Alan and the coming war

From the title of this piece you might think I’m advocating the kind of conflict where bullets get fired and people get hurt. Of course, you could take your pick from any number of epicentres from which conflict could explode but I’m talking about the current messy collision of world views that are collectively running us full pelt into a physical wall of limits. A wall scarcely noticed in the insatiable rush to grab ever more. Anyway, it’s pretty easy to use a metaphor of conflict because that’s the way many of our modern messengers boys ram their concepts down our throats.  Oh, I might sketch it out below with a sarky snipe and a sprinkling of simplicity but change is happening now and is already divisive. We seem to be spoilt for choice these days about which of the latest crisis flung out by a frothy mouthed media might actually bubble over – the fire under the pot seemingly an ever widening gap between what people need versus what a dominant minority do – but the simple reality is that the bill for our rapacious industrialisation, and the feeding frenzy of off shoring, debt and consumerism of the last three decades, is due. All of us will have to pay.

Immigration, energy, housing, transportation; everywhere limits are being reached and resources that cannot be renewed exhausted. Its driving those with their hands on the levers a little crazy (take a look at how oil company Exxon are peddling thin air), and its pushing others to look in the wrong direction for an answer. You might think that it is The Fates, bored mightily by waiting, who churn busily a tombola of problems any one of which will be sure to split out and spank our collective behinds. Yet the Russia baiting, Fracking, TTIP, Banker bailouts, NHS privatizations, Britain’s unplanned exit from the EU, disenfranchisement, Donald Trump, Police shootings, International terrorism, energy crises, Middle eastern wars, Media and language debasement, education, species extinction and all the others tatters that tumble in this titanic tombola are actually indicative of a consensus under strain, because we can no longer afford to live as if there are no limits. Conventional oil has peaked. Redistribution of resources is not going to cut it, only a recognition of their finite nature.  Reality fights back.

Look at it this way: Our house in which we’re only tenants is a comparatively comfortable house. Yes, we sense the underlying dysfunction but we’ve been sweet talked to have faith that it’s the very best house anyone ever did have, yes sir. We’re used to its brightly painted walls, warm familiarity, apparent liberty and perpetually stocked cupboards. Yet, despite this accepted arrangement, really the only thing we’ve been allowed to have a say on for the last god-knows-how-long is the colour of the curtains.

We encouraged not to think about how we get to have what we have. We forget that many have to lose for every one that wins. We don’t concern ourselves with who or what cleans up after us. Every now and then the colour samples are broken out and we all get to pick. Of course, the colours available are a little limited but only those thought impolite, unwashed or stupid have the temerity to suggest alternatives. Besides, we’re promised the new curtains will make the rooms all the brighter. The problem of new people from over the street wanting to come and live in it, how many of the current tenants feel like they have to pay more for less room and how large parts of the garden have been sold to next door are never discussed – let alone what’s keeping the lights on. I see a war coming that will bomb the retaining wall propping up this pretence.

The current landlord, neo-liberal doctrine, the strings that pull, the socio-economic order, call it whatever, call it Alan if, like me you enjoy frivolous personifications, hasn’t really had to answer to anyone in this house for a long time. Alan likes get rich quick schemes but has powerful friends so never has to swallow losses when it all goes bad – he knows you will. Alan crafts the questions and the answers to prevent any discussion of what’s actually going on. He’s all about the profit today and pays little mind to what we’ll share tomorrow. We all thought that was fine when there was more than enough to share around, but once Alan began desperately scraping the oil barrel for the last easy drops since conventional oil peaked in 2005, and began pocketing ever more from our fast diminishing basket at the same time, we’re all getting a little restless.  Yep, Alan just points elsewhere and lets someone else take the blame for his greed (usually those lacking the means to respond). He used to be able to shrug off questions about his lackadaisical approach to the future, but lately disaffection has trumped these manoeuvres – elections/ referendums anybody? – maybe we shouldn’t have enabled his whims for so long?

Those of us that think we’re not allowed to make choices about the stuff that actually counts around here are about to be called up by circumstance. Most of us pretended and looked away when we used the planet as a dump and other people as slaves, but in a shrinking world that’s never been a strategy with a future. We know Alan’s friends are influential people with interests to defend against the coming conflict so waiting for imagined change from the top is futile. We also know that the solutions are there and have been for years – from Transition Town to the Simplicity Collective to Buckminster Fuller. Yet the chances of these ideas dominating the discussion is minimal in the divided room we’ve chosen to accept. The coming war has to be fought to keep us together and against separation. Let’s huddle.

Besides, what’s the use of blame? Blame is the child of irrationality and easily manipulated. Blame is the ultimate thought stopper and licence for inaction. Old Al loves it. If we’re going to get past the predicament of dwindling energy resources coupled with increasing climate volatility blame has to end – as does most of the stupid and short-sighted, self-centred and destructive behaviours of our (yes our) three decades long feeding frenzy. This house needs cleaning and Alan put back in his box. The coming war will be a fight against the blind reflex of blame.

Of course there’s plenty to do besides trying to avoid scapegoating someone else for everything that’s going down. We could in fact commit cardinal sins like, gasp, using less, not buying the stuff we don’t need and thinking about how to keep the lights on when they start to flicker. There’s no point in listening to calls for reprisals, rather finding common cause and cooperation is about the only thing that can avoid conflict. I’m not messing, things are going to get turned upside down. Stay on your feet.

Perhaps nothing encapsulates our need for unified action in the face of a changing climate and dwindling prosperity as the example of the third nuclear power plant in Somerset at Hinckley point. In one stomping, fouling white elephant of an idea Alan once again proposes all the follies of our era – the privatization of a natural resource (in this case, energy production), the subsidisation of failure, the environmental consequences of profit motivated short-termism, the marginalisation of public opinion and the pursuance of an ideology at odds with reality.  Allowing a foreign power to build an over subsidized toxic waste dump/ nuclear bomb when there are proven and cheaper alternatives to the problem this dumb ass ‘solution’ is trying to solve??

Alan can really piss you off.

For me, and perhaps for many, Hinckley point C marks the end of the game, maybe the end of any loyalty to the consensus. It feels like the end of any identification with what it is to be a member of my own society, the end of a compromise to the establishment at the expense of the country. It is the end of any faith whatsoever in the grasp of sense, the rule the law arbitrarily applied with its exemptions for the loaded – heads up red tops, it’s not only those of a conveniently demonised religion that can feel radicalised! And it is good that I feel that way.

But notice I’m still advocating unified action – action that involves more than jettisoning broken ideologies. It has to be inclusive. Obviously, my first impulse when confronted by yet another unilateral wrong turn that sells off more of the future to placate the board, to shred another opportunity in exchange for shitting in all our bath water, to allow old, fat, avaricious and selfish Alan to win once again is to feel an surging rage. And separation. Sometimes this crumbling house seems so crazy it’s easier to believe he’s one of those looting alien overlords who don’t care about the consequences rather than a silly human intent on grabbing it all for himself – who wouldn’t want to slap him?! We all have a right to the way we feel. Yet now, like a restrained mum deprived of sleep for the fifteenth night running, never have we had the necessity to remain restrained, yet firm, in our response.

Many who feel this way are not stupid enough to get into the professional violence that a rather rapacious right enjoys anyway – so this has to be a radicalisation with roots in reality and a soft heart to the alternative. By that I mean an openness to change and the realisation that we can’t get from here to there without taking steps that might look steep to begin with. Protesting against something like Hinkley C is easy compared to the long work of living within the means that will negate its so called ‘necessity’ in the first place. The coming war will be out to defeat the carelessness of how we do things now.

We’ve got to begin to make decisive, unapologetic moves against the way we currently do things. Climate change and resource constraints have already declared against us anyway. So all these words are a call for localisation not isolation, cooperation not confrontation, ideas not ideology. Alan has always been brutally clear in his approach whereas those with eyes to the whole picture have been concessionary, diffuse and apologetic – that’s left far too much space to be filled by the unanswered problems that have now become advancing forces.

Despite that fairy tale terms in which we describe the way we live, there has never been any guarantee that things always get better by themselves. In reality, our universe leans towards chaos, so now might be the time to consider it our job to participate in the beautiful order our own planet engenders. This is not a passive act. It will require force of numbers and a whole army of ideas but there’s a war coming and we’ll have to fight to get through it. Fight for each other. Fight to live with, not just in, our environment. Fight for the truth of our equality and that of each living thing. Fight to connect with reality and defeat the old stories.

Now, take out the rubbish and tidy your room, you’re not going to be living in Alan’s house for very much longer.

Letter to KMO of the C-Realm podcast

Here’s the letter I sent following the UK’s vote to leave the EU. The letter was read in full on the C-Realm podcast ‘Parsing Brexit‘.


I thought, as you both have had plenty to say with regards the US election and gun control, you might be interested to hear a perspective on a monumental shift in our own country – outside the frame of the media. We’ve left the European Union with only 52% for – a bit too close for comfort as the country is divided now along many lines of race, class, age and status.

Within our print and screen media the usual binaries apply – ‘it was a victory for the working classes who told the political classes to shove it‘ vs ‘those who voted out are stupid, uninformed  and selfish’.

Tensions are running high as the camp that pushed for our exit has now been exposed as having no plan to cope with such a move – ad they have admitted that their campaign promises were in fact a lie – they can’t be delivered at all. This leaves us with one half of the country wishing we could recant the decision and the other half inflamed because they likely won’t get what they voted for. In short no one is going to be happy with the outcome.

As for myself, I voted to stay. Voting to leave wasn’t an act against the political class when just last year we voted in a Conservative government by a large majority that has more culpability for the neo –liberal policies the country has fallen beneath. Nor was voting to leave going to bring back the good ole days of empire as many believe. I live in a rich bubble in West Sussex with a well to do and ageing population with lots of money. They were en masse voting to get back to the good old days.

My own parents voted to leave – we’re from a working class background in Birmingham; I worked full time and paid for my own degree through the Open University. What I am trying to say is that as many rich, privileged and educated people voted to leave as the so called underdogs in our society. There can be no one group culpable except…..

The red top media and papers like the Sun (Murdoch) and Daily Mail. They have stirred and turned neighbours against each other in the name of sales – they have harvested the grains of antipathy in our country and made sure they grew strong stalks of dissatisfaction and blame.

Anyway, younger people are heartbroken at being isolated, bigotry is bolstered and an exit plan does not exist. Turmoil. Scotland, Northern Ireland and even London talk of going it alone so they can remain in the EU. Civil wars have occurred for less.

1000 years of war on this continent seems to have been forgotten by half the country. Peace can only ever come from Union.

This is what I see. As I said elsewhere, the EU was far, far from perfect but isolation in today’s world is worse. We shall see.

Hope you’re well – and thanks again for all your great work with I follow weekly – and religiously..



This time of year I drive down increasingly and riotously green country lanes all frantic with the eruptions of life, hedgerows crammed and secret shades of shoots with creatures crouched on the verge of all the possibilities this year can serve. Then I can stroll the streets in the city spilling with bar and café life, after hours drinking as everyone takes advantage of the lull in bad weather, cold beers so worth the ache, so what if it’s Tuesday, the time is now. Birds chirping and calling in the early morning light warn me to stop doubting, reminding you that hesitation will leave you standing whilst the grass swallows you up. I just want to get out into it. I want it to last because I know nothing so good ever does.

What is the delicious anxiety that comes with the merry month of May? It sometimes makes me feel like a boy staring through glass as the snow lays smooth and tempting drifts that I just want to sink into. Is it that the tumbling, cascading exuberance of the season is so captivating? The attraction of a cuddly kitten, the tumble of a snowmelt stream, the lull of warm winds swishing their arrival at your cheek – sensual pleasures you want to get inside, to dissolve into, to know it as you know you’re feelings but somehow you’re left on the outside.

The greenwood marriage, the deep pools of dusky glades, the furtive slide of the fox over the fence, the queen of May dancing the hedgerows, the return of the light, the Mythic, the hawthorn petals framing the sky, magic dew on your morning lawn, early to wake and late to bed and every last beanpole to celebrate with white flowers and the dancing bees. This time is true now. I’m standing in the grove awaiting a connection to be restored.

Permaculture Design Course – High Heathercombe. November 2015

I had no idea what to expect. The drive down, sharing a car with a fellow PDC (Permaculture design certificate), course attendee was pleasant enough, and we’d made pretty good time down the long, winding coast road from the rainy and windy South East into the surprisingly sunny West, but now as we approached High Heathercombe, our training centre on Dartmoor, I began to worry that two weeks might be too long to be tucked away with 15 others who’d signed up for 72 hours of Permaculture; you’d have to be mad, right?

This is not an essay about gardening. I won’t try and tell you exactly what Permaculture is; you’ll find explanations as numerous as the pages of any old growing guide. In fact, the subject stretches itself across many disciplines so broadly that a quick attempt would probably fail. And besides, you no doubt already clued up. And maybe you’ve already breezily dismissed those commentators using short-cut-to-thinking soundbites about the ‘muesli eating, hair-shirt brigade’ types who are supposedly into this type of thing. Unfortunately, and despite myself, my expectations couldn’t help but be tainted by those sorts of tatty innuendos – even my Dad, admittedly a bit of a Thatcherite in his 70’s, dismissed the idea of it as ‘hippy nonsense’. Sometimes it’s hard not to succumb to preconceptions, even if they are someone else’s.

So it looked like I’d be arriving at there on Dartmoor that winter Saturday afternoon with a guitar, two weeks’ worth of clothes, a laptop, and all my metropolitan anxieties about being stuck in close proximity with ‘hippy trippy’ folks fully stoked. I didn’t want evangelism, therapy or dogs on strings. I wanted to learn something multi-faceted that could maybe be applied to any number of areas – not just my veg patch. I hoped Permaculture was it. And, with any luck, I’d meet some like minds.

I mentioned Metropolitan. I’d lived in London for 19 years, working various media, office based roles but had recently moved to rural West Sussex and resolved to push my life in a different, perhaps more meaningful direction. Undertaking the design course was part of that statement. A way to get into another mode that’s not all about what you have. When you’re living in a city it’s easy to see plenty of examples of how poorly we conduct our relationships with the natural environment but now I wanted to do more than just put up with it. I’d become fed up with the dreary consumerism and the grinding wheel of work, buy, work, buy that seems to have swallowed most us whole with its insatiable appetite for compliance. One life: has to be other way – and there has to be some way to put something back.

I took this mixed bag of hopes, niggles and neurosis straight to the front door of the centre.  Now, if you’ve done a residential course, you probably already know that sharing your space with people you’ve never met before can be tricky. If you haven’t, you might even find the idea a little off putting. Me? I couldn’t believe I’d been such a sissy about it all. As soon as I got inside and started shaking hands with everyone all of my presumptions looked not just a little pathetic. Everyone was friendly, interesting and just as eager as I was to get onto something new.

I don’t need to give a rundown of the timetable of the course – sign up for one and you’ll find out more than you think – let me just say that for every day of those two weeks, for twelve hours a day, we seemed to absorb more ideas than the moor did rain.  Seemingly, all the travails and trials of all those permaculture pioneers was handed to us in the neatest of packages by our tutors, Aranya and Klaudia – they bestowed on each of us a pair of permaculture goggles; a new way to look at the world; practical insights that might mitigate our crazy messes; we took it together and it was all the more potent for it. What I’m trying to say is that it was the people, tutors and students alike,  that smashed my shaky little doubts about being there. They were honest, friendly and curious. We were all there for what, at first looked like different reasons. Some wanted to improve growing techniques for plots already worked, some wanted to learn from others on the course and some wanted to apply permaculture to their already established businesses. But beyond all that there was something else, something a little deeper.

I don’t know about most, but what struck me about that this group, who’d chosen to break with routine and come here – and anyone who chooses to go to Dartmoor in November surely knows they’ll get no holiday – didn’t seem to be getting what they needed from the usual day-to-day routines, weren’t satisfied merely to consume. They were aching for something else. Maybe they didn’t all buy the common narrative where your life’s just a line that rises from childhood and ‘progresses’ through education, on into work and develops into an all-encompassing career satiating your every desire – and all the time as if the world around us was merely a backdrop to our desires. Apparently, this is an ideal ostensibly suited to all.

Leaving aside whether or not you’ve ever met anyone whose life is actually like this do you think that this could, or should, fulfil everyone? Of course not, but one way our culture herds us to play this game is by applying binaries (hard worker/ slacker, all/ nothing, dreamer/ realist), that pressure our thoughts and emotions whilst leaving out large chunks of all the other inconvenient bits of reality human beings actually need. Why am I grossly over-simplifying this sticky little paradigm – one that I’ve already shown I can be drawn into? Only that I think it’s fair to say that our collective ‘ache’ stemmed from the realisation that there was more to life than what we’re ordinarily fed. We wanted a taste of it – leaving out the bit where you trash nature.

You didn’t have to dig deep to expose this yearning; we were cooked some amazing organic food during our time there and the mealtime conversations were just as tasty. People talked openly of their frustrations and failures and passionately of their hopes and plans. There was plenty to learn and opportunities to share. All in all, it was a brilliant learning experience in an idyllic setting but I don’t think anyone there thought they’d find answers to everything they were seeking. Yet for me, the chance of meeting people on the same wavelength was an important part of what I wanted to achieve. I had lost, buried beneath city years of quotidian scepticism, the reasons why it’s always worth it to push your boat out into unfamiliar water; the joy of different perspective.

Permaculture is no panacea to our problems, people are. It’s in places like this where you’ll find the ones willing to start the change.



Neo-liberals on the run

I have written elsewhere about how the current and apparently immutable, {if what you read in the red rag papers is to be believed), political situation is now on its way to reversal. There’s no shortage of signs that neo-liberalism, the nifty system of market led economics rigged up to ‘liberalise’ through the privatization of our public assets, deregulation of the financial sector and concentration of wealth now has its best days behind it – you’d need to be asleep not to have heard the rumblings of dissatisfaction cutting across all strata of our society right now. Of course, this thing is pretty entrenched, thanks to decades of deft manoeuvres and deep pockets a plenty, so I wasn’t, and still don’t reckon on anything overnight. More specifically though in ‘A good thing the tories won…’ I was referring to the bizarre situation of allowing the ‘Conservatives’ (they do anything but conserve wealth for a minority), a party committed more than any other to neo-lib creed, the free rein they gained in the recent election. My argument was simple: indulging a serial offender to do more of the same to solve problems caused by previous behaviour could never result in a happy outcome. You wouldn’t employ someone suffering an alcohol addiction to run your bar and expect his wellbeing to be assured – or yours for that matter. Do you think that kind of arrangement would last?

Now, everyone knows that trying to put a face on the future is a fools game but a few months down the track from that assertion I’m not the least bit surprised as to where we are now. We’ve had promises broken (child tax credits, child benefits, tax free childcare – who said ‘anti-family’?), scandals (anyone for pork schnitzel?), and the usual list of affronts to any desire for a humane society. So far so typical Tory. What’s more heartening though is the reaction out there in the real world away from the crumbling walls of Westminster. You know, that place where people routinely live without subsidized single malt or immunity from the laws of nature – or those of this country.

Some of those people have gotten their act together quick fire as coherent opposition to the nasty neo-lib ideal of austerity – that practice of pinching from the populace to pamper the poodles; you know, cuts for those that need stuff, breaks for those that don’t.  The People’s Assembly believe that austerity is entirely unnecessary and they’re right. Detailing a comprehensive manifesto that dares to actually make sense and have a plan they’ve boiled up from the simmering underground to quickly become recognisable on the UK political landscape. Of course, you’re not going to find them discussed in the silly sidebars of your rehashed dailies (those are owned of course by those with everything to gain by keeping things exactly as they are), but you will find them on the streets in many towns across the UK, outside party conferences and talking freely, and daily in the social media sphere. They have many friends, and even some economists agree that austerity is counterproductive – I don’t think it’s going to be possible to pretend they don’t matter for long but you can be sure that many will give it a good old British try. Can’t let the shine come off the silver spoons yet.

Others have done something that might seem radical against the bland background of pay-per-view politicos but is actually just clear thinking: return a mainstream party back to its founding tenets. You see, despite a plethora of pundits paid to predict political outcomes, not one seemed to anticipate the hard left Labour would turn after Ed Miliband’s exit stage right. Of course, it’s easy to miss the obvious when you spend all of your time in the company of those down the club but you’d have thought someone might have looked outside the window once or twice? Had they done so, they would already have known that the divide between their doorstep and the man on the street had opened beyond the ability of platitudes to repair.

So it is that Jeremy Corbyn is the new leader of the Labour Party. MP for Islington, Chair of the Stop the War coalition and campaigner across a range of issues for some 16 years, Corbyn appears to be everything other MP’s aren’t: honest, sincere, grounded and willing to stick his neck out. I listened to his address to the Labour Party conference last week and was astonished to hear a man on a podium talk about things that matter to the majority; to stand up and float some solutions – I don’t think I’ve ever seen the likes. Of course, most of the UK media have jumped on the opportunity to sneer and jeer but these days that’s just a sign that you’re onto something good – something natural and not the by-product or endorsement of a corporate strategy. It’s pretty easy to dismiss their bought and paid for ‘opinions’ as quickly as a prat in a pinstripe. What matters is that at last we have the chance of a real opposition in the House. Who knew?

I’ve focused on a couple that matter most to me but there’s no shortage of signs and backlashes breaking out against the increasingly evident, not to mention depressingly ubiquitous injustice and greed of the neoliberal creed. Across the land we’ve placards paraded, barricades erected, petitions posted and, in contrast to the message of apathy routinely broadcast, the electorate engaged on a wider range of issues than ever before.

The bottle we’ve been drinking from for too many years has become bitter, something new is now brewing.

Moving to the Fields Edge.

On Friday September 11th we’re going to be moving to rural(ish) West Sussex to a house we’re actually going to be naming ‘Fields Edge’. This is partly to do with the ongoing project of this blog (and an attempt to invigorate it!), but mostly to do with the fact that the back of the house leads out onto fields as far as the eye can see. Instead of railway lines, we’ll be seeing sky, instead of traffic and MAMIL’s galore we’ll be seeing open ground – we’re really looking forward to it.

We’ll be growing more of our own food, making more of our own stuff and mostly working for ourselves – well, that’s the plan.

More as we go….

19 years in London tomorrow

Just found out that I moved to London 19 years ago tomorrow. Considering the whole idea what to get in and out by 1998, it seems something must have carried me away a little bit. So what’s been going on? Much.

Quick as I can, let me see what happened.  I started off living on a friend’s floor in Colliers Wood whilst working in a recording studio in Fulham (Maison Rouge, now buried beneath a shopping area). Hours: 80 + per week. Pay: £50. Result: skint, burned out chain smoker. It all got a little better when I moved to Jive Records in Willesden to work and into a flat in New Cross to live. Good times. Pay £9K per annum. Rent: £350 per month…

Since then I have worked as a copy editor, press officer, sales assistant, session musician, administrator, music tutor, office manager, box office assistant and music rights administrator.

I’ve had jobs in Fulham, Willesden, Soho, Chelsea, Shadwell, Limehouse, Brixton, Kentish Town, Streatham, Hammersmith, Wandsworth, Kilburn, Putney, Kings Cross.

I’ve lived in New Cross, Stockwell, Wandsworth, Esher.

Written 38 songs, 119 poems, 44 gigs, 5 bands.

Composed soundtracks to 6 films.

Worked with stop the war coalition for 2 years (interviewed for documentary We Are Many).

Began Transition Town Wandsworth, Evolver London, Bramford Rd Community Garden, Beetroot

Obtained a degree in French/ English (2.1) from the Open University.

Classical guitar.

Cycled 8 miles a day (on average) five days a week for the last 6 years.

Lost a fiancé and met my wife.

Friends from all over the world.

Managed to see an awful lot of good times, interesting times, hard times, risky times, beaten down times, hilarious times and inspiring times.

Maybe I could have done more. Certainly more to do.

A good thing the Tories won – a chance to change coming

The Conservative majority win in the UK general election of 2015 wasn’t the first time I’ve been bemused and disappointed by our establishment; there’s been countless opportunities for such emotions over the last decade: the invasion of Iraq against the vocal opposition from the British public, war criminal Tony Blair being rewarded as ‘peace’ envoy to the Middle East, the cash pay out to banksters after their world class failures in palming off financial ‘instruments’ and worthless paper in 2008, the MP’s ‘duck house’ expense scandal, the fizzle and flop of the Occupy movement so deftly defused by the media and there minions in office, – the list goes on. Mind you, disappointment in our institutions is not exactly a new phenomenon for the British. What’s more troubling, and what causes my bemusement is that many of these things happened during the last Tory watch in the ‘coalition’ government. All of that can happen and yet they still get back in?? You have to admit the Conservative party and the wider neo-liberal paradigm for which they are merely the current flag-bearers, are very good at that they do, they really are. No wonder they look so triumphant as they bang there well-heeled loafers on the Cabinet table.

It is very easy to condemn, but when it comes to judging the actions of others more often than not we end up on slippery ground. What is needed is fewer words of complaint, less hand wringing and more solutions. The current paradigm of ‘free’ markets (although government subsidies have seldom been higher) privatization and small state was installed against the post war consensus and conceived by true believers in the power of capital – you can say what you want about their motivations but they certainly had a coherent, unified vision and took advantage of prevailing undercurrents to feed ideas that were considered fringe, in to the mainstream.

Of course, the strategy for that particular brand of socio-political thinking has always been unapologetic self-interest. Their own, their friends in big business and corporations, and anyone willing to buy in. They hold the most of the strings, think tanks, money and influence to appeal to and manipulate the baser impulses to ‘have’, whatever the cost may be to wider society, the environment or the future. They figure happiness means only a healthy bank balance and lots of people clearly agree. But by no means everyone. Despite the fanfare the Conservative government got in with only about a quarter of the electorates vote. There is still an appetite in this country for alternative policies and many people feel unrepresented at all. Myself included.

So why, as the title of this piece suggests, is it a good thing that the Tories won?

We live today against a general backdrop of decline caused by increasing resource constraints, a concerted extraction of wealth from the majority to the minority, a squandering of trust from many in a position of authority, needless austerity and intense dissatisfaction with the current political class; we find ourselves on the cusp of change. Change is inevitable whether we, or those currently in power, like it or not. We’re almost at boiling point and it looks like no one is going to turn down the heat anytime soon. But now that the pre-eminent establishment party is back in they simply won’t be able to help themselves – they’ll push their agenda so far they’ll break more than just their promises. The self-serving, the systemic problems and the injustices they’ve worked tirelessly to obscure will be obvious to all but the most obdurate onlooker. Within those cracks the opportunity to grow something new finally see light.

Right now we seem to be lacking any meaningful opposition that runs counter to our spiraling circumstances but this is precisely the time that we – those of us who are fed up with silently objecting – should be authoring a ready-to-wear alternative. To be effective, I believe we need to do what they do.

The Right’s strength has always been a unified vision, coherent presentation of their ideas and an intrinsic appeal (what’s more appealing than self-interest?). In the late 1970’s and on in to the 80’s, they did not shy away from working hard to research, present and implement ideas such as privatization of the telecommunications industry, that only a few years before had been unthinkable. They loaded the column inches of daily papers and they caught the attention of business leaders and opportunistic politicians. They initiated think tanks that became a key and ongoing influence in decision making. In short, they became the mainstream in a few short years. In contrast, the left has been marked by in-fighting, watered down policies, short sighted leadership, a failure to present a cohesive and unified vision and an almost apologist stance with regards what they’re supposed to stand for. There has been a comprehensive failure to recognise common interests. Just one example: a unified consensus from human rights groups to environmentalists to trade unions regarding minimum wage would be an effective place to begin interrogating the current paradigms propensity to subjugate real human and natural value to that of abstractions such as money. This is but one example where consensus could be reached and a step towards achieving it made rather than losing focus in a familiar fuzz of bickering and narrow campaign interests.

Nevertheless is would be folly to believe anything could be achieved easily against the grain of current thought. Firstly, the business-as-usual fraternity would not and could not be persuaded to relinquish their gains; not until it becomes painfully obvious that to fail to do so would run counter to their interests. Make no mistake, that impetus will present it itself at some point; climate change, resource constraints and debt burden are lining up nicely to be the key drivers. Of course, in saner times, wiser echelons of the elite pragmatically accepted that there had to be a trade-off between insatiable wealth concentration and providing for the strata of society that actually provided that wealth through their labour and production. Whenever that was forgotten conflict soon followed. Those politicians and business leaders of all stripes to whom an unprecedented concentration of wealth has just been diverted should at least remember that they are unlikely to withstand an increasingly inevitable correction. The second problem feeds off from the first; history tells us that as things deteriorate the chorus of voices defending the status quo grows ever louder; ‘House prices boom set to continue’ was trumpeted to the skies before the bubble burst in 2008 and ‘good times just ahead’ was a common mantra in the great depression. Reading any paper or watching any channel will quickly show you denial of our current predicament is part and parcel of the current ‘plan’. We must raise our voices louder to shake things up.

For those of us who see things differently opportunities are arising and perhaps ideas too ‘out there’ could begin to seem common sense when the frame changes. There’s no shortage of ideas that could be explored: reorganisation of the election system, civic responsibilities, local civic societies, legal obligations to vote, shorter election cycles, a ban on party donors, a rolling back of trade agreements and the re-emergence of protectionism where it benefits the environment and the local economy. An integrated approach to foreign policy – rather than subservient to foreign corporations we should partner with foreign governments.  MP’s banned from vested interests with a limit on salaries or even salary loans, nationalised utilities and infrastructure, independent media, taxation of financial instruments, banning of legalised loan sharks, a tax on environmental ‘externalities’ such as a nitrogen tax on farmers using fossil fuel based fertilizers, the list goes on. All of these ideas are totally heretical and are from being taken seriously, let alone implemented. However, whilst anathema to the way we do things right now nevertheless they are still solid, reasoned and beneficial ideas. Just not to the dominant minority.

So what step can be taken towards these goals? Perhaps one way to put them out there would be to construct them in tandem with an established party which already has a structure and reach. The Green Party is surely that party, if they can avoid the temptation to water down there policies in a vain effort to gain acceptance and find a way to work in partnership with already existing local groups who have made it their business to specialise in areas that directly affect them. Much work has already been undertaken from which experience and answers could be drawn, there is no reason to recourse to isolated think tanks populated by ‘researchers’ who have little experience of the real world. If a concerted effort was made to involve every currently fringe group in the authoring of these policies they would grow from the grass roots upwards. There would be no need to win people over because it would be their ideas you’d be championing. Once people realise that there is a party that actually listens engagement would soar.

  • Using the framework of a party, network with all local groups, devolving decision making at the local level for areas like local commerce and planning, transport and utilities and media.
  • Engagement with trade unions; shared priorities such as job protection and creation, something guaranteed likely if protectionism ceases to be a dirty word.
  • Grow the membership of the party via these local sub committees where as many people as possible hold the reins through active participation; committees, focus groups, community projects, drop-in and roundtable exercises.
  • Utilise direct action such as boycotts and civil disobedience to begin to pull back from what is currently considered the established norm. All protest is peaceful, non-violent and non-confrontational. Create alternative supplier list for members so they can practically avoid those corporations that run business counter to environmental and ethical ideals.

Once again, it’s obvious that these kind of strategies would be very unpopular in certain circles – can you imagine any mainstream politician suggesting them? – there would be an eruption of the sort of outrage usually reserved for former radio 1 DJ’s and trade unions attempting to secure a better deal for their members. Anyone who dares suggest something that in some way counters the mighty lord of so called ‘economic growth’ must immediately be discredited. Yet I believe the appetite for just this kind of countering thought grows daily – as does the necessity. Although it would truly be political suicide for any party or politician to suggest ideas like these without having done the necessary legwork to engage popular support first, history won’t thank those who knew what needed to be done yet failed to act for fear of derision.

Back of the envelope sketches like this essay aren’t going to achieve very much. But there are people already out there shaking hands with their neighbours whilst making up their minds to do things differently. A cursory look around will throw up a Transition Town here, a community garden there and a neighbourhood cooperative within a few short miles of where you read this. Besides, now that we have a party in office dedicated to enriching the few at the cost of the many – a party that has no intention of listening – it will occur to many more that there’s no point in wasting time with words when the writing is already on the wall. Time to take it all back.


We Are Many

Tonight Amir Amirani’s We Are Many, a film about the largest UK mainland demonstration ever, opens in cinemas across the country. In February 2003, following months of build-up protests, over a million people from all walks of life hit the London streets to tell Tony Blair, minion Prime Minister to the seemingly unelectable George Bush Jr, that ‘no’ we would not support an action so flagrantly in violation of international law – not to mention morally reprehensible.

Of course, then, as now, MP’s ignored the public and did what they always do – looked after their own interests. Those of us who had spent months standing on the front lines were bereft. For myself, I was engulfed within a wave of disillusionment that lasted some months. I believed thereafter that protest doesn’t work; far better to get involved with like minds to try and create something new than shout at the old. The system seemed then, as it does now, deeply entrenched.

Yet as the film so deftly illustrates, I was wrong to believe that we had been defeated. On the contrary, that protest not only sparked a worldwide sea change on the day itself but its impact was such that its reverberations ring still. It showed many what is actually possible; that the democratic will of the people is inevitable; that the so called apathy of the people is a media invention (the same media that upholds the establishment); that many won’t just stand aside and watch injustice.

Whether you were at the protest – even if you’ve never protested a thing in your life – you will find much to inspire in this film. Sure, it has appearances from a whole host of familiar faces, from Damon Albarn to Tony Benn, Danny Glover, to Claire Short, but the real stars have to be the people on the ground,

You can tell that this film, like the protests themselves, is a labour of love; its superbly shot and well-paced but at its heart is a conviction and a passion that is irresistible. It even has a Daily Telegraph journalist admitting he was wrong – surely that, if nothing else, is worth lining up for?

MP3 – no substitute for resonance

Yesterday on the radio the presenter was asking listeners what he should do with his old CDF’s now that he listens to music solely through his computer. He was moving house so seeking a way to ditch the unwanted encumbrance of a music collection.

In contrast I’ve recently bought a vinyl deck, some records and have gotten in the habit of listening to music on CD and LP every morning (partly to energize my day and partly because TV is SO DULL).

Having routinely used an Ipod for the last few years (I catch a lot of trains), and listened to all of my music as MP3’s,  I wasn’t prepared to be as astounded by the difference in sound quality between that and the older formats so recently fallen from grace.

I dug out an original copy of Metallica’s Master of Puppets from 1986 (I bought it when I as 15; what an experience when that record first span in my bedroom – I wasn’t sure what I was listening to at first such was the frenetic genius of the music, I digress…), complete with scratches and crackles, put it on the deck and turned up the volume. I was blown away once again.

Of course I knew MP3 needs must diminish quality in order to keep a handle on the file size, and there’s no denying how handy listening to music that way is but it can never replace the profound sounds you get from vinyl and CD. The music is closer to what the artist and producer intended and near screams with vibrancy compared to the shadow copy of an MP3.

There’s no way I’d accept MP3 as the only way to listen to music, just as I wouldn’t eat every meal off paper plates  – it might be more convenient but it’s totally lacking.

My advice to that presenter? Keep your CD’s and enjoy music in all its dynamic strength.