It never gets through to armchair English nationalists that Scotland and Wales have devolution because they have nationalist parties prepared to run the London parties out of town if they don’t deliver. Where’s this one-size-fits-all England then, getting on its high horse about uppity Celts? Who organises it to get up out of its armchair and do something about it all? Anyone but the Tories? Do the voters of Surrey really care what happens in Devon or Durham? Or is it just a pretence, this ‘England first’ attitude forever conveniently forgetting that half the country even exists?
At least a regional identity is something that can be built around common interests, even if it takes persistent hard work to do so in the face of media hostility. Across most of England it isn’t hard to see what that common interest is once you think about it. We all have a common interest in seeing London’s near-monopoly on power, wealth and talent broken up and our regions restored in its place. The great scroungers of British politics aren’t in Scotland: they’re in London and EVEL doesn’t touch them.
Some years back, we had a discussion within the party over whether Wessex demanding home rule was proper form. If Britain’s union with Ireland is dissolved, then Scotland’s with England, England’s union with Wales must follow and then an admission that it never had one with Cornwall. In which case, if the same logic continues, Wessex must let go of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia. And Londonia or whatever else pulls itself together in the south-east corner. Then, and only then, will Wessex itself be free, free of a burden it took upon itself 11 centuries ago, a burden that has crushed it and empowered its opposite.
That’s what it’s all about. Letting London go.
There are three stages to resistance. The first is emotional: the anger and bewilderment that comes with realising how far the system has betrayed the promises it made to us. Then there is the intellectual response. What can I do, as an individual? What goods or countries can I boycott? Where can I invest ethically? What petitions can I sign? Then there is the response that really makes a difference, the action of working collectively to transform the way we do things, to build a new physical reality, new places and links, where dependence on London has gone. It’s the only way. Let it go. Replace it with something better.
We’re assured that the City is the great engine of national success in a world of free and fair trade. Is that so? Do our crops grow faster every time Tarquin closes a deal? One of the things that sets WR apart from the London parties is that we view the City as it actually is. As a cesspit of speculation and ‘socially useless activity’ parasitical upon the real economy that has to foot the bill every time hubris takes over. If all the debt it keeps pumping out were simply cancelled by law, would anyone actually suffer? Let’s imagine a world without it. Let’s imagine Great Fire II.
It’s a baking hot, dry, summer’s evening, the kind so common with climate change. There’s a national drought, made worse by over-development in the south-east exhausting the region’s aquifers, and water is currently rationed. A fire breaks out in Pudding Lane, EC3. Firefighters struggle in vain to contain it as water pressure drops. Burning refuse is swirled along by the wind into the open windows of half-empty offices whose workers are preparing to go home. Blowing up buildings to create firebreaks just isn’t practical, the buildings now being so tall. After three days the wind changes but by then the firestorm has consumed the whole of the financial district. The banks, the insurance companies, the hedge funds, the investment trusts, the advertising agencies, the corporate law firms, the media consultancies. Would it matter one bit, or would the real world just breathe a sigh of relief?
One of the lesser-known facts about the Great Fire of London is that rebuilding was paid for by increasing the tax on coal. So it was principally the poor mining folk of Tyneside and Wearside who met the cost through a reduced standard of living. The 2008 banking crisis likewise saw the burdens of ‘free enterprise’ in distress shifted to the taxpayer and thence to those at the bottom of society. Voters remain too scared to punish the political class responsible lest ‘the markets’ inflict still more pain. This is a vicious circle, because their fear arises from a belief, broadly correct, that politicians are gutless enough to allow ‘the markets’ to do whatever they like. The fact that the UK is one unit, with top-down government from London, makes it as easy for financiers to pull the political strings today as in 1666.
But London is gone. It doesn’t exist. It’s nothing but burnt paper, melted hardware, and frantic emails to the cloud for back-up data. So how would we get by? As we’ve discussed before, Wessex has a long tradition of local and regional banking, repeatedly decapitated by London-led takeovers. Our history provides all the precedents for renewing it, through credit unions, local currencies, ethical banking or whatever. Local councils are more than capable of running their own city or county banks once the laws that prevent this are revoked. Birmingham ran a municipal savings bank very successfully for 60 years. It also offered mortgages, on properties in Birmingham and the surrounding counties. Council mortgages were not uncommon before the 1980s. We had a world of very varied opportunities before the centralisers and the privatisers destroyed it. It can be rebuilt. In places, it’s a process that’s already started.
How about insurance? That was a prime example of a regionally-based industry, of which the Norwich Union in East Anglia was perhaps the last survivor. With a familiar fate: it demutualised in 1997 and is now the London-based Aviva. Wessex in the 19th century had its own equivalent, the Exeter-based West of England Fire & Life Insurance Company, which had a figure of King Alfred as its badge. When local councils sought to enter the fire insurance market in the early 1900s, they were denied the powers by Westminster. Yet it makes perfect sense for the fire brigade to offer insurance because it provides a real incentive to prevent and extinguish fires and keeps local the financial benefits of doing so. At least it should be a local decision, not one made by know-it-alls in London.
With proper preparation, Wessex and every other English region could manage very well without London and its spivs. Will we get the chance? That depends. If no-one voted for the London parties, they wouldn’t exist. If no-one placed their savings with an institution that does business in London, the City wouldn’t exist either. Our world is defined by those we choose to act on our behalf. Every time we vote for them, every time we invest with them, we ask to be oppressed.
Happy King Alfred’s Day.