of those who believe that radical constitutional change is no longer an option but a necessity.

These are revolutionary ideas, with dangerous implications for vested interests.  There will be no place for the legal, financial or media sectors as we know them.  The clear writ of popular power will slice through them all.  Well-paid, parasitical jobs in London will need to be destroyed in their tens of thousands.  We may or may not believe in the class war.  The London regime certainly does, and acts accordingly.  For them, this is a struggle of the possessors and manipulators against the dispossessed and disinherited.  They are few, but they are united in their arrogance, greed and spite.  Are we united against them?  How many councillors or candidates will stand up and say these things that need to be said?

Ought these things to come to pass?  Yes.  Will they?  To say ‘yes’ to that question too is the first step in the process of attitude formation.  Old regimes do collapse.  Those who step forward to fill the vacuum are those who have bent their energies exclusively to attitude formation, to conditioning the minds of their folk to the inevitable.  Any inspirational movement, tightly organised and thoroughly aware of an uncompromising ideological line, can impose its authority on a fluid situation caused by the bewildering disintegration of former certainties.  That is precisely how the states of Baltic, Central and Balkan Europe emerged at the end of the First World War.  It is also how the virus of Thatcherism took hold.  In politics, it is the attitudes, not the reasons, that count.  Attitudes are the emotional ground out of which the reasons spring.

The most effective way to destroy old attitudes is to show that the society in question can be refashioned very efficiently using means considered beyond the bounds of respectability.  You can’t let local communities do whatever they like.  Yes you can.  You can’t judge investment priorities against the resulting community benefit rather than against the demands of private property and global finance.  Why ever not?  You can’t do without London-based expertise.  Want to bet?

In the perspective of history, a decade is little.  What is important to individual regionalists is to influence the attitudes of others to such an extent that the climate of opinion within which another generation of regionalists will work is more favourable.  Two steps forward, one step back will get us there in the end.  Our weaknesses may often be more apparent than our strengths but do not under-estimate our capacity to punch above our weight.

The same ratchet effect is true for nationalists: whether Salmond’s great gamble next year succeeds or fails, the debate it has opened cannot ultimately be closed until freedom is achieved.  We should capitalise on the result, whichever way it goes, since Wessex too needs to debate its fate.

We also need to ensure that we record, cherish and pass on the stories, of the marches and the motorway protests, of the flag-flying and the poll counts, of the pioneering pamphlets, and of those who have passed away.  Just as the nationalist movements have done, we should accumulate and document the regionalist past and present in order to inspire a regionalist future.  A future that will be there for the taking by those true to the deepest memories of why we act as we do.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Worker’s Hire

“They hang the man, and flog the woman,
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leave the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.
The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.
They hang the man, and flog the woman,
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.”
Anon., The Goose and the Common

The Tolpuddle Martyrs formed a union because their plummeting wages barely kept body and soul together.  It wasn’t that farmers couldn’t afford to pay their labourers more; they just chose to keep the money to themselves in an era of over-supply of labour brought on by mechanisation.

Today, the idea of a ‘Living Wage’ is still alive and not-so-well.  The phrase is one that was being used over 80 years ago by the Independent Labour Party (not the same as the Labour Party), who made it the first item in their 1928 political programme.  The alternative to a living wage is what exactly?  In a society with any sort of conscience (or a reasonable fear of crime), the alternative is to make up the gap between wages and the cost of living through social security payments to those in work.  What that means is that well-run businesses that can afford to pay decent wages pay tax to subsidise the labour costs of badly-run businesses that can’t or won’t.  If you’re a businessman, why should you be paying for somebody else’s workforce?  They work for him, not you.

Do minimum wages destroy jobs by imposing demands the market cannot bear?  The point of a minimum wage isn’t to make it more difficult for employers to take on labour, even though that may be a consequence.  It’s to reduce the burden on taxpayers generally that is caused by allowing specific employers to take on labour at below true cost.  (Miliband’s call this month for tax breaks for employers who pay a living wage is flawed for this reason: the public purse still suffers.)

Depressingly, none of this is new.  In 1795 the Justices of the Peace for Berkshire met in Quarter Sessions at The Pelican Inn, Speenhamland, near Newbury.  They decided to raid the rates to supplement the wages paid by the local farmers, thereby staving off the threat of revolution.  The amount of the subsidy depended upon the price of corn and the size of the labourer’s family.  The ‘Speenhamland system’ had already been trialled in some parishes and was soon copied by parish after parish across southern England (it was never very common further north).  The results, predictably, were a large increase in the poor rate, improvident marriages, and a general pauperisation of the agricultural labourers.

Another similar scheme was the roundsman system, where the farmers employed paupers in turn and the parish subsidised their low wages.  In other districts farmers agreed to employ a certain quota of paupers according to the rateable value of their property (a system known as the labour rate).  Farmers, naturally, preferred subsidised pauper labour to the labour of free men because it was cheaper.  The independent labourers were frequently dismissed and in time became paupers too.  Folk grew accustomed to accepting relief, and demoralisation spread.  Malthus, whose famous essay on population was published in 1798, condemned outdoor relief as leading to an over-populated countryside.

Farmers as a class suffered too because of the heavy burden of the poor rate.  Moreover, while the guaranteed income prevented malnutrition and thus appeared to maintain productivity, it also removed labour market competition – and any incentive to work harder for the farmer’s benefit – and in this respect caused productivity to decline.  The result was the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 that replaced outdoor relief with the workhouse.  (In fact, in southern England a great deal of outdoor relief continued to be granted to able-bodied folk, which is one reason why Chartism never took hold in Wessex.)

Regulating wages by law has a long history, maximum wages being as likely a theme as minimum ones, though always for occupations at the bottom of the social scale and never for those at the top.  In the aftermath of the Black Death, for example, the Statute of Labourers 1351 sought to force wages back to pre-plague levels.  (It was never going to work, as supply was far less than demand and the labourers had never had it so good.)

An incomes policy that aims to be fair should treat wages and welfare holistically.  It shouldn’t rob efficient businesses to pay inefficient ones.  Nor should it allow low-wage employers to avoid contributing to the top-up by moving their tax affairs offshore.  International companies incapable of honest accounting shouldn’t just be fined: they shouldn’t be permitted to go on trading here.  We have plenty of our own folk capable of replacing them.

An incomes policy that aims to be fair shouldn’t tackle child poverty in ways that create incentives to have large families that others then fund.  Large families, often a burden on the taxpayer, are always a burden on the planet and we cannot expect responsibility from the Third World if we do not set an example.

An incomes policy that aims to be fair should recognise that when the London regime tells Wessex that we need hyper-growth in population to drive prosperity up, the reality is that a larger workforce competing for jobs will drive wages down.  Jobs can only expand in line with population if environmental resources are degraded at an accelerated rate.

History confirms all of this, but we don’t want to know about the past, do we?  We’d rather auto-pilot on raw emotions.  The truth is that past generations have responded to the very same emotions in sometimes disastrous ways.

But there is new ground to be broken.  Many schemes have been devised for income redistribution, including a basic income for all, in effect paying everyone what is currently paid only to the poor.  Why has it not been tried?  Is it because it demonstrably wouldn’t work?  (It long worked for child benefit, and small-scale experiments confirm its practicality.)  Or is it because its revolutionary potential is all too real?

Payments could be funded from a progressive income tax, an inheritance tax, a land value tax, or, if the idea of public ownership is successfully rehabilitated, from the returns on natural monopolies as a ‘social dividend’.  More radically still, new money could be issued directly to individuals instead of to banks, who would have to rely on attracting deposits to gain access to it.  The savings in administrative costs could be huge.  Tax and social security systems could be integrated and simplified.  So too could utility bills, council tax and ground rents if we think radically enough.  The region can make a good case to be the best scale at which to organise such things because it aligns with the technical requirements of many of the utilities.

The moral argument is compelling: since no-one chooses to be born into our society then our society has an obligation to ensure the basics of life to all who comprise it, without discrimination.  The political argument is equally compelling: universal public education and health care have created a middle class interest in securing the best for themselves that also secures the best for others.  The same would be true of universal welfare payments.

The first section of the National Assistance Act 1948 formally abolished the despised legal status of pauper.  It’s more than a shame that today’s London politicians and the right-wing media still haven’t caught up with the fact.  Instead they argue that the dismantling of universal systems is fair because the rich cannot be made to pay towards them and the only, feeble way to get back at the rich is through means testing.  Not so.  The way to plug the gap between an increasingly powerless poor and a class of super-rich who can laugh at sovereignty is through politics – and accountancy – with teeth.  If the rich choose not to contribute to society, then society, through its definition of the property and asset-movement rights it chooses to uphold, must cease to protect them.  In short, the law must die if justice is to be born.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Come On, Wessex!

WR President Colin Bex and Secretary-General David Robins were in Cornwall on Saturday, sitting in on the Annual Conference of Mebyon Kernow.  The venue was what used to be New County Hall, Truro and is now Lys Kernow (‘the Court of Cornwall’).  The building’s directional signage is all bilingual, in English and an expanding language still widely imagined by the imperial media to be as dead as the dodo.  (And there were even genuinely Cornish pasties for lunch.) 

MK, now with four councillors on Cornwall Council, is entitled as a party group to borrow the Council Chamber for meetings.  With Cllr Dr Loveday Jenkin in the chair, and the semicircle opposite filled with rows of Cornish nationalists, the sight provided a real sense of déjà vu, more like sitting in on a session of the future legislative Cornish Assembly.  (The empty seats in the photo are those which in a Council meeting would be occupied by Cabinet members and chief officers.)

The conference decided party policy on a number of matters.  A carefully balanced, scientifically grounded position on badgers and bovine TB was agreed, opposing culling while also being supportive of the farming community as the search continues for a workable vaccine.  The point was made that shot badgers are not being tested to see if they really do have TB (only to confirm that they were humanely killed), also that since TB can be carried by other mammals, such as deer, the culling route ultimately implies eradicating most of our larger wildlife.  The London regime’s policy came across as doing something for the sake of being seen to be doing something, whether it works or not.  And better not to ask questions in case it spoils their script.

Transport is another area where MK’s policy is researched with an impressive thoroughness.  The conference called for a statutory Quality Bus/Rail Partnership under the 2008 Local Transport Act, using a council-owned ‘arms-length’ bus company to return Cornwall’s public transport to local control.  These powers are equally available to Wessex local authorities.  Why are they so timid in using them?  Why do so many assume that FirstGroup, Stagecoach and the like can just get away with whatever they please?

Two themes dominated the proceedings.  One was the failure of the London parties to build a fair society, all of them viewing austerity coupled with tax avoidance as the new normal.  Why, asked MK Leader Cllr Dick Cole, do Conservative and LibDem councillors, ordered to make cuts in local spending, out of all proportion to the cuts being made to central government’s vanity projects, not send the necessary signal to Westminster by resigning from their parties?  Are their political loyalties more important than their duty to the electorate?

The other dominant theme was the accelerating destruction of environmental and cultural heritage through housebuilding, driven by dodgy data that supposedly informs us that there is no alternative.  All three main London parties are part of the scam, which in a Cornish context is exposed in a well-researched polemic, The land’s end?  The great sale of Cornwall by Dr Bernard Deacon.  The author told conference that massive suburbanisation is now destroying the essence of a distinctive Cornwall.

The Cornish are calmly but firmly angry, and they have every right to be so.  So are many in Wessex.  We heard that some of the research now being quoted in Cornwall comes from rural Wiltshire.  The difference is that the Cornish are doing something about it.  There is apparently more grit and determination in the little finger that is Cornwall than in the whole of England.

What is the English response to the great social and environmental crisis of our time?  It is to place a childlike faith in centralism to make things better.  It is to join well-meaning organisations like the CPRE and be always at pains to be moderate and reasonable in writing to Ministers of the Crown.  Why?  Psychopaths don’t respond to reason and moderation.  And what will happen in 2015?  The English electorate will vote one or other of the psychopath parties into power for another five years of legalised tyranny.

Celtic nationalists live under oppression.  They know the enemy well.  The English, in contrast, are not one folk but two part-folks.  There is the arrogant Englishness of the ruling elite, Norman to the core, especially the Labour bits of it (since if you ape your masters’ subtleties, the result will always come out as a clumsy parody).  And then there is the deferential Englishness of those ruled, the ones who won’t question the orders from London because, well, it’s ‘our’ government, isn’t it, so they must know best, right?

Wrong.  Wessex Regionalists are part of a truly revolutionary movement, one that wishes to see the world turned not upside down but the right way up, with sovereignty to the parishes in an England that governs itself on a human scale.  One thing the Celtic countries have to their advantage is a manageable territory that can be understood and loved.  England is a land of 32 million acres, with a population of 57 million.  To drive from one end to the other takes a whole exhausting day.  A human-scale England has to be a regionalised England.  Otherwise it will remain what it has been since 1066, one fully comprehensible and directable only from above by its haughty rulers.

To get to a human-scale England will take much action by many individuals.  There will be those who occupy green fields designated for destruction by democracy-overturning Planning Inspectors, and who suffer the blows of the police and private thugs sent there to uphold developers’ ‘property rights’.  There will be those who scale the offices of hated agencies and corporations to unfurl the Wyvern flag of freedom.  There will be those who stand in elections to oust the Tory, LibDibDib and ‘Labour’ representatives complicit in the destruction of one of the most beautiful and historic lands on the planet, a part of the common treasury of all humanity, born or yet to be born.

Or maybe there will be none of this.  Maybe we will just stand back and spend our time sneering at Celtic neighbours who have got life right.  Maybe we will just go quietly into the twilight.  Being English.  Not wanting to make a fuss lest we appear impolite.

Friday, November 15, 2013

That Artful London

After the 2008 financial crash, the investment bank Goldman Sachs acquired an unforgettable description, as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.  England has been struggling with its own undying vampire squid for centuries, in the form of London’s political, economic AND cultural domination.

When it comes to culture, the figures are breathtaking.  So is the media silence about them.  (Where’s the media based, by the way?)  Do follow the link, explore what lies beyond, and gasp at the extent of London’s greed.  That money belongs to all of us and should be spent for the benefit of all of us.  To say that we can all go up to London any time and look at what’s been bought with it really won’t do.

In fact, it’s worth asking why we're still funding the growth of the ‘national’ museums and galleries when they don’t have the space to do justice to their existing collections.  How about a ‘one in, one out’ policy?  That is, that they can make new acquisitions only if they pass something else to ‘the provinces’.  It wouldn’t be difficult to draw up a list of artefacts from Wessex that could be displayed closer to home, the Wessex equivalents of the Elgin Marbles. 

Expect screams of outrage from the plunderers at any suggestion that the loot should come back.  Do we not know that we should feel nothing but pride that the whole nation has honoured our regional heritage by dispossessing us of it?  Upon leaving home, our treasures become our ambassadors in a far more important place.  Just don't try suggesting that London might surrender anything it prizes to New York or St Petersburg.

London’s artistic and museological establishment is a feudal pestilence lingering deep into the 21st century, still insisting on droit de conservateur.  Always ready to confuse their academic knowledge with the ability to weigh up locational justice.  Always ready to defend the status quo simply because it is the status quo.  Always unable to comprehend the hurt they cause by doing so.  And if the status quo is bad, remember that our taxes and lottery tickets go on and on funding the process of making it all inconceivably worse.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Here We Go Again

The regions are being rebuilt, even under the Coalition.  Last week a consultation began on the formation of a ‘combined authority’ for Durham, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.  It will take over transport, economic development and regeneration powers from the seven member councils.  It’s almost the regional assembly all over again, and will be if the five unitary councils in the Tees Valley join later.  Similar combined authorities are being set up in other metropolitan areas, though none on this scale.

Within Wessex, councils in Devon and Somerset have pooled their economic development role and share a fire & rescue service.  There are rumours of forthcoming mergers in other departments too.  Sometimes this sort of co-operation can move us in the right direction, as in fire control services, which are now co-ordinated across most of southern and central Wessex, defying London’s divide-and-rule obsession with the ‘South West’ and the ‘South East’.  Such developments are essential to improve our region’s resilience in large-scale emergencies.  What is of great concern to us is when co-operation stops short of the Wessex level because London insists on a different agenda.

This seems to be the case with the ‘combined authorities’, all of which are part of a drive to create a ‘city-region’ scale of governance rather than a truly regional one.  Cities matter a lot to this government, as they did to the last.  The belief is that concentrating decisions and resources in cities, at the expense of the countryside, will produce some sort of economic miracle that will benefit everybody.  So we all need to doff our caps to those creative, entrepreneurial, interconnecting urbanites without whom we would be nothing.  Sounds familiar?  Yes, it’s the London view of the world turned into a general theory of economics.

Underpinned in policy terms by ‘city deals’.  Despite the faint echo of Roosevelt’s New Deal (which was much more wide-ranging), the real inspiration for the term is the Thatcherite obsession with contracts, with shaking hands on a mutually beneficial transaction.  The problem is that this isn’t a contract between equals.  What city deals are about is our cities signing-up to support for government policy, however distasteful, in return for getting back some of the money the London regime has taken from them in tax.

The original idea of putting cities centre-stage by means of elected mayors has been largely shot down by the electorate.  It was always going to give rise to questions about the scope of their mandate.  Giving elected mayors powers over hinterlands that have no say in their election was too undemocratic even for the London regime to defend.  City-regions – joint authorities for cities, suburbs and surrounding countryside – are Plan B.  They’ve been discussed among the elite for around 50 years and are now flavour of the month not only with the London regime but with the half-free Welsh Assembly, which wants similar structures for the Swansea and Cardiff/Newport travel-to-work areas.  That way the Assembly can continue to preside over a fragmented, colonial economy instead of tackling the real job of building a genuinely free and integrated one.  Municipal leaders in the English regions have exactly the same priority: keep it so local it hurts.  All because, in their experience, shaped by the capricious acts of the London regime, the regionalist alternative is a leap in the dark.

City-regions give the appearance of decentralisation without the reality.  Their powers are drawn up, not down.  They are small, manageable, and no threat at all to the London regime.  They can even be played off, very aggressively, against the aspirations of small nations and historic regions, contrasting a supposedly sophisticated global-cities-club identity with rooted territorial identities now to be judged passé.  They breed suspicion about the motives of neighbouring cities.  They erode traditional local government without replacing it with anything that has a compelling identity of its own.  They entrench the idea that life is urban-centred and that nothing larger than the travel-to-work area is real until the level of the sovereign UK is reached.  That’s why they’re flavour of the month.  And no-one should be fooled into thinking otherwise.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wallace versus Wonga?

The Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth, speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, warned of the social consequences of ending naval shipbuilding in the city, including that jobless families could turn to loan sharks as the lenders of last resort.  Cue Labour’s latest, greatest initiative.

And what an odd policy announcement it was: Ed Miliband commits a future Labour government to ban the advertising of payday loans on children’s television.  Socialism in our time!  What will the Daily Mail say?

Since the Thatcherite takeover of Labour in 1994 there have been nearly 20 years of pretend politics, in which the Left and Right of the new consensus argue over minutiae rather than each offering a radically different prospectus.  The Right, as Thatcher’s true heirs, believe the State to have a wholly negative role in domestic politics and wish it rolled back.  The Left, as Little Miss Echo, believe the State to have a wholly negative role in domestic politics and wish it rolled forward.  The New Labour analysis is always that there is a lack of regulation.  Its response is to look around for something to ban.  Always a symptom, never a cause; Labour doesn’t do causes now.

Neither side can grasp the positive potential of the community-benefit State in tackling the roots of a dysfunctional economic system through redistributing the power and the wealth currently hoarded by the London elite.

George Monbiot, writing for The Guardian (a London newspaper) this week, gave a damning account of the corporate takeover of what is supposed to be the public’s power.  Lamenting that the main parties are all complicit, he lists the last remaining bright spots in a darkening universe: the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and a few ageing Labour backbenchers.

The Labour backbenchers are not obvious allies.  They are, as he says, ageing, and, we would add, clearly committed to that brand of socialism that distrusts the masses, especially the masses organised in geographical communities.  They would rather fight centralism with centralism.  The Greens and the Blaid have a rather different outlook.  It’s one that we equally embrace.  So too do Mebyon Kernow, at whose 2013 Conference this weekend we hope to be represented.  So had George dug a little deeper he could have nearly doubled his list of the good guys.

What is remarkable about the list as revised is its decentralist character.  Even the most (relatively) centralist party on this new list, the Green Party of England & Wales, is not organised on the basis of the UK, or even Great Britain.  The movement for communities and against corporations is structured not on the basis of the politics that exists but the politics that is sought.  It recognises that the UK and the Labour Party alike are gutted shells, held together by history but containing nothing of future relevance.  The alternative is taking shape outside.  Miliband’s gimmick of a policy, protecting the poor from temptation instead of tackling those who have made them poor, makes a grand epitaph for a party and a system corrupted beyond redemption.