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!