Elephant in the counting room

The major question – ‘the elephant in the room’ – at Fareham Council’s budget meeting last week was:  How can we remedy the Central Government’s damage?  And the most cohesive answer was provided by Cllr. Roger Price – Leader of Fareham’s Liberal Democrat Group.

He told councillors: “This Conservative government has made it impossible for this council to provide the services Fareham residents want.”

For Fareham, three issues rise above all other complaints of centralised incompetence:

  • Major Environmental Improvements – an all-party concern, with scope for wider public involvement in policy development – particularly by engaging with young people and climate-change activists.
  • Housing – working to overcome glaring contradictions in Whitehall’s policies so that we can retain vital green spaces between communities.  The health of residents, the economy and our environment, is also an all-party concern.
  • Reviewing the value of the Council’s office space – yet another all-Party concern that could save money and improve our effectiveness.

These three areas of concern provide scope for action with broad appeal beyond party politics.  The real test will come when firm proposals emerge, but the agenda for progressive policy development will depend on the results of the elections next May.

See Roger’s full speech.

Your future is in the post

If you watched BBC News South Today last week you may have noticed that the show ran a segment about the local elections scheduled for next May – and whether they might be cancelled.

South Today was not alone. Media outlets, Press, TV and Radio, across the UK all had this topic injected into their editorial priorities. A quick Google News search shows a remarkable uniformity of timing and content.

Most of these reports sought to reassure people that a further delay would not happen. But this sudden media attention (and a question in Parliament) served to test the strength of the democratic barricades.

The editorial line taken by the BBC was that the May elections might possibly be further delayed, and the government has already decided against an all-Postal vote – apparently out of an NHS-like concern for the Royal Mail.

Some outlets dutifully included concerns about voter fraud despite all-postal trials showing the scope for a reduction of the already miniscule problem. So now we’ve all been forewarned – put on notice of potential cancellation.

There is a crazy logic behind all this that would certainly appeal to this government. They’ll have the cover of a ready-made health excuse and a certain enthusiasm to avoid voter judgement on Brexit outcomes or their management of pandemic responses.

Next November’s COP26 conference in Glasgow is being primed to present the UK’s global climate credentials – despite the fact that they failed last week to block the creation of a new coal mine in Cumbria.

Make no mistake – these local elections are hugely important. Registration for Postal Voting is picking up and your Council’s Democratic Services department is already thinking through how the process can be made safe.

It may be just a Local election. It may be that no more than the usual 40% might bother to vote. It may be that central government can see no harm in delay. It may be that they think that the ‘branch offices’ are a giant waste of money and get in the way of cosy deals with developers.

But this is also the first opportunity that our communities will have to demand better local governance as an antidote to overcentralisation. If not already registered for a Postal Vote, get your application in now – before it’s too late.

Minors are future majors

They should not be discouraged

When the Daily Echo ran a story recently featuring the likely sea-rise impact on Southampton, it unleashed a torrent of outraged climate change denial. Climate Central’s data was viewed as preposterous, extremely unlikely and unwarranted fearmongering. Barely 20% of respondents agreed with the report.

That reaction – the refusal to countenance the full impact of the way we live now – is perfectly understandable. There are not many things these days as trusted as bricks and mortar . . . as safe as houses. Unfortunately, that trust flies in the face of science. While countries are firmly in the grip of an addiction to never-ending growth, it is difficult to face up to the consequences of damage to our planet.

This deep resistance to radical change is a central concern in Jason Hickel’s studies summarised in his book, Less Is More. You may recoil from his remedies and, like Echo readers, dismiss such analysis as preposterous propaganda. It does, however, form part of a fresh and enlightened approach to curricula development.

Readers who cannot tolerate Greta Thunberg’s criticisms of leadership or close their minds to any alternatives to capitalism, are unlikely to be planning to move to higher ground. 2050 may seem a very long was away. Surely the children will find a solution. Or maybe the scientists are just plain wrong? Maybe we should cross our fingers or pray harder for deliverance? Or maybe we should, at the very least, be working harder right now to resolve the funding prioritisation of sea defences.

But more than that, the sad thing is that we should by now know that we must change. Science has been clear about this for decades. Brilliant minds have espoused parts of solution. Communities and entire nations can adapt to more circular economies, understand doughnut economics, drastically reduce dependency on fossil fuels, and reset societal priorities to reduce inequality and increase wellbeing – and, in some countries, that is happening. But none of that is likely to happen with the current crew in charge of the UK.

Fortunately, young people really do know better. They may not yet be allowed to vote, they may not yet be skilled at leadership, but they will be challenged to live in the mess we are bequeathing. They will, one hopes, not be fooled as their parents have been fooled. Our greatest contribution will be to not discourage them.