#GE2017: The Real Issues

Planet-Earth-4K-Wallpaper-900x506

Politicians will tell you that they have your best interests at heart. That they want to make ‘the country’ (which country, Wales?) a better, fairer place. That they will ‘grow the economy’, create jobs, fix the mess the other lot have made.

But it will be easy enough to spot the biggest bullshitters, from the things that they don’t talk about.

Not even your toenails grow forever

We need to talk about growth. It has become an addiction, and like all the most hopeless addictions, we are in denial. We have allowed ourselves to be sold a dream of infinite economic growth. All UK politicians subscribe to this (with the occasional refreshing exception like Caroline Lucas).

There is no alternative, apparently.

But anyone with any experience of almost anything in the real world, knows that this can’t possibly make sense. Nothing grows forever. Most of us who aren’t politicians have noticed that we live on a finite planet, with a fixed amount of resources. The global economy cannot and will not grow forever.

Instead, we are going to have to start talking about other ways to measure our economy and whether or not it is functioning well.

Lots of people are having this conversation (people like enlightened rebel economists such as Cardiff Uni’s Calvin Jones, and Kate Raworth from Oxford Uni) but, oddly, politicians are not.

It’s as if they have forgotten that they were elected to serve people, and instead are beholden to the economy in which people live.

So next time someone tells you that Wales can’t be independent because it is too poor, it’s just worth raising an eyebrow and instigating a conversation about what constitutes a healthy, sustainable economy.

Because this won’t feature in the upcoming election talk. We’ll just get sold short again by the duplicitous usual suspects. For as long as we are all chasing the non-existent pot of gold at the end of the economic rainbow, it will distract us from asking how we might measure our economy to scrutinise whether it is actually working as it should (growth or no growth), and whether if we were focused on something other than GDP we might design something better.

Is economic growth a worthwhile end in itself anyway, even if it were possible to sustain it forever, if in the process people are left behind?

Maybe toenails is not the right metaphor here, I guess they can grow pretty long if you let them. But what is it doing to your socks? Can you still walk? Do these things even matter?

People are shafting the system, and its not who you think

There are a small number of people getting very rich at the moment, and they are the same people telling us we need to tighten our belts. You know that, and I know that. But what I notice is that even though we all know it, an uncomfortably high proportion of us are still minded to blame the ‘welfare culture’ for our problems.

So we are in a pretty tight spot. A vicious circle. A momentous feedback loop.

The people holding the public purse strings (they don’t keep their own money in purses, there’s too much of it, so they keep it in offshore bank accounts where its safer from the dangers of things like tax) are calling all the shots. And the shots they are calling right now go like this:

We need to reign in public spending because of the National debt (which they caused by failing to regulate the banks and then bailing them out with our money).

So we are going to cut spending on mental health, youth provision, women’s shelters, the arts, libraries, social care, policing, education etc.

You know, non-essential stuff we don’t really need (well, you might but we don’t because we’re privately educating our children and have a security guard).

Oh. Spending on health went up? And the prison population increased? Inequality and poverty levels worsened? (Scratches head whilst searching for causal relationships).

Well, that’s all very expensive, so we’re going to have to tighten our (your) belts a little (a lot) more. Looks like we’ll have to cut housing benefit, and the Personal Independence Payment (disability living allowance), and remove child support for third children because its all you (poor) people having too many children that are causing the problems.

You don’t like that in Wales? Well, deal with it. Because we make the decisions, so get back to us when you have grown your economy and stop squealing about the fact that you can’t because someone else owns all your resources, you pay rent to the Queen for your own seabed, and you are too busy running food banks.

And so on and so forth.

But on the whole, this massive, fundamentally flawed assumption on which all of our politics in the UK has been based since the financial crisis in 2008, will not be mentioned by any of the major parties in the run up to the election.

The assumption that the answer to all our woes lies in cutting public spending goes essentially unchallenged.

This assumption will not be discussed. It will just be taken as a given, and then the only remaining discussion will be about the detail. Who should be shafted, and how much and how quickly.

We’ll just be offered a range of very slightly varying flavours of the same dish. This dish is austerity. The side orders on offer aren’t any more appealing, they are poverty, inequality, division and blame.

Its served up to us by those who will later dine on fine food and the best wine that money can buy.

So we need to change the menu.

Or better still, take our custom elsewhere entirely.

Anyone fancy getting together and setting up a restaurant around the corner? We could put on a range of affordable meals, simple but nutritious, organic local produce, bring a bottle. If you can’t afford it, we’ll work something out. Everyone welcome, stay on for late-night banter and we’ll carve you a rose out of a water melon.

In case it passed you by, that last bit is a reference to Oz Urfa, an amazing Turkish restaurant on City Road. I’d suggest you go there next time you are in Cardiff, but they aren’t carving roses carved out of water melons there anymore, or amazing food with charming service either because despite winning the Taste of Wales Best World Cuisine Award in 2016 the Home Office deported their chef and so they had to close.

Obviously, the wider metaphor was about an independent Wales. An independent Wales in which, incidentally, we could have made our own decision about whether to let Faruk Yavuzel stay in Wales to continue flame grilling award winning food and contributing to his local economy….

Anything that doesn’t come with a set of multiple choice answers

Like, whose fault is it that we are in this mess?

This will be discussed, but the answers will be multiple choice and the only ones available will be:

a) Foreigners

b) The EU

c) Poor people

d) The elite (but not the economic elite, just people that read books or are in the judiciary etc)

Multiple choice answers that will not be available include:

e) Tax-dodging billionaires

f) Bankers

g) Politicians that privatised your public services and that now receive an income from their shares in the resulting companies

Other accounts we are overdrawn on

There’s just this small thing, nothing really. Its hardly worth bothering about, so I hesitate to even mention it here.

It’s just this thing, you may have heard of it, it’s called…

Planet Earth.

Not the BBC documentary featuring David Attenborough and dung beetles.

The actual planet.

The one we live on.

So I’m not sure if you have been following this, but whilst the Brexit reality show has been playing out on the main channels, there’s been this gripping drama going almost unnoticed.

The plot is bordering on unbelievable. If it wasn’t based on a true story, you wouldn’t believe it.

It’s based on these crazy people (‘the human race’) who live on Planet Earth. They inhabit this planet for hundreds of thousands of years, including the most recent twelve thousand during a geological period known as the Holocene, during which they have developed agriculture, and civilisation and then industry, in part due to the unusually stable climate which has characterised this period of geological time.

And then, in the space of a generation, they stuff it up.

They bust through at least four out of nine recognised ‘safe limits’ for their planetary system (atmospheric carbon/climate change, nitrogen and phosphate loading, biodiversity loss and deforestation) within the space of about forty years.

Their population trebles, their consumption quadruples, their energy consumption goes up tenfold. Inequality goes through the roof.

The impact that all of this has on the planet, its climate and its natural regulatory systems, is so great that this time is designated as a new geological era. The human race, through its own actions, brings to an end the stable geological period known as the Holocene, and instigates the beginning of the Anthropocene.

Their impact is now great enough that it will be visible in the fossil record.

The human race has become an extinction event.

But their politicians don’t talk about this. They don’t mention the fact that they are overdrawn on their environmental accounts.

They ignore the warning signs.

They put up a smoke screen and betray everyone and everything, by not acknowledging that with power comes responsibility. That with leadership comes tough decisions. With elected representation comes a requirement to act in the collective interest and call out vested interests.

We have voted those interests into power. That’s why on the subject of the real threats we face, we hear…

Silence.

Anything about Derry, Barnsley, Motherwell or Bangor

Since Thatcher, and globalisation, local economies have kind of been put on the back burner. We’ve all watched it happen. First the major extractive industries go, then the manufacturing. Then a whole tranche of local businesses that are supported by the spending power of the people formerly employed in those sectors.

Making stuff has been replaced, in the main, by the jiggery-pokery of the finance sector, overwhelmingly located in London. It’s pretty much all MPs can see. It parasitises our economy. The money system, invented to make it easier to trade and barter the real stuff that people in Derry, Barnsley, Motherwell and Bangor make, and the services they provide, has hijacked the whole of the economy. More money is traded in fancy packages of nonsensical risk every year, than actually exists.

And it effects everything. Property is bought up, and lays empty (although not so much in Barnsley) because the system has flipped reality on its head. Instead of money representing stuff, as intended, stuff has started to represent money.

That’s OK if you earn a living in stocks and shares and the splicing, slicing and dicing of debt to be sold, resold and profited on. But if you live in Cleethorpes, or Glasgow, Carmarthen or Omagh, its likely that your world revolves more around real things. Food that you can eat, water you can drink, energy that powers your home.

So listen out for those candidates that talk about localism. And call out those who have a ‘High Speed 2’ mentality (it’ll all be fine if we can just get to London quicker). Or a ‘City Region’ mentality (it doesn’t matter if there are no jobs in Blaenau Gwent, just travel to Cardiff).

Because soon, we are going to have to figure out that the economy is not an end in itself. And that it isn’t exclusively located in London. It is a construct that we use to describe the way that goods and services circulate around our society, and the benefit (and harm) that they cause in the process. So next time your local candidates talk about ‘the economy’ call then out. Pin them down. What does this mean locally? What does it mean in terms of real outcomes for real people? Why has the money stopped circulating, where has it gone (there isn’t less of it, as we are told, it’s just not reaching most of us).

What are we doing about that?

What does it mean for Bangor?

What does it mean for Wales?

Tax is a good thing.

It pays for stuff. End of.

Politicians and their rich backers would like us to universally demonise tax. It’s the ‘enemy of the people’ (that’s a dangerous phrase we are likely to hear more of). But we know that isn’t true. Not all tax is equal for instance. Some is progressive, so you pay more the more you can afford, or to look at it another way, the more you benefit from shared services (like the NHS which looks after the health of the employees that help you make a profit) the more you contribute.

Some are regressive, so you pay the same tax on tampons, even if you are so poor you can’t afford them and so you just don’t go to school when you have your period.

Some are nominally progressive, like Council Tax, but not really, because there is a cap, so the most well off people in London whose house may be worth many millions, pay the same as someone in Wrecsam who paid £200K for their house.

So give us a break, lets stop talking about ‘Tax Relief’ as if tax is an affliction we must cure, and start talking about Tax Justice.

And while we are at it, let’s campaign for an independent Wales and then we can introduce a fair system of tax that works for the majority of people, rather than rich people who want to get richer without paying their way. They might not use the NHS, but last time I checked they drove on roads and most of the people they employ on zero hours contracts were educated by the tax payer.

Performance review

In most jobs, your continued employment is contingent on regular performance review.

Pay increase is performance linked.

MPs not so much.

In this role, you get paid even if you don’t turn up. You get re-elected (or not) based not on whether you have actually voted in the best interests of the people you represent (or, heaven forbid, the planet on which we all live) but, largely at the whim of the tabloid press.

In Wales for instance, if you are a Labour MP, and like Chris Bryant in the Rhondda you haven’t even bothered to turn up for important votes on the devolution of more powers (like policing and control of our natural resources) to Wales, you’ll likely get let off the hook for failing your electorate.

Maybe.

To boot, you will glibly continue to espouse a policy of further devolution, criticising those who might have had enough of your bullshit and for whom independence for Wales is looking better and better, despite the fact that when further devolution is offered, you don’t vote for it.

In short, if we aren’t careful, we are rewarding mediocrity, hypocrisy and duplicity. So do me a favour, if you are even considering voting for your incumbent, check out their voting record and then ask yourself whether they genuinely have the interests of their local constituents at heart.

If you are in Wales, ask yourself if any of them really do. And then ask yourself how we can make some genuine change here. Ask yourself which party sticks up for Wales’ best interests, time after time after time.

Then get yourself to a hustings and ask candidates some difficult questions about the first five things on this list, and the things on your list, which no doubt once you start to write it, is quite long.

We didn’t choose to have this election, but we are choosing who to vote for, so lets make it an informed choice.

And don’t tell me you are voting X, Y or Z because your family always have. Just imagine explaining that to your grand children when they ask why you didn’t demand change when you had the opportunity.

The time has come, let’s make our voices heard.

 

 

 

 

 

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