Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Being Selective

Most parties select a candidate for a chosen seat.  We do it the other way round.  The current shortlist includes constituencies in Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Somerset.

The website yournextmp.com think they’re one step ahead of us in listing Colin Bex under Eastleigh as a candidate there already.  Not so fast.  We’ll let you know soon enough…

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ready, Steady, Go!

Today, the 55th Parliament of the United Kingdom was dissolved, marking the official start of the campaign to elect its successor 38 days from now.

Our President, Colin Bex, issued a final appeal yesterday for candidates to stand with him in defence of Wessex:

“Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of your Wessex region.  We are looking for four women and four men true to stand with us for Parliament in a Wessex constituency of their choice, ideally one in each of our eight shires.  Nominations close on 9th April, so if interested, please contact Colin at lexiconb@gmx.co.uk for further information.”

Colin remains committed to seeking election even if he happens to be the Party’s sole candidate.  Cost continues to be a disincentive for many who might otherwise stand, as candidates will need to finance their own campaign, including the printing of 10,000 or more leaflets for free distribution by the Royal Mail.  The £500 election deposit remains in place as a punishment for those daring to challenge the cosy cartel.

It's a common perception that Wessex is an affluent area, well able to finance any bid for freedom.  With housing costs pushed up by London overspill, and retirement and second homes, and travel costs by the relative absence of modern public transport, the reality for many is that Wessex is not at all the 'soft south'.  While the Party’s support on Facebook and Twitter continues to grow daily, backing of that sort costs nothing.  Joining the Party, and donating to it, is the only way to move it on from words to deeds.  It doesn't cost much, individually, but it's a commitment that needs to be made across the board.

The media, having flirted with challenger parties ever since the autumn, are now once more focused on who will occupy No 10.  The gap between the challengers and the old parties is opening up again as the politics of fear is brought on to dampen down debate.  Closing that gap is key to achieving a Parliament that is genuinely representative of the diversity of public opinion, a Parliament whose deliberations matter and which is not merely a rubber stamp for the imperious decisions of an elected dictator.  Another hung Parliament is not a continuing disaster but a democratic necessity.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review of 2014

Every year when we submit our accounts to the Electoral Commission we are also required to provide a ‘Review of Political Activities’ covering the year just gone.

The 2014 Review has recently been forwarded to the Commission and here is what it says:

Coming between elections – Eastleigh in 2013 and the General Election in 2015 – it might be thought that 2014 would be a quiet year.  Far from it.

Scotland’s referendum on independence provided the pivot.  Our President, Colin Bex, spent a few days in Edinburgh before, during and after the poll and made many new media and political contacts there.  The Party participated as fully as we were allowed in the media reaction to the result and the subsequent debate on an English dimension to devolution.  This included multiple television and radio interviews for the President and the Secretary-General.  The debate has since been narrowed down and moved on.  The London parties would rather discuss English-votes-for-English-laws (devolution from the centre to the centre) and city-regions and metro-mayors (shuffling the local pack of powers, not the constitutional dynamiting of Whitehall that is actually required).  We continue to be active in promoting the real alternative.

Popular and media interest has continued to grow, as charted by support on Facebook and Twitter and visits to our website and blog.  Throughout the year, the President and Secretary-General made use of online petition sites such as Avaaz, 38 Degrees and Change.org to lobby for Wessex and in supporting related causes to publicise the Wessex dimension.

In addition, Colin has joined marches and has participated in demonstrations on a number of high profile issues local, European and global, including against the TTIP and climate change.  He also continues to contribute to the debate about the real nature of economics and money, and the need for radical reform, as the establishment worldwide entrenches austerity in shameless collusion with those responsible for the chaos that produced it.

Upon invitation of the CAMRA and the Leader of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, Wessex son Alan 'Howling Laud' Hope, Colin has been special guest at several promotions of a number of new 'CoALEition' Ales produced in microbreweries across the region.  One brew, Hope and Glory (motto ‘Insanity prevents austerity’) has been served in the House of Commons bar.  These events resulted in coverage for us in 11 different newspaper and magazine articles in Somerset, Hampshire and Surrey, and we were featured in 6 of the photos used by these publications.

In November, Colin attended the Annual Conference of Mebyon Kernow – The Party for Cornwall at Truro once again, and links with other regionalists have been cultivated, in England and across a turbulent Europe.

In broader terms than just party politics, 2014 was a great year for Wessex.  Following the removal in 2012 of legal constraints on flying the Wessex Wyvern, the region’s cultural association, Wessex Society, persuaded a third of the county and unitary councils in Wessex to fly the flag for St Ealdhelm’s Day (25th May).  It was also unfurled by our Secretary-General, David Robins, for BBC West during their discussion programme on devolution that aired on 5th November.  Our appeal to the mainstream was boosted when historian Tom Holland coined the term ‘progressive heptarchism’.  This describes the imaginative approach we take to regional names and areas, in contrast to the bureaucratic compass-points still favoured by the London parties.”

The Party’s Annual General Assembly is being held today in Weston-super-Mare.  Key decisions are expected to be taken on our participation in the General Election, which could see unprecedented interest in parties such as ours offering a radical decentralist alternative to the self-obsessed Westminster charade.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cider House Rules II

We don’t often get to discuss the politics of cider.  Politicians are usually smart enough to leave cider alone.  But it did make the headlines this week, with news of changes in EU rules that could have a devastating effect on small producers.

This, of course, is the opposite of what should be happening, even under the EU if EU thinking on re-localised production were to lead to matching actions.  The EU is a combination of the wrong things done badly and the right things not done at all.  That’s partly down to how it’s designed, as an economic union that does political things, like regulation, when it needs to be a political union that does economic things, like asserting European self-sufficiency and solidarity on the global stage.  While leaving internal regulation to the regions.

The vision just isn’t there, which is why so many are turning off and turning away.  They’re not helped by misinformation that goes unchallenged, pumped out by a media whose handle often seems cranked by bitter old men dreaming of a new 1950s.  The facts about Europe, when you can get them, are often surprising.  And one is that it’s wrong to blame the EU over the craft cider rules.  It’s London again, that has so far failed to make the case for an exemption.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Useful Idiots?

This week saw a rally at Westminster in support of housebuilding.  There’s no denying the heartache if you’re not adequately housed, but many demanding a cull of our countryside are being duped by those who stand to benefit financially from a yet-more-bricks-and-mortar solution.

There’s no sound case for adding to our housing stock if we can’t properly manage the stock we already have.  Leading politicians who bang the drum over a shortage of affordable homes have done nothing to end Right-to-Buy, which continues to bleed the social rented stock much faster than it can be replenished.  That includes replenished on the basis that housebuilders get to build two market homes for every affordable one, market homes in places they might otherwise not get to build at all.

Do we have sensible lettings policies for the stock we do still have?  No.  Often the townies get priority.  In parts of Cornwall, the landlords, or their nominating authorities, are councils from Birmingham, London and Manchester.  The locals aren’t eligible.  How widespread is that?  Are Wessex retirement zones similarly blighted?  And this is before we start on second homes and holiday lets, long-term empty properties, derelict buildings and under-used floorspace.

Above all, let’s not forget the elephant in the south-east corner, whose wealth distorts everyone’s housing market.  We know all the jibes about nimbyism.  We know we’re meant to feel ashamed that we fight so hard for the Wessex countryside that feeds, powers and waters London, amuses it at the weekend and buries its unending stream of waste.  We know we supposedly lack a sense of ‘social responsibility’ if we refuse to take London’s overspill.  But d'you know what?  We’re not the irresponsible ones.  They’re those who suck the world’s wealth into London and then expect others to solve problems we didn’t create.

In Northumbria there are whole streets, even whole villages, of sound housing that has no takers.  The so-called ‘bedroom tax’ makes the older two-bed terraces unviable for those on benefits.  (Not that Labour cares.)  Will they be abandoned to ‘market forces’, as the population re-locates south?  To join the international migrants who also congregate in the south because that’s where the work is.  Let’s remember that UKIP, as yet another party of free market ideologues, are essentially unconcerned about inter-regional migration.  And what are those international migrants if not a regional problem on a bigger scale?  The Poles would still be in Poland if their economy hadn’t been stuck behind the Iron Curtain for 45 years.

Is it all inevitable, this surrender to the ineffable will of the market?  Wrong question, because this is NOT solely about the market.  It’s also about the corporate capture of the British State and the renunciation of its power to influence events in a win-win direction.  Not just in terms of policy but hard cash too.  The UK is a big enough spender to shape the market.  UK public spending this year is £731 billion.  Is it all spent well?  So that those who want development can get it and those who don’t can breathe a sigh of relief?  No, it isn’t.  And the result is an economic catastrophe for the one and an environmental catastrophe for the other.

We don’t need more housing.  We need more fairness.  We won’t get it from London.  Which is why Wessex so urgently needs to take its sovereignty back.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wanted: an NHS

“The power which causes the several portions of the plant to help each other, we call life… intensity of life is also intensity of helpfulness — completeness of depending of each part on all the rest.  The ceasing of this help is what we call corruption.”
John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Volume 5 (1860)

Cornish academic Bernard Deacon tweeted this week that if you think Labour can be trusted on the NHS you should remember what they did to it last time they were in power.  It was a year at the weekend since the death of one-time Bristol MP Tony Benn, who predicted a revolution should anyone abolish the NHS.  Well, there’s been a huge amount of tampering and so far we’re still waiting for the reaction to start.  That’s partly because of the cross-party consensus that the NHS is to be dismantled by stealth and partly due to an unwillingness to consider less familiar parties to support in defence of it.

Simon Jenkins, writing this week in The Guardian (a London newspaper), suggested that what’s needed is a more integrated service.  Why aren’t pharmacies based in doctors’ surgeries?  A very good question.  In recent years the NHS has spent a lot of money relocating surgeries to better premises, sometimes a long way from their old ones, but the pharmacies haven’t necessarily moved with them.  Why is it not thought through from the patient’s point of view? 

If we had a real NHS, with all prescriptions free, there’s no reason why pharmacists, like doctors and nurses, should not be an integral part of it, even if they remained as private businesses under contract.  The NHS could, for example, save the cost of printing paper prescriptions, the order simply passing from the doctor’s screen to the pharmacist’s to be made ready for collection before the patient leaves the surgery.

For a generation now the idea has been that we need to break up and privatise the last of the ‘socialist monopolies’.  A UKIP spokesman even described the NHS as the ‘Reichstag bunker of socialism’.  (Next time the cheeky chap’s in Berlin he might like to check the geography: the Reich Chancellery bunker, if that’s what he meant, was nowhere near the Reichstag.)  They’re all barking up the wrong tree, quite possibly the money tree of private profit.  What the NHS needs is not less socialism but more, with full integration of all caring services in each locality and region, and full democratic accountability for all non-clinical decisions.  Plus, of course, the flushing-out of PFI and all other forms of vampire finance.  If the State has to go crawling to bankers for the cash to do good then the cash is plainly in the wrong hands to begin with.

The NHS thus re-imagined would be a prime example of the community-benefit State in action.  That is to say, a State that organises essential services, whether publicly or privately delivered, for the benefit of the community, not that of funders or providers (whose interests are NOT the same as the community’s).  A State therefore in which elected representatives ask searching questions about why things are done as they are.  It’s about getting more out of less, rather than hoping for increased resources that in the longer term will not be there.  The community, as the beneficiary of what works, must also be the judge of what works.  It should be unthinkable to bypass the community in favour of bureaucratic assessments over which the community does not have the final, or indeed any, say.

Health and well-being at an individual level are also the product of the health and well-being of the environment and the society that we inhabit.  Preserving, rehabilitating and enriching our land and our culture are part of creating a sense of home in a world where roots are increasingly being torn up.  The defence of Wessex must be about meeting all our irreducible needs, without encroaching on the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  That was where the classic definition of ‘sustainable development’ was leading us but, since posterity doesn’t have the vote, the current generation is taking much more than its fair (or healthy) share.

Regionalism is neither necessarily of the Left nor necessarily of the Right and so is open to allegations of inconsistency from both.  The fact is that it’s strictly empirical, guided by what sustains our communities in reasonable liberty, reasonable security and reasonable comfort.  It cannot create health any more than it can create happiness.  But it can remove the barriers that remote and undemocratic centralism and its matching market obsessions have erected against both.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Building: the Resistance

The resistance to building is building.  There’s now a national alliance, Community Voice on Planning.  Here’s what’s currently centre-screen on their home page:

“Please don’t forget our DAY OF ACTION on 12 APRIL.  The theme is ‘Listen to the People’s Voice on Planning’

This is a sample of some of the Events that we know of so far:

·        Rural Oxfordshire Action Rally (ROAR) is calling all action groups, parish councils and residents to join them as they present a united front opposed to the senseless concreting over of green fields surrounding our towns, villages and hamlets in the name of economic progress.  They held a rally in Witney on Saturday 24 January.  Their next rally will be in Wantage and is hosted by the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.  It will take place on our day of Action 12 April.  So if you are in the neighbourhood please join them at 11am.

·        Save the Countryside has moved its annual walk from May to the shared date of 12th April.  They are organising a 2 hour walk with refreshments around the perimeter of the green belt land area proposed for an estate of 4800 houses on the NW of Cheltenham.

·        East Devon Alliance are holding a double funeral for Death of Democracy and Death of the Countryside with 2 coffins, speeches on national (NPPF) issues, District Council and Litany of contentious developments across the district, to be held in park outside District Council Offices at 3pm on Sunday 12 April.  Groups with placards from across the district, petition etc.”

How revealing that all three examples are in Wessex, truly the front line in saving England from the octopus.  A look through the list of CoVoP’s member organisations reveals many more gatherings of besieged and desperate local folk who can’t understand why localism doesn’t mean that locals get to decide.

Pressure groups are better than nothing, of course.  But who are they lobbying?  And why do they expect to be listened to?  Are they corporate donors to party funds?  Are they on the Minister’s Christmas card list?

Is it not all a waste of time, without a willingness to unseat the politicians responsible for the problem?  Nothing will change in Wessex until all of the London parties are destroyed at the polls.  We wish our countryside campaigners the very best of luck; we’re also ready to welcome them as members when, as sure as bricks follow corn, they lose the battle.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Aye’ds of March

Et tu, Nicola?  It’s one thing to have Plaid Cymru singing the praises of an anti-Welsh Green Party but today we had the SNP join the chorus.  Nicola Sturgeon has urged folk in England to vote either for the Greens or for a Labour candidate that would challenge Ed Miliband from the left.

We would like to think that Plaid and the SNP are serious in their commitment to a Europe of small nations and historic regions.  (And if they have any influence in the next parliament that they might like to promote the idea, alongside a genuine brand of localism.)  They are both, after all, members of the European Free Alliance.  That’s not how it looks from here.  Or perhaps from Cornwall, where fellow EFA members Mebyon Kernow are similarly beneath recognition.  It doesn’t take much: all you have to say is, in Cornwall or in England, vote for your local party of self-government and if it’s not standing then, and only then, might you like to consider the second-rate option of voting Green.  Because in Scotland and Wales, the Greens are part of the opposition.  Why should it be any different anywhere else?

Nicola Sturgeon’s final suggestion, a vote for ‘progressive’ Labour candidates as part of keeping David Cameron and his (cross-party) ideology out of power, is similarly off-target.  There’s no ‘progressive’ Labour Party in Scotland: that’s the SNP’s winning card.  Why should it be any different anywhere else?  A vote for Labour is a vote for Jack Straw to imagine a ban on the SNP as a separatist menace.  Over-enthusiastic SNP evangelism on behalf of Labour risks a Labour majority government that could set about doing great damage to the nationalist cause.  Telling English voters that the Tories are worse than Labour is, sadly, an own goal.  The truth is we know they’re as bad as each other.  The more that leaders of the alternative act as if the terrible twins are an ineradicable fact of our politics, the more they help to keep things that way.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Castles in the Air?

In our previous post we described the across-the-board hypocrisy of Wessex MPs who still claim to be able to deliver unlimited growth while simultaneously protecting all of the environment that locals cherish.

Wednesday’s Western Daily Press furnishes a classic example.  Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy was reported as initiating a debate at Westminster on the protection of high-grade farmland.  She castigated the Government for the way in which this key issue falls through the gap between two departments, is not a priority for either, and yet is of vital importance to “food security, food sovereignty and the UK’s declining self-sufficiency in food”.  She went on to say that in 2011 DEFRA reported a huge loss of the best land to development over recent years, “although we do not really know the extent, as such data are not collected systematically”.

News this is not.  We’ve been saying it all for years.  And years.  And years.  But it's an issue rarely on the political radar.  When it does appear, it's often hiding behind more fashionable ideas like 'urban food growing', the subject of the debate in which Ms McCarthy spoke.  Yes, allotments and gardens matter, but being hobby peasants won't keep us all fed: we need serious farming too.  The fact that MPs are debating the protection of allotments but are continuing to sidestep the bigger picture is an indication of how little they understand or care what goes on outside the big cities.

Kerry McCarthy’s party is Labour.  Her party did not in government, and does not in opposition, have any policy to curb population growth.  It’s even keener than the Conservatives – if that’s possible – to concrete over southern England in pursuit of astronomically high housing targets.  If you want homes for ever more millions Kerry, and you rightly won’t sacrifice our farmland to do it, please tell us, where will you put them?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On Whose Side?

Population Matters Magazine, in its current issue, includes an article by Ian Grace, described as a professional planning officer with more than 30 years’ planning experience.  It’s always good fun to watch when someone inside the system breaks ranks.  The article makes points that are well worth extracting:

“…If you want to house 100,000 people, you will need to build 56,000 housing units.  To do this you will need to allocate 3,700 acres of land for housing.  This population will also need land for schools, work places, shops etc., gobbling up more countryside.

The British public are becoming increasingly hostile to such provision.  The Saint Index measures public attitudes towards new development.  Their findings indicate that about 85% of the adult population are strongly opposed to further development in their area.  In addition, the Saint Index suggests that a growth based agenda, such as that favoured by the Prime Minister and most senior British politicians, is actively supported by only 6% of the population!

There is a tendency to think of population growth as a third world problem.  However, when I was born in 1959, Britain’s population stood at 51 million.  It is now 62 million and by the time I pass on it is likely to stand at 72 million.  This is a 40% increase in our national population in one lifetime.  Such a rate of population growth is very significant and, in my view, totally unsustainable, and yet our government, purportedly dedicated to sustainable development, has no opinion on the subject – other than that we must provide for it…  As a result, every town and large village in southern England is currently besieged by speculative housing proposals – many of which are likely to be approved.

Most of these proposals are met with ferocious local opposition from residents and their elected representatives.  MPs, in particular, line up with the opposition and refuse to acknowledge that many of the unpopular developments in their constituencies are merely the result of policies which they voted for in Parliament.”

That’s the problem.  MPs from the London parties don’t do as we tell them but instead submit to the party whip and hope we’ll never notice the betrayal.  And that’s why they need to be replaced, by those who love Wessex and the truth, not lies and lucre.

The same magazine also includes a letter from Barrie Skelcher pointing out that restrictions on housing development around nuclear power sites, in place since the 1960s, have now been abandoned.  They really are that determined to cram them in.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Great Burh

“Paris…  A city that must have been magnificent in the Twentieth century, Dimitri thought.  He had few memories of it.  He was only ten in 2016, when his family had fled the city plagued by anarchy and hunger to return to Russia.  Most of the monuments had been burnt and destroyed, and its museums and treasures had been pillaged during the civil war that had broken out before the Great Catastrophe.  Today, the autonomous state of Ile de France was carrying out restorations and reconstructions, but Paris was unlikely to ever return to its former glory.  The only way to learn what the Mona Lisa, Sainte-Chapelle, the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre looked like was to visit virtual Websites with 3D images.  Dimitri Leonidovich sighed in sadness at these unpleasant thoughts...”

French writer Guillaume Faye’s 1998 book, recently translated as Archeofuturism: European Visions of the Post-Catastrophic Age, is part novel, part polemic.  Politically on the European New Right, Faye casts conceptual fireworks capable of illuminating anyone’s perspective.  You don’t have to agree with every word to reel at the deepest insights.  He is no optimist but rather the most rigorous realist:

“Deprived of its quasi-religious basis – belief in progress as a historical necessity – the present civilisation has started its decline…  The ascending line of progress, which was meant to lead to the redemptive eschatology of a heavenly end of history, is now being replaced by the winding, unpredictable and mysterious flow of this very same history.  An intellectual revolution is taking place: people are starting to perceive – without daring openly to state it – that the old paradigm according to which ‘the life of humanity, on both an individual and collective level, is getting better and better every day thanks to science, the spread of democracy and egalitarian emancipation’ is quite simply false…

It will take twenty or thirty years for the pernicious effects of growth to manifest themselves, but after a deceptive phase in which living standards appear to be improving (and which is now coming to an end) they will certainly hit hard.  The increase in production and trade leads to new forms of cooperation, but also multiplies the causes of conflict and expressions of nationalistic chauvinism – and everywhere feeds the counter-fire of religious fanaticism.  Communication is branching out across the world, while solitude plagues individuals and a sense of despair takes hold in communities.”

Europe’s place in this world is a highly vulnerable one, open to ‘cultural cleansing’ by once-colonised peoples now demanding their turn at dealing out domination, death and destruction.  An effective response cannot just be about defence but must embrace collective security in every sense.  Doing nothing is not a viable option: less than 40 years ago, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria were all relatively stable societies, to which the saying 'stranger things have happened' would simply not be applied.  Faye’s solution is the European Union, but not as we know it:

“The solution to help us defend ourselves must be a radical one: a ‘good’ federation (one I believe should be based on autonomous regions) capable of imposing itself as a genuine state and exercising a weighty influence on the international scene as a real world power.  A federation of this kind could only emerge after a shock, once the pseudo-federation we have now has shown all its impotence and noxiousness.

I believe the right strategy would be to lead a revolution within the European Union, in such a way as to radically transform it – and not make a backward-looking return to the nation-states system, which in any case would be incapable of defending us.  In history, only structural changes can reverse what exists and bring revolutions about – not circumstantial changes…

The only hope for salvation in this dark age of ours lies in the attempt to build a federation – the great federation Nineteenth century visionaries had foreseen: the United States of Europe.  A federation of this kind would be capable of standing up to the American one, of creating a protected and self-centred continental economic space, and of curbing the rise of Islam and demographic colonisation from Africa and Asia…

Despite all its defects, I believe the present European Union will be the prelude to a genuine federation, according to a dialectic process: for when catastrophe hits, the present Union, in its impotence, will have to undergo revolutionary change (this, and not any dangerous restoration of the nation-state model is the path we will have to pursue)…  a powerful Europe, in my view, cannot but derive from the federation of autonomous European regions, as the great differences in size between European nations prevents the building of any viable federal and political union (as shown by the current, stupid attempt to do so).

For this reason, we must approach the European Union of today with Machiavellian cynicism in order to subvert it from within…  Quite simply, this appalling Union has the simple yet great merit of making the whole world reason in terms of Europe.  It also has the advantage of assigning a greater significance to regions, the future bricks of a federal empire, which are connected to the kind of ethnic identity the cold and crisis-ridden states of today have lost…  The future regions must be granted large powers with respect to internal matters (cultural, linguistic, educational, etc.), as a return to regional identity on a European level would only contribute to our common strength.  Different but united: for united we stand, divided we fall.”

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Labour: A Laugh A Minute

Do Labour have a clue what English devolution is?  It seems not, judging by their latest offering on the subject, Reversing our democratic decline: Labour’s plan for Parliament and political reform.  The detail is buried a long way in, right at the end of a 12-page document.  It arrives only after they’ve swooned, over and over, at the thought of re-organising the Westminster circus that they’re all so in love with.  And here it is, all 42 words of it:

“We will devolve an unprecedented £30 billion of resources to city and country regions giving them powers over housing, transport and economic development.  We will also allow them to keep any extra business rates generated by growth in the city or region.”

So, just to be clear… 

Labour will ‘give’ areas powers.  Will the powers be real, or will they come with strings attached that make them worthless?  Read your history, Labour.  You hate local discretion.  Under Blair and Brown you interfered constantly in local decisions and stripped away treasured local autonomy, because you thought you knew best what local areas needed.  The Tories have pretended to restore some of that autonomy.  They haven’t, but at least they make the effort to pretend.  When Labour attack autonomy, they’re brutally honest about it.  In government.  In opposition, they just lie for England.

Labour will generously ‘allow’ areas to keep any extra business rates generated.  Read your history, Labour.  Pre-Thatcher, those business rates belonged to local councils as of right and had done for centuries.  Who are you to judge whether they should be ‘allowed’ to have them back or not?  Wouldn’t it be fairer for local councils to keep all taxes and ‘allow’ Wastemonster to have what little they judge it to be worth?

And Labour will devolve an unprecedented £30 billion.  Shamefully centralist of them.  How much is £30 billion as a percentage of total central government spending?  Just 5.3%.

The amount of funding allocated to Welsh Government departments for 2015/16 is £15.3 billion.  So the sum of local areas in England, with 17 times the population of Wales, gets to decide on a budget only twice as big.  That means that to achieve parity with Wales, English local areas would need to make the spending decisions on £260 billion.  Based on its share of England's population, Wessex alone would account for £39 billion.  But that would mean taking big decisions that affect more than one local area.  Exactly!  Which is why no meaningful devolution in England is possible without regional government.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Being Sub-Human

The Pyrenees are a formidable geographical barrier, the terror of would-be conquering armies approaching from north or south.  What they are not is a formidable cultural barrier.  Basque culture in the far west and Catalan culture in the far east transcend them and have done, peaceably, for millennia.

The national frontier of today results from the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, when a line was drawn through the mountains by the imperial states based in Paris and Madrid.  To tidy things up.  No need to consult the locals. 

The provinces to the north-west are now within France’s département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, with its capital at Pau.  Those to the north-east form Pyrénées-Orientales, with its capital at Perpignan (Perpinyà in Catalan).

Basque nationalists have long claimed their lost lands as part of a free Euzkadi: an idea expressed in the formula 4+3=1 (4 Spanish provinces, 3 French provinces, 1 nation).  And the Catalans are no more content with the status quo than the Basques.

France is having none of it.  The European Free Alliance reported this week that a French court has banned the area’s political movement, the ‘Committee for the self-determination of Northern Catalonia’, on the grounds that it represents a threat to the territorial integrity of the French State.  That’s how France survives, not by consent but through injustice.  It’s a paranoid, police state, and always has been.  The Revolution changed nothing of any substance.  The real revolution is still awaited.

French regionalists are still smarting from a territorial reorganisation law that rejects the rights – indeed the very existence – of Alsatians, Basques, Bretons, Catalans, Flemings, Occitans and Savoisians.  An inclination towards separatism would be a reasonable response.  France’s swift reaction against the Catalans is a warning that freedom of association in pursuit of democratic aspirations will not be tolerated.  French democracy, such as it is, is State property and not to be trespassed upon.  It does not, and cannot, belong to the people.  You can say ‘Je suis Charlie’ as much as you like, but you can forget about ‘Je suis Catalan’.

If Europe is such a beacon of democratic light, as it keeps informing the Russians, just how does France get away with it?  It’s certainly a pariah state by European standards; only Bulgaria and Greece are as obstinate and repressive in denying the objective existence of national minorities on their territory.  But Europe’s laws are crafted by an imperialist cabal: we have explained before that the European Convention on Human Rights offers no protection against those determined to enforce long-redundant state boundaries.  Separatists do not have human rights as others do.  What does that say about how they are viewed in law?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Wilful Neglect

We try, within the limits of our resources, to report and comment on what’s happening in Wessex.  That’s to say, what’s actually happening and not what we or anyone else would like to be happening. 

Political correctness has been described as a war on noticing.  The blinkers were well and truly on in Oxfordshire recently, judging by today’s report into child sexual exploitation there.  But not only there.  (Bristol has also been mentioned.)  Oxfordshire County Council’s former Leader told the BBC that his authority ‘is not another Rotherham’.  Well, only relatively: 373 youngsters, predominantly from Oxford, groomed and exploited over the course of 15 years, as compared with 1,400 in the Yorkshire place.  But what’s yet to come to light?  A senior investigative source told The Guardian (a London newspaper): “If you think you haven’t got a problem in your city or town, you are just not looking for it.”

Not looking for it.  And even if you are, looking in the wrong place.  The BBC’s coverage and the reactions of London politicians have been remarkably uniform.  It’s ‘the system’ that’s broken.  Cameron offered a new offence of ‘wilful neglect’, promising to jail social workers who don’t notice.  (The tabloids are hovering: social workers are as damned for what they notice mistakenly as for anything they miss.)  For Labour, Yvette Cooper bizarrely insisted that nothing was more important than introducing compulsory sex education in schools.  It’s everybody’s fault then.  Police.  Social workers.  Educators.  Councillors.  A report speaks up for the abused and ignored girls and all the establishment can do is put the spotlight yet again on the girls and how they are treated.  It’s everybody’s fault but the perpetrators’.  Let’s not mention them.  Let’s not take their communities apart with a crowbar and expose what it is that produces the same familiar pattern, again and again.

No, let’s not.  There’s a higher priority.  Let’s go after those who by their war on noticing have allowed the problem to fester, those whose soixante-huitard sociological prejudices have warped their ability to understand the individuals of which society is composed. 

Let’s try a zero-based budgeting approach to social work.  Why do we have it?  Even the term is vaguely Victorian.  Nurses nurse, police police, teachers teach.  Social workers?  Work socially?  Why not scrap the entire profession and replace it with one or more professions defined by what they actually do and seek to achieve by doing?  The post-Climbié split between children’s services, linked to education, and welfare services for vulnerable adults, linked to health care and housing, may have some distance still to travel before reaching a settled form.  Especially in an era of constrained resources where questions about focus and value for money are unavoidable.  A public interested in integrated outcomes won’t care if social work as such disappears in the process because it finds it unable to describe itself.

There are some common perceptions of social workers that they have done little to dispel.  That instead of responding to a political agenda they think society should resource and empower them to pursue their own.  Or that they have no incentive to solve society’s ills because this would do them out of a job.  Or that, in contrast to the tightly defined roles of 50 or 100 years ago, their role is now so all-encompassing that their ambitions are bound to be undeliverable.

For example, the Wikipedia article ‘History of social work’ asserts that “Social work has its roots in society to deal with poverty (relative poverty)”.  That’s a start but it’s wholly inadequate to describe the actual range of activities that social services today undertake.  Problems associated with age or disability, for example, are problems associated with age or disability.  Lack of money worsens them but having money won’t fundamentally make them go away.  It’s also far too easy to confuse social services with social security, one more area of government where assumptions tend to have a very long shelf-life.

The financial and political reality is that social services will be expected to do more with less, and failing that, to do less with less.  Politically and professionally, the challenge is how to do that with the least possible harm.  A herd of sacred cows is likely to face slaughter along the way.  And that's an outcome that may be long overdue.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Management of Savagery

“You know of course that no-one can make known any skill, nor direct and guide any authority, without tools and resources; a man cannot work on any enterprise without resources.  In the case of the king, the resources and tools with which to rule are that he have his land fully manned: he must have praying men, fighting men and working men…”
King Alfred the Great, commentary on Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy

In 2012, Oxford don David Priestland published Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power.  It takes up the very theme familiar to Alfred in the 890s, that a society’s leaders are a combination of the three estates, those who get what they want through transactions, those who do so through violence or the ability to threaten it and those who do so through wisdom.  The balance between them changes over time, defining the character of one society in comparison with another.

The neo-liberal project underway since the 1970s has been very much a matter of ‘all power to the merchants’, whose freedom of action is defined as the essence of freedom itself, trumping even democracy.  Which means a world unprepared for the re-emergence of other ways of thinking.  It means, for example, a world accustomed to the idea that violence is wrong, unless clothed perhaps in a claimed humanitarian intent.  Such a world imagines that denouncing savagery as savagery is an anathema capable of having a real impact.  What if the savagery is a very deliberate choice?  A drive to power through fear?  You wanted ‘shock and awe’?  Well, you got it.  Up against a liberal – famously defined by Robert Frost as someone too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel – who’s going to win?

The collapse of political or economic stability is usually followed by authoritarian rule of one kind or another.  Chaos breeds a craving for order: good order if possible, evil order if necessary.  Nature abhors a vacuum.  And the whinier anarchists change their minds fast once their dole money stops.  So let’s ask the question: if central government failed, if the debt economy imploded, if as communities, locally and regionally, we were thrown back upon our own resources, how would Wessex fare?

It’s not an unnecessary question but a prudent one, given what the demographic, environmental and geopolitical trends tell us about the changes coming over the course of this century.  So far we have shown only our chronic unwillingness even to resist the impositions of a relatively benign London regime.  The merchants continue to batter down the barriers that democracy has erected, while the globalised society they have advocated offers no protection against importing to our shores the consequences of other nations’ actions.  Trade and war alike are threats to our way of life; those in more empathetic and far-seeing occupations have a vital role in keeping both equally at bay.

I See No Ships

Horatio Nelson is often misquoted as saying these words; relying on the London media might leave you equally in the dark about the ways in which the governance of Wessex is changing.

On Friday, the Coalition announced yet more devolution to Wales.  An extensive package in fact, even though, as Plaid Cymru have noted, it falls short of the ‘going rate’ for devolution in the UK.  Compared to Scotland or Northern Ireland, they’re right about that.  Meanwhile, England continues to bring up the rear.  Channel 4 News reported this week on the devolution of NHS funding to Greater Manchester, worrying itself over whether letting local folk make their own decisions marks ‘the end of the NHS’.  Presumably because Scotland and Wales, with their devolved health services, are self-evidently national but Manchester is not.  And presumably having forgotten the extent to which the NHS was delivered through local councils until 1974.

Confused by it all?  With good reason.  There’s no overall plan, and it’s easy to claim that failing to plan is planning to fail.  The wrong plan though is worse than no plan, and we’ve seen in the Prescott zones what the wrong plan looks like.  Giving folk what they ask for and not trying to rush them into accepting more makes sense.  But that will result, imminently, in a great deal of disappointment when local politicians ask for too little and their neighbours pull out in front of them.  Cardiff – and all of Wales – can benefit from the higher ambitions that national sentiment has inspired.  Bristol – and all of Wessex – will continue to worry about such things as whose are the wheelie bins on the opposite side of the street.

So we should raise our sights above mere localism.  Partly because ‘localism’ has clearly failed.  The promise of real localism made by the Coalition has been comprehensively manipulated, redefined and betrayed.  It’s one of the greatest of the lies for which the Blue Tories and the Yellow Tories deserve to be punished in May.  Not, of course, by backing the Red Tories, for whom real, unbridled localism is the very opposite of their own ideals.

Localism would seem to be the opposite of centralism.  Yet paradoxically, local power can, under pressure from tight budgets, rising expectations and the opportunities and challenges of new technology, sometimes lead to more centralisation.  We’ve seen that in the fire service, where this week Wiltshire voted to merge its brigade with Dorset’s.  Devon and Somerset have already merged theirs and all four counties are now involved in joint working with Hampshire.  North of the border, the SNP government has created a single fire brigade and a single territorial constabulary for the whole of Scotland, with effect from April 2013.

Instinctively, our own sympathies are with those who wish to keep things local and we won’t be fooled by arguments that are artificially constrained by a poor financial settlement from London.  Reducing the cost of public services shouldn’t be confused with increasing their cost-effectiveness.  We don’t want poorer services so that some financier can go on a binge with the ‘savings’.  But we are all about subsidiarity – if some things work better over a wider area then let’s look at the pros and cons.  Between 1941 and 1948, Great Britain had a single National Fire Service, a temporary response to the Blitz and the consequent need for unified direction and inter-operability of equipment.  Today’s challenges, ranging from terrorist attacks to climate change, will also call into question the right scale for organising a response.

What we are seeing – something to which the Coalition’s anti-regionalists are determined to turn a blind eye – is the emergence of a new tier of governance that is larger than the county.  In Devon and Somerset it isn’t just the fire brigades that have merged.  There is a joint Local Enterprise Partnership – ‘Heart of the South West’.  In November 2014, the archives and museums functions passed out of county hands to a new charity, the South West Heritage Trust.  Along with the privatisation of English Heritage in April 2015 this is also part of a trend, as our past ceases to be recognised as the root of our common identity and returns to being the plaything of wealthy philanthropists.

Some may see all of this as a softening-up of the county councils for abolition in favour of smaller unitary councils.  It certainly works in that direction, floating off those constraints of history and larger-scale operation that might get in the way.  Specifically in the case of archives, there is a national drive for larger, more resilient organisations able to make the most of changes such as digitisation, while still being able to offer a community-focused service from one or more outlets per shire.  The leading local archæological societies remain shire-based and will presumably continue to act as a safeguard of shire identity.  The politics of other services, such as transport or education, often seems to have a different focus as towns compete for investment.  Party politics also comes into it: the FibDems are stronger in the east of Somerset than in the west, which in the past has given them cause to demand a break-up of the county council along party lines.

We’ve pointed not once, not twice, but thrice, to the evidence that regionalisation is continuing despite Coalition denials.  County-level services are being passed up to a wider tier that has no direct democratic accountability.  Regional assemblies could give it that accountability, while also providing the framework for devolving substantial powers now hoarded by Whitehall.  Just as national devolution has done in Scotland and Wales.  Failing to anticipate this and to plan for it isn’t just planning to fail.  When we look ahead we may be tempted to think that we’re planning for change.  The reality is that we’re planning in change.  It’s happening all around us.  Our claim to the future has to be staked now.