A week of political frustration and humour

Last week’s meeting of the full Dorset Council was, for me, another chapter in my growing frustration at the lack of actual meaningful action emanating from the Council in response to our climate and ecological emergency. Two agenda items were of particular note. One was the presentation for approval of the Council Plan, its ‘corporate’ plan for the next four years. I accept that as a result of comments received from its public consultation the Council acknowledge the emergency as an all-encompassing issue in the plan’s forward, and give it a central location in the graphics illustrating the plan, but it is only referred to in passing when the actual main aims of the plan are spelt out. This is just not good enough. However, being the only councillor to vote against the plan I was in a significant minority on this issue.

The other key agenda item was the approval of the Council’s budget for the forthcoming year. Both the Liberal Democrat and Green groups submitted amendments to this budget; both were defeated. One of the two proposals within the Green amendment concerned the establishment of a fund to support climate emergency action. Given that Dorset Council’s reserves are almost twice as large as those of other councils, we had hoped to propose an immediate £5m capital investment in such a fund. However, after being advised that such a proposal would be vetoed on procedural grounds, we proposed something far more modest: That the scope of the Council’s transformation fund (a £5m fund already established to improve the efficiency of the Council) should be revised with immediate effect to include not just projects which lead to revenue savings but also measures which materially mitigate or adapt to climate change and improve Dorset’s ecology. As other councils are able to create such an emergency fund from reserves (even Bridport Town Council has effortlessly made £100k available to help deliver its Climate Emergency Action Plan) I fail to understand the resistance that emanated from the Conservative majority group. I can only assume that they will only support actions that do not hinder economic ‘business as usual’ – even if such principals are the cause of our emergency!

Last week also saw the first of the Climate Emergency Inquiry Days set up by Dorset Council as a result of its pubic consultation on possible action. Whilst the degree of public attendance was a little disappointing, I cannot fault either the ideas that came forward or the enthusiasm of their presenters. My frustrations around this public consultation have nothing to do with the ideas that are coming forward. No, they concern the fact that in broad principle we already know what we need to do, and whilst such a consultation may well bring forward some very creative and innovative projects, we should not be delaying necessary action whilst waiting for them.

However, last week was not without its highlights. Thursday evening saw BBC’s Question Time broadcast from Weymouth. And there, on the front row, in full view of every camera shot of the audience, was our Town Council’s very own Town Clerk. Now this, in and of itself, may not be worth commenting on. But what made this so great, and created a bit of a local social media storm, was his facial reactions to the woman sitting next to him (who, he has assured me, is no relative or friend) as she expressed some rather bigoted and not very well informed views on “all those foreign workers coming over here taking all our jobs”. Well done Will. After a particularly long Area Planning Committee meeting your face lightened my mood no end!

And that was not the end of the humour. On Saturday evening I was fortunate enough to see the comedian Mark Thomas perform at the Electric Palace in Bridport. Mark’s political (Marxist) humour was not only entertaining, it was also, in my opinion at least, insightful. In many ways comedians can say stuff that politicians are very cautious of saying in public. His comments about the large number of northern former labour voters who, in December, decided to give their support to the Tories instead in the hope that they will make Britain great again (my paraphrase) by restoring our former place in the world order, a place that basically came about through our abusing, invading and/or plundering all but a small number of other countries, I found particularly poignant, as I did his pointing out to all those people like that woman on Question Time that rather than being full only 1% of our country is actually occupied. Oh, and on a local(ish) note, he didn’t express much love for our wealthy Dorset South MP Richard Drax, a man whose family wealth, in case you didn’t know, was derived from the slave trade.

Restoring my political mojo

I have been lacking some political motivation. This is the first time I have written for three weeks, and have barely offered any comment on Twitter. The first week of inaction can be easily explained – I took a week off to visit my daughters and grandchildren – but since I have been back I just haven’t been able to find the enthusiasm to comment. Why? Has my political fire gone out? Where has my motivation gone? In an attempt to restore my mojo I even revisited the main theories of motivation in the hope that some cognitive reflection might rekindle my fire, but alas they offered no help or solace at all. They all appear to be focused on the workplace or success in an organisation.

However, this attempt did lead me to the rather obvious realisation that my problem is quite simply the size of the task before me, the hard fact that no matter how hard I work the chances of anything worthwhile changing are minimal. We have a Conservative government with a sufficiently large majority that barring some unexpected scandal they are secure for another four years. We have a Conservative led Dorset Council with a much reduced majority, but probably just as secure. Both pay lip service to the need to take our climate and ecological emergency seriously, but both are so constrained by their adherence to the neo-liberal mindset that they are incapable or either serious action, or more importantly, of providing political leadership. And in a strange way this realisation helped. I realised that my day to day political activities will almost certainly be pointless, and that I should simply accept this. But having just talked this through with my partner I was also reminded that despondency and inertia are not the answer either. Instead, what I / we can do is…well…do what ever I / we can, no matter how small, to make a difference. Focus on the small, the local, on community actions…and hopefully watch them grow.

Last weekend is was fortunate to be taken to a Sam Lee concert in Lyme Regis. Sam is a folk singer with an amazing voice and an incredible backing band. However, my reaction to his music prompted much reflection, not least because some of the people I went with were somewhat surprised that, as a green politician, I wasn’t more taken with the sentiment and lyrics of the traditional songs he sang, songs that were very much about nature and our natural environment. My problem, I think, is that most of the songs he sang, songs he had collected from the travelling community in particular, were songs related to folklore, to traditional beliefs, customs and stories of different communities. Whilst these songs are certainly interesting, to my thinking some supporters of a ‘green’ attitude simply see their implied return to nature as the answer to all our problems. I am very sceptical that a return to any past attitude, in and of itself, will solve anything. Instead of resurrecting old ways of thinking we need to be developing new ways. Whilst we can no doubt learn from the past, we need to develop non-tradition mindsets. We need to develop a new common-sense, not adopt an old one.

One area of our lives that really demands a re-think is that of fashion and the fashion industry. On Thursday, to coincide with the launch of London Fashion Week, Transition Town Bridport launched its Fashion revolution. This much needed revolution concerns the negative social and environmental impacts of producing, consuming and wasting clothes, particularly clothes produced to meet the artificial demands created by the fashion industry itself. Put simply, there is a very high environmental cost to the production of clothes in terms of the materials used, the incredibly high volume of usable clothing that is simply discarded into landfill, and the carbon footprint of transporting clothing from factories in the far east to high streets and shopping malls in the west. There is also an incredibly high human cost in term of the conditions of the factory workers employed to make these garments. When we buy new clothes we really do need to consider these factors. We need to ask ourselves whether we really do need to replace an item of clothing or buy an additional one. And if we manage to convince ourselves that we do, perhaps we should consider buying from a charity shop instead. Rather than bemoan the number of charity shops on our high street, perhaps we should consider it an asset.