General Election: week three

Despite the General Election, for me the political highlight of last week was the approval of Bridport Town Council’s Climate Emergency Action Plan at a meeting of the full Council. I have been intimately involved in in this project from the start: I wrote and proposed the motion that declared the emergency at the May meeting of the Council, and I chaired the Task and Finish group that produced the action plan. Having said that, I must make it clear that the real hard work was done by the Town Council’s excellent Project Manager. One of the most impressive things about Bridport Town Council is the enthusiasm and hard work of its officers.

I am similarly impressed by many of the officers working for Dorset Council, and particularly around this issue of responding to our climate emergency. Dorset Council has received quite a bit of criticism (some of it from me) for its use of Executive Advisory Panels (small cross-party groups, meeting in private with officers, but with no authority to make decisions) to first consider the issues and then make recommendations to Cabinet. But, despite these failings, I have to admit that my optimism is kept alive by the commitment and enthusiasm of the officers working on the issues.

This last week also saw the first hustings event of the General Election. This was a good natured and well organised event with the Thomas Hardye School 6th Form. I say good natured because all candidates were respectful of each other, the audience and the electorate as a whole. As I have said before, this, for me is very important. I think it not only sad but bad for democracy that so many people are ‘turned off’ from politics. There are many reasons for this ‘turning off’, too many to discuss here, but I genuinely believe that people could be ‘turned on again’ if politicians started to show a little more humility. What do I mean by this? That they acknowledge that there is absolutely no right or correct answer to any issue and that therefore theirs may well turn out to be off the mark; that other answers may, therefore, have some merit and should not just be dismissed out of hand; that there are no certainties in life (other than, of course, death); and that whilst it’s good to be critical of other ideas this can only be achieved by actually listening to others and understanding where they are coming from. My hope in this matter (for local politics at least) was further strengthen whilst being interviewed for the Sherborne Podcast. The interviewer commented about how respectful the local candidates were being about each other. It is always reassuring when unsolicited feedback like this is received from a third party.

A private conversation over a meal last week set me off thinking about individualism. For a long while now I have felt quite strongly that as a society we have far too greater belief in ourselves as individuals, at the expense of not appreciating our intrinsic relationship to each other as part of a community. However, I also feel that some degree of individualism is not only inevitable, but is good and creative. What I realised over this conversation was that I was not very good at clearly expressing my thinking on this – probably because I have never had to do so before. So here goes: The problem with the predominately right-wing, libertarian or free-market championing of individualism is the implied belief that we are all, at a fundamental level, individuals – individual ‘atoms’ that come together to form a society. We are not. At this fundamental level we are social – we are who we are because of, and through, our relations with others. But the problem that many (not all) on the left of the political spectrum have is that they then only focus on the social, community aspect of our being, and avoid any consideration of our individuality. From my perspective, our individuality is emergent out of the social. This individuality provides humanity with an evolutionary advantage in as much as it gives rise to creative solutions to problems; through the development of and interaction between unique perspectives, novel ways of thinking are created. But whilst this individualism should be encouraged, it must always be born in mind that this is an inter-active process with others!

General Election week two

I’m writing this week’s post from Leek, in Staffordshire, where I’m visiting my daughters and grandchildren. One of the first things I was asked by my youngest, on arrival, was: who do I vote for dad? Now I have done absolutely no research into this, but I got the strong impression talking to her that she was typical of her generation of 30 something parents with young families – that she wanted to make her vote count but, because she had no time to follow the intricacies of political debate or the various plots of our unfolding political drama, was genuinely confused. Like most of her friends she gets most of her news from social media, but, she told me, that does help. In the run up to the 2017 General Election, she said, there was a strong trend in favour of Labour, but now the trend is to be critical of them. She did not want to just follow the latest social media trend, she wanted some genuine guidance. The demands of my two grandchildren soon intervened and prevented any further conversation. I simply said: read my blog. So here goes.

I genuinely believe that part of the problem we face is that we humans are not as clever as we want to believe. We have created a very complex social world, one that is embedded in a very complex natural environment, but that we have little understanding of the extent of this complexity. Instead we crave simple, off the shelf answers to our problems. This is the paradox we humans face. We will always crave simple solutions because we haven’t evolved to cope with this complexity – but none of these simple solutions will solve our problems in the long term because…well, because they are too simple. So bearing all this in mind – here is my very simple guide: Vote for your Green Party candidate!

Why? Because the biggest threat to the future happiness and flourishing of your young son and daughter, my grandson and granddaughter, comes from the fast approaching collapse of our climate and environment. This collapse has been brought about by our greed, by our plundering of the Earth’s resources, by our belief that we are somehow separate from, and conquerors of, what Aldo Leopold has called the ‘land community’ – evolved life on this beautiful planet. To avoid this collapse we need to do so much more than most people realise. We need to change how we live, how we understand our relationship with our fellow human and non-human animals, and most importantly how we do business and run our economy. The Green Party has not got all the solutions to how we do this, but it is the only political movement that acknowledges that such a radical change is necessary.

Driving up to North Staffordshire on Friday I saw the extent of some of the flooding that has been hitting our news screens, particularly the River Avon in Worcestershire which had burst it banks. We need to accept that there is no hard causal link between these floods and our climate emergency, floods have always happened. But, and this is a very big but, there is overwhelming evidence that the rise in global temperatures is increasing both the severity and the frequency of extreme weather events, whether they are floods, droughts, or wild fires. We should be concerned, very concerned regarding the frequency of these events around the world. We really do need to take these changes to our climate seriously and accept our responsibility for bringing them about. Our future generations will not forgive us if we fail to act.

I return to West Dorset today to face an increasing full diary of engagements. Most importantly, this coming week sees the first of the General Election hustings events – this one at The Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester. I have to confess to actually enjoying these public debates. Perhaps rather perversely, I enjoy being put on the spot and asked awkward questions. So please, if you are free, please do come along and meet me and my fellow candidates. The school event will not be open to the public, but those that are include:
• Bridport United Church on Tuesday 26th November at 7pm (organised by Transition Town Bridport
• Prince of Wales School in Poundbury on Wednesday 27th November at 7pm (organised by Dorset Parents SEND and focusing on inclusive education)
• St Mary’s Church, Maiden Newton on Monday 2nd December at 7pm
• Dorchester United Church on Wednesday 4th December at 7pm
• Corn Exchange, Dorchester on Monday 9th December at 7.30pm (organised by Sustainable Dorset)
• And a probable event organised by West Dorset for Europe on the evening of Tuesday 10th December at The Thomas Hardye School
What is noticeable about the events, in contrast to the 2017 General Election, is that four have been organised to focus on specific areas – one education, one Europe, and two climate.

General Election Diary: Week 1

Last week saw the dissolution of Parliament, the event that marks the formal start of the General Election campaign. So rather than focus on a particular topic, for the next six weeks this blog post will be in the form of a diary – the reflections of a parliamentary candidate on the week past.

The most significant news for me last week was the conclusion to the national negotiations between the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru regarding an election deal in key constituencies aimed at not splitting the ‘Remain’ vote. I have had pressure, from many directions, to stand down in West Dorset and to encourage Green Party supporters to vote for the Liberal Democrat candidate in the hope that we could prise the constituency out of the Conservative hands. However, as the final ‘Unite to Remain’ deal did not include West Dorset I have made it clear that despite this pressure I will be standing. My position has always been that I will follow the directions of the national party on this. If they asked me to stand down because by doing so a Liberal Democrat candidate stood down elsewhere, I would have been happy to do so. If they want me to stand, which they do, then I will do that.

On the local front, I was one of several councillors who attended a meeting with the management team of Bridport Community Hospital to discuss public concerns about the loss of beds. This is not the place to go into details of that meeting. But the nagging thought that I’m left with is: To what extend are the local managers, those who are effectively charged with defending the Dorset Health Care policy, fully aware of the background politics informing this policy. To what extent, for example, are they aware the influence that large American corporations like McKinsey and United Health have had on the development of their Integrated Care System? Are they aware that the new director of NHS England, Simon Stevens, in his previous role as CEO of United Health, had led corporate opposition to the introduction of Obamacare?

On a slightly lighter note, on Thursday I watched the National Theatre live screening of Hansard, the new play by Simon Woods. This was a brilliant two handed single act play set in 1988, and portrayed, during a single morning, the relationship between a junior member of Thatcher’s cabinet (Alex Jennings) and his long suffering wife (Lindsay Duncan). What struck me most about this play was the resonances to our current political situation, in particular to the arrogant lack of understanding and sense of privilege of the privately educated ‘elite’, and the sheer ineffectiveness of the opposition leader. I really do hope things change soon.

And on the following night I went along to a fundraiser for our local food bank, Cupboard Love. It is a damning inditement of our current political and economic system that not only do such charities exist, but that the number of people who rely on their support continues to grow. The atmosphere in the pub that put on this event, and the talent of the local artists that performed, was inspiring. But the very fact that such fundraisers are necessary should shame us all.

And to close the week on a sombre note, yesterday I attended Bridport’s Remembrance Sunday parade. I have to confess that, for a number of reasons, I don’t usually attend these. Whilst I am more than willing to acknowledge the huge sacrifice so many people have made in the numerous armed conflicts since the First World War, but particularly the obscene waste of life of the ironically named ‘Great War’, I react badly to both the infusion of the military and religion into such remembrances. However, I avoided most of the religion by, along with several others, not attending the church service and, instead, attending a secular period of reflection – made particularly poignant through the singing of John Lennon’s Imagine. I have to say, though, that I found the comments of one of the religious leaders, her thanking ‘God’ for our ‘victory’, most offensive.

A personal manifesto

In this week’s post I want to lay out my own personal manifesto for the upcoming General Election, an election in which I will be the Green Party candidate for West Dorset. In doing so I want to be absolutely clear – as far as I am concerned Brexit is not the main issue. It’s important, yes, but it is by no means the most important issue we face. That issue is our Climate Emergency. The breakdown of both our climate and ecological environment is an existential threat that needs to be given absolute priority. Our response to it should profoundly affect and direct all other areas of government policy.

Unlike the very considered approach being taken by Dorset Council in response to our Climate Emergency (an approach that is basically considering what is possible, what courses of action the Council can afford to take) we should first decide what actions are needed – and then worry about ‘the how’. This approach was very well expressed by Greta Thunberg speaking to the COP24 conference in Katowice, Poland: “Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. […] And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.” In other words, if we are serious about responding to this crisis we need to forget considering what our political, economic and social structures can deliver; we should, instead, consider what needs to happen (for example the need to reduce global carbon emissions to net-zero by 2030) and then change those structures accordingly. We don’t have the luxury of contemplating our navels. We need to start acting now.

All other aspects of government then become subservient to this response. Brexit, in this regard, is being a disastrous distraction. All other things being equal we are in a much better position to respond to the climate challenge as part of the EU than outside it. It is not just the actions of our own government that are important, it’s the actions of other governments. Brazil, for example, needs to stop clearing the Amazon rain forest. The USA needs to honour the Paris agreement. Pressure needs to be put on governments like these to change their actions – pressure that is much more feasible from a block like the EU than from an isolated country like the UK. Having said that, we still need to accept the 2016 narrow vote to leave the EU. However, there was a substantial problem with this vote: whist the nature of our existing relationship with the EU was clear, the nature of a future relationship outside the EU was far from clear. So once we have a clear proposal as to what this new relationship could be it needs to be confirmed by a second referendum.

Our whole approach to economics also needs to change. Our endless pursuit of wealth, of profit, our excessive consumption, and our plundering of the Earth’s resources have led us to the brink of climate and ecological collapse. We need to change this approach to economics. We need to think in terms of human and environmental wellbeing rather growth as measures of economic success. We need to think of economics as the study of how to equitably manage our limited and precious resources rather than how to create wealth.

In this regard we need to adopt a Green New Deal. We need to start developing a whole new approach to creating jobs – green jobs. For example, the Navitus Bay wind farm project, had it gone ahead off the coast of Dorset, would not only have supplied 85% of Dorset’s electricity requirement (which, with the addition of solar would have delivered 100% renewable energy for Dorset) but would have created many new engineering jobs. I will be campaigning for this project to be resurrected. I will also be campaigning for the democratisation of our economy – for workers to be represented on all boards and for there to be a massive increase in workers cooperatives.

And with regard to housing, national planning guidance needs to change so that local planning authorities can require all new housing to have net-zero carbon emissions. Local authorities need to be encouraged to start building new council houses – houses built to the highest ecological standards and made available, as a priority, to people on their housing register. This is a policy I will be campaigning for Dorset Council to adopt. We need to start considering a warm, dry and safe home a basic human right that every government should ensure is available for all its citizens.