A touch of eco-stoicism

A couple of incidents during the last week have made me think of stoicism. I’ve no intention of going into the detail of this ancient philosophy that flourished in the Greek and Roman worlds up until the 3rd century AD, and which has had several revivals over the years (including quite recently), but I would like to comment on a ‘prayer’ that for me sums up the stoic approach to life. This is to achieve:
The strength to change those things in life that I can change
The resilience to accept those things in life that I can’t change
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Whilst the exact wording of the above was never uttered (as far as I know) by an actual stoic philosopher, and whilst in modern times it has found form as the Christian ‘serenity prayer’, I think it exactly encapsulates the stoic approach to life. Taken as a statement of intent, of personal development, rather than as a request to a non-existent deity, I think that it provides us with a valuable guide to living – even the saving of humanity.

I think that there is a great deal of misunderstanding concerning those things in life we can change and those we cannot. Take the meaning and purpose we ascribe to life for example. For so many of us this is provided by our blind acceptance of the belief that we are naturally competitive creatures whose raison d’etre is to accumulate as many goods and as much wealth as possible, and that our success in life is measured by the amount of these we have accumulated. Such an attitude is largely believed to be set in stone as part of human nature, and that therefore we should just accept the fact and continue accumulating more and more stuff, even if this accumulation strips the planet of resources and poisons it with our waste.

However, we could, if we wanted, if we could find the strength, provide our selves with an alternative: we could appreciate that for over 90% of our evolution co-operation has been more important than competition and that its development will provide us with the best chance of dealing with most of the big issues that we face; we could see our raison d’etre as that of flourishing as part of a highly inter-dependent global eco-system. Yes, we could if we wanted. This last bit though, this seeing ourselves as plain members of the land community (as Aldo Leopold put it) rather than conquerors of it, is simply the acknowledgment of the truth, and can’t be changed – no matter how much we may wish it otherwise. This acceptance of the fact that we humans are just part of the Earth’s ecosystem, not masters of it, not exterior to it, and that we could easily become extinct if we disturb our relationship with our ecosystem to a much greater extent than we have so far, will require a fair amount of human resilience because it flies in the face of our over inflated sense of importance.

Yes, we humans really need to develop our wisdom. We need to learn to be able to differentiate between those things in life that can be changed and those that can’t. For so many aspects of our existence on this planet we have got it arse about face, believing that much of what we could change if we could find the strength is, instead, a fixed part of human nature, whilst simultaneously failing to see that much of what we are trying to change is in fact inalterable outside of a small degree of variability. If we fail to develop this wisdom soon our future existence has a great big question mark hanging over it.

Something slightly more philosophical

I’m not quite sure why, but I don’t think that I’ve often, if at all, mentioned the Philosophy in Pubs group that I run in either this blog, or on Twitter. I think that whilst political opinions are openly and robustly discussed at the Philosophy group, I have probably tried to keep this group at a little distance from my overtly party political activities and comments. It may also be that I don’t wish to give the group any more publicity than it already receives – a monthly column in the Bridport Times magazine. Largely as a result of this monthly column, attendance at the monthly discussions has been, well, shall we say, very healthy, sometimes bordering being a bit too healthy. Once you start getting more than 20 people together to discuss an issue it becomes difficult to control and ensure that everyone has a chance to engage.

So, why am I writing about it now? Well, quite simply, because, following last week’s meeting, it is dominating my thoughts. For two reasons: what we discussed at this meeting, and what we agreed to discuss at next month’s meeting. The question chewed over last week was: Can or should technology be ethically neutral? I will avoid summarising a direct answer to this question here (if you want one, see the April edition of Bridport Times) and instead focus on some thoughts that came to me as a result of our discussion.

These concern the extent to which technologies like social media have the power to change social norms and embody new norms; the degree to which these technologies can directly influence our perception or understanding of the world. I’m thinking particularly of how easy it is to use abusive or threatening language against someone who you have never, and are unlikely to ever meet; how our language to others can be normalised without the opportunity of direct social engagement. Or how teenagers learn about sexual norms from pornography rather than the fumbling embarrassments of direct sexual experiment. Up until very recently new norms have developed slowly. They have evolved. Those that have proved useful have been retained, those that have not have been lost. And the test has always been direct social feedback, feedback that has been nuanced by other body language and social context – feedback that now comes in the form of a simple, context-free ‘like’.

At the next meeting we agreed to discuss fashion. Yes, fashion…the philosophy of fashion. This has come about because of my association with Transition Town Bridport. Every year TTB run ‘Green Fortnight’ – a series of events around the town aimed at raising public awareness of a particular aspect of developing and living a sustainable way of life. As this year’s event is focussing on fashion I rather casually suggested to the person leading on the event that we devote a PiP session to discussing its philosophical aspects. Now I had completely forgot about this when I received an email from the organiser asking if this was actually happening. Fortunately this arrived the day before our PiP meeting, and when I suggested it to the group the idea was very favourably received – especially as I offered to introduce the topic myself. So my project for the coming week will be to do some research and thinking into fashion from a philosophical perspective, something that will be completely new to me, but something that I’m actually quite looking forward to. I will report back in a subsequent post.

Another area of research that has been dominating my thoughts for the last couple of years concerns the role that stories and narratives play in our lives; the extent to which we use them to structure and give our lives meaning and purpose. More particularly, I’ve been thinking about the extent to which meta-narratives, those over-arching narratives such as supplied by religion, or more recently supplied by our dominant economic model, supply what we take to be common sense. I’ve been following this line of thinking because I suspect that one of the main reasons why so many of us accept, at one level, that our climate is starting to breakdown and become a problem for human societies, but at another level refrain from taking the necessary action, is because it will retard economic growth or development – and this feels like it is contravening good old common sense. Fortunately I have been invited to talk at a number of local climate related events in the next couple of months, so will have an opportunity to test my thinking in live debate – always the best test!

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.

On our last week in the EU and my frustrations at being a Dorset Councillor

And so we enter our last week as a member of the EU. Putting to one side any personal sense of loss from the weakening of our political and cultural relationship with our closest neighbours, I have two main concerns as we drive into the post Brexit fog. First, that in their desire to be seen to quickly negotiate ‘great’ trade deals with the US and others (but primarily Trump’s US) the government is forced to accept terms that in any other circumstances would be regarded as unacceptable. And second, and in a way related, that despite it’s assurances to uphold all the EU environmental and employment standards we currently adhere to, the government slowly sets about dismantling all those standards that ‘business leaders’ regard as impediments to economic growth, and particularly to the growth of their own profits. My sense is that despite the long term view expressed by the political left in the UK, the EU is our best channel for limiting the power of big business.

I’m beginning to get a real sense of frustration from being a councillor on Dorset Council. I’m becoming acutely aware of the problems faced by many the county’s residents but feel impotent to bring about the necessary changes. Take our rural bus services for example. There been a long standing issue with the Bridport to Yeovil corridor, but the situation has now got worse with the announcement that the number 6 bus service from Bridport to Crewkerne via Beaminster will be withdrawn from 1st May. I can understand the problem from the bus operating company’s perspective (the service is loss making) and that Dorset Council have not got the money to subsidise it, but this doesn’t mitigate the hardship felt by residents who rely on the service.

The way forward is for Dorset Council to adopt a long term strategic public transport policy. I know what I’m going to suggest will make our cabinet members choke and look at me in disbelief, but this policy should make it clear public transport is a public service, that we need to make it easier and cheaper than car travel (if for no other reason that to reduce the carbon emissions from private care ownership), and that our policy sets out a plan to achieve this service even though we can’t afford it! We should then go public with the plan, aim to win the support of residents for it, and then campaign to get national government to change its policies and funding arrangements. Such an approach would demonstrate political leadership – something that I think this council lacks.

I’m feeling similar frustrations with Dorset Council regarding our climate and ecological emergency. I’m experiencing the same lack of political leadership. The approach being adopted by the panel looking into our response to this emergency (which I sit on), or rather the approach we are being instructed to take, is to look at the evidence, the facts, and then to decide what is both possible to achieve and what we can afford to achieve. This on the surface sounds eminently sensible. The problem is that what’s possible to achieve is heavily dependent on current attitudes and practices – both of which may need to change in light of this emergency! And what we can afford is heavily dependent on our current economic models – which may well also need to change. So rather than assessing what’s possible though existing attitudes, practices and economic models we need to first assess what we need to achieve, and then what we need to change in order to bring this about.

Youth centres, public transport, and the need for political leadership

Our new MP, Chris Loder, has just won a place in the Parliamentary lottery to introduce a Private Members Bill, and has made a call for suggestions as to what legislation his bill could bring about. Well, the secretary of our Bridport Youth & Community Centre (which I now have the privilege of chairing) has made a suggestion that I would like to not only endorse, but to publicise as widely as possible. She has written to him suggesting that the Government reinstates “the funding and support of Youth Centres, making it mandatory for County and District councils.” As she goes on to point out, “Their closure all over Britain is already having a terrible impact on young people and the Government could give ring-fenced money to the councils to pay for this.” Since the old Dorset County Council decided it could no longer afford to pay for youth centres and youth clubs over two years ago it has fallen to volunteers across the county to give their time and energy to keep, what I consider to be an essential service for our young people, alive and kicking. I think this a scandalous situation in such a wealthy country.

It’s not that the government has not got the money to spend on other projects. Take HS2 for example. A leaked report has just suggested that the cost of the new high speed rail link could more than double from its 2015 estimate of £52bn to £106bn, with a considerable risk that it could rise by a further 20%! That is an awful lot of money to simply cut the journey time between London and Manchester by 50 mins. I have travelled on the existing West Coast main line many times and know it to be a far better service than which I experience travelling to London from the South West. No, what we need (and need urgently) is a national strategic transport policy – one that takes into account the lack of public transport (particularly buses) in many rural areas of the country. We not only need a fair public transport system, one that allows everyone to travel with relative ease (not just business people who could communicate and attend meetings on-line), but we need one that will entice people away from their cars. If we are in any way serious about tackling our climate emergency we need to make public transport cheaper and easier than owning and using a private vehicle. And don’t even get me started on domestic air travel and the government bailout of FlyBe!

The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has called for any decision regarding the future of the HS2 project to be based on evidence. This may sound eminently sensible, except for the fact that evidence, hard data, still needs interpreting. And it can be interpreted in different ways depending on how you understand the world, particularly how you understand the social world. We need to move away from the naïve view that evidence speaks for itself – it doesn’t. What’s needed in situations like this is political leadership. What’s needed is a clear vision of the type of society we want to create in light of the many challenges we face. A similar situation exists on Dorset Council’s Climate and Ecological Emergency Advisory Panel. We, on the chair’s guidance, are constantly searching for evidence on which any decision will be based in such a way that suggests this decision will be obvious and beyond dispute. But evidence will always be open to interpretation. No. We do not need any further evidence. What we need is a political interpretation of the evidence we already have. What we need is the political will to take action. What we need is political leadership.

Royals and Red-tops

The royal soap opera continues to command public attention and constant news coverage. Why? Why does this archaic and blatantly undemocratic institution continue to exist in the 21st century? Why does this epitome of class and privilege refuse to fade into the background and simply become a memory of the way things once were? Surely we have more important things to worry about? More pressing issues to debate on the news channels and in our newspapers? I’m sure that there are a multitude of answers available, but none of them definitive. One of the most concerning answers I heard voiced last week was that the British still regard themselves as superior to other nations, and our royal family superior to all the existing royal families scattered across the world, such that people from these other countries look to us to lead and guide them. I find such national arrogance deeply troublesome. It reminds me of an argument I once had with an otherwise very intelligent person who, in all seriousness, regarded the queen as the provider of a moral compass. But whether you agree with my reaction or not, surely you can agree it is worth having a proper public debate about the future of our royal family and their place (if they have one) in a modern democratic state.

But are we a democratic state? The reaction of the press, particularly the ‘red-top’ newspapers to this and other stories, does make me wonder. Their, dare I suggest, over coverage of last week’s royal news has been well commented upon, not least by Mark Steele who, on Radio Four’s News Quiz, criticised one ‘red-top’ because after 17 pages of comment, page 18 hardly mentioned the royal family at all. OK, this all makes for good satire, but its damaging for democracy as well. Not only does such royal coverage over emphasise the significance of one over-privileged family, it avoids all reporting and discussion of other issues – issues such as wild fires in Australia larger than the size of Greater London and the growing threat to world peace in the Middle East. For anyone who gets their news from such sources, the impression given is that these ‘other’ stories are of marginal importance to an individual family dispute. This promotion of political ignorance is dangerous.

Of even greater danger than this avoidance of reporting important issues is the selective and partisan reporting of domestic political issues, particularly concerning the Labour Party. Now are am no Labour apologist. I have no reason to defend them either on policy or their dismal lack of political opposition, far from it. But when I saw the reporting of Rebecca Long-Bailey’s announcement of her standing in their leadership contest in one particular ‘red-top’ I was appalled. Rather than reporting and commenting on her particular political orientation they simply published, on their front page, a particularly unflattering photograph of her with a personal comment on her appearance. To my mind this was a particularly crude attempt to ridicule and demonise her. My fear here, over and above this particular (and particularly nasty) piece of ‘reporting’, is the power these newspapers have (or to be more precise, the power the owners of these newspapers have) to influence public opinion. Rather than inform and promote debate amongst their readership they appear to want to manipulate public opinion through fear and ridicule. This is not only unfair, it’s a dangerous attack on our democracy. It gives tremendous power to the few very rich owners of news media, and at the same time actively encourages their readership to avoid actual thought and consideration and instead to form ‘opinions’ based on emotion and prejudice. A very dangerous combination!


The word ‘patriotism’ has been associated with a couple news stories this week; in relation to Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate a leading Iranian army officer coupled with him seeking the Republican nomination for a second term as president, and in relation to Rebecca Long Bailey’s expected declaration that she will enter the Labour Party’s leadership contest. It’s a word that makes me deeply uncomfortable.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines the concept as a “feeling of attachment and commitment to a country, nation, or political community” and differentiates it from ‘nationalism’. This latter term, which I’m even more uncomfortable with (particularly due to its association with the far right) is defined as “loyalty to one’s nation”, and as having a history starting in the 19th century. Patriotism, on the other hand, is defined as “love of country”, but this time with having a history dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans for whom it was “associated with the love of law and common liberty, the search for the common good”. So what’s wrong with that? Well, firstly, I think it difficult, if not impossible, to claim words have definitive meanings. Effectively, words mean what people in general interpret them as meaning, and I’m deeply uncomfortable with the attitude of many who describe themselves as patriots . And secondly, but far more importantly, I fear that the term narrows our sense of solidarity and attachment to a far too confined sense of community.

The news item about Donald Trump well illustrates the worst connotations of the word. This story referred to his invocation of an evangelic and patriotic fervour to help support his nomination for a second term, his repeated use of the term ‘America first’, and his assertion that ‘God’ was on their side. In a comment aimed at the Iranian leadership, he was reported as saying “You don’t stand a chance against the righteous might of the United States military.” This is the use of religion at its very worst: it’s the claim that the believed source of all that is right and ethical supports one group of people, one nation, with the implication that therefore whatever they decide to do against any other nation is, by definition, right. This was the sort of attitude that allowed the colonialisation of various global communities by those whose military power was the greater, and the genocide of certain ethnic groups deemed to be of lesser worth. I’m sorry, but such an attitude is not only bullshit, it’s not only bullshit that is ethically obnoxious, but, by mitigating against the need to develop a sense of global community to allow humanity to overcome its global problems, it’s bullshit that has the potential to destroy us all.

Rebecca Long Bailey’s used the term in a much softer and less overtly troublesome way, but problems still exist. She talked about the need to revive a sense of “progressive patriotism” in order to unite communities; she pointed out that “Britain has a long history of patriotism rooted in working life, built upon unity and pride in the common interests and shared life of everyone.” Now the idea of communities being united and working for the mutual benefit of everyone I fully endorse. And I accept that the size of the community that you feel part of and work to enhance must, at one level at least, be limited in size. I genuinely feel part of my local community, far more than I feel part of my national community, and very much more than I feel part of a global community. But my fear is that in emphasising the unity of particular groups, particularly national groups, we limit the boundary of our common interests and shared life to the extent that ‘everyone’ only applies to those who live within our own national boundary, and (potentially) only those that pledge allegiance to that boundary.

As I’ve said on many, many occasions, the existential threats facing humanity on this planet (climate and ecological breakdown for example) do not respect national boundaries; sea levels will increase across the world, climate and its effects on weather systems cannot be confined to particular localities, and ethically the wealthier nations of this world have an obligation to help those fellow humans fleeing their loss of habitat. We can only combat these threats through the recognition and acceptance that ‘common interests’ and the ‘shared life of everyone’ refer to the interests and lives of every global citizen. I fear that calls for patriotism mitigate such a recognition and acceptance by confining our focus to a national boundary, and that this harms us all.

General Election: some final thoughts

It’s now a week since the General Election, and I’m beginning to feel ‘normal’ again. I say ‘normal’ simply because the election is parasitic of candidates; it slowly and imperceptively takes over your whole thinking, and only reluctantly releases its grip on you. Thankfully this grip is now sufficiently weak that I can both start to focus on my routine council work (which I have neglected these last few weeks) and rationally reflect (as opposed to emotionally react) on the result.

My first thoughts refer to the widespread degree of tactical voting that took place. At the start of the election I was very sympathetic to the call for people to not vote for the candidate they most supported, but to ‘hold their nose’ and vote for the one they thought most likely to beat the Conservative candidate, and in the end it was obvious that tactical voting was very prevalent; even though I managed to increase the size of my vote from the 2017 election it was still greatly squeezed, with many, many people coming up to me to say “I would like to vote for you but…”. However, on reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that such an approach to voting is undemocratic. It implies that smaller political parties like The Green Party should stand aside for the ‘big boys, further marginalising new political thinking. It attempts to deprive voters of choice. But most damning of all, it has a tendency to be coercive, in as much that towards the end of the election period I started to hear reports from voters that they felt under pressure to vote differently from how they wanted. I found this worrying and of great concern.

I, like many others, felt very depressed at the result of this election. Not only am I very worried that the size of Tory majority effectively side-lines any effective opposition in Parliament, giving them free reign to do what they like, I fear that an effective response to our climate and ecological emergency will be tepid at best – that their deep belief in neo-liberal economics, a belief in the power of market led solutions, will drive us further and further towards the brink. However, as these initial dark clouds start to lighten I am starting to feel a determination grow in me to fight politically more than I have ever done before. I am starting to feel a determination to harness everything I have learned from my relatively short experience of politics, but perhaps even more importantly from my experience of philosophy, to do all that I can to break the stranglehold this neo-liberal ideology has over our thinking.

I say over our thinking on purpose. I’ve come to realise over the years that whether we realise it or not we structure and give meaning to our lives in line with a background story, a story that becomes so imbedded in our thinking that we start to consider it ‘just plain common sense’. For many centuries this story was supplied by religion – in the West predominantly by some form of Christianity. However, slowly and imperceptively this story has been superseded by neo-liberalism and the belief that we are all individuals naturally controlled by rational self-interest. At the moment we are all predominantly under its spell. But we don’t need to be. There’s nothing natural about it beyond our need to have some grand-narrative – a narrative that can and should be changed if we want to give humanity a fighting chance of flourishing in the decades to come. I intend to find a way, probably through a book, of explaining my thinking here in some depth.

And finally, a conversation I had with my Town Clerk greatly restored both my spirits and motivation. He pointed out that whilst communities could not resolve all our problems they have got the power to make a real difference to people’s lives. And at this level not only can we all become involved in change and make a contribution to our collective lives, but we can actually come to realise the power and importance of our collective life together – we can come to realise first hand the power of cooperation and community. So on that uplifting note I wish you all peace and happiness. This, I think, will be my last post of the year. Have a great holiday. See you in 2020!

General Election: week five

On Saturday I took part in a very informal hustings at the Cerne Abbas brewery. What was really significant about this event was not the beer, nor the very small audience comprised mostly of supporters of the three candidates who attended (Lib Dem, Labour & myself), nor the rather cold semi-open air setting. It was the final comment of the organiser when thanking the candidates. Because all three of us get on well, and because we are largely in agreement on most issues, he asked if it was possible for us to job share. Now I know that this was a somewhat tongue in cheek comment, but it triggered some thoughts about how we could, even should, do politics differently.

Most importantly, we must have some form of proportional representation – the ‘first past the post’ system we have now is well and truly broken. One of the big themes in this election has been tactical voting. Voters feel unable to vote with their hearts to bring about change. Instead, many have openly said that they will hold their nose and vote for a certain candidate simply in the hope that by so doing they will prevent the Conservative candidate winning. I have also been opening asked at hustings to stand down for the same purpose. As I said in response to such a request last night, that is unfair, even undemocratic, in as much as it deprives Green Party supporters who do wish to vote with their hearts the opportunity to do so. No, what is needed is a system whereby if the Green Party (or any other minority party) has say 5% of the popular vote, that should translate into a Parliament comprised of 5% Green Party MPs.

This will not only ensure that all views are truly represented in Parliament, but will mean that Governments, because they will almost always need to be formed by coalitions, will be forced to seek consensus. I think this important for two reasons; reasons which are, in the main, not openly expressed or understood by politicians and voters alike. First, there are no definitive answers to the problems and issues we face. Anyone who claims that there are is fooling themselves. Like it or like it not, the world (and by that I mean both the natural world and the socio-economic world) is just too complex for such answers. Just because a certain solution appeared to work in the past is no guarantee that it will work now (for the simple reason that, by definition, the context has changed), but more importantly, many of the problems facing us now have never occurred before – we have no experience to draw upon.

Second, the world is inherently uncertainty. For reasons best explained by complexity science, the science of dynamic systems, not only is the precise outcome of any action impossible to predict (because it is impossible to factor in all the variables), because of various feedback loops, the magnitude of any difference made by one of these variables can be totally out of proportion to the magnitude of its input. I once heard Shirley Williams, one of the Labour MPs who broke away from the party to form the Social Democrats, say on the radio that in their hearts most politicians know this, but that they are in fear of admitting it because they believe that the public wants to hear politicians being certain. We really do need to end this deception.

All this will all mean that we will need to do politics differently in the future. Proportional Representation will rightly mean that multiple view-points are expressed in any discussion. Because of the two reasons explained above, this means that politician will need to actively listen to and understand these various view-points. It doesn’t mean that that have to agree to them, but it does mean that they need to rationally explain why they disagree, and be open to having these disagreements challenged in open debate. Politicians also need to understand the nature of evidence and how to evaluate it, together with an acceptance that this evidence will often show that their original decision was not the best one and that there is nothing wrong with admitting this. But most of all, it means that politicians need to accept that decisions can only be made through consensus.