Defensive Voting: A West Country Case Study

Wells

Wells

Further banging on about Defensive Voting. Which, come to think of it, is probably just tactical voting with a specific political purpose in mind – namely stalling neoliberalism through the Westminster infrastructure long enough to nail together some kind of radical left-wing alternative outside of it (there was an excellent bit of analysis published by Counterfire this week which came to similar conclusions). And this time, we’re looking at it in relation to a conveniently local real-world example.

Wells in Somerset is one of the most marginal constituencies in the country. It also happens to be the next one over from ours.

Most constituencies are ‘safe’ – the people living in them reliably vote for the same party in election after election, and that party easily wins by a mile. Yeovil, for example, has been Lib Dem for over thirty years (well, technically, it was Liberal from 1983 to 1992, then Lib Dem ever since). At the last election, Lib Dem candidate David Laws got 31,000 votes, 13,000 more than the next placed candidate.

As such, safe seats don’t really matter. The ones that do matter are the marginal ones, the swing seats as they’re often known – constituencies like Wells that are much more likely to change hands. These are the places that will decide who’s in government this time next year. Continue reading

Consuming Cornwall: Pasties, poverty, economics beyond growth (Part Two)

Not a sound basis for a sustainable economy

Not a sound basis for a sustainable economy

Click here for Part One.

Unfortunately, orthodox economics doesn’t look in much danger of being radically inverted any time soon. That’s a shame, because it’s what needed if we’re going to ever see an economic settlement that prioritises the needs of the majority, rather than leaving to be half-served as a side-effect of the dash for private profit.

Once the small matter of that kind of spectrum-shifting overhaul was out of the way, though, areas like Cornwall could be comprehensively lifted out of poverty, given stability and security while at the same time achieving something as momentous as it is pulsatingly urgent.

The next hundred years is likely to be the make-or-break century as far as human civilisation is concerned. Growth-obsessed hyper-capitalism has left us wobbling on the brink of environmental disaster. What we do in the next few decades will be crucial to determining how bad that disaster ends up being – it’s far too late to stop it altogether, tragically – and how well we weather it. And Britain needs to gear up to deal with this rapidly approaching new world.

Over decades, if needed, the government could invest in the people and the places that were socially scrap-heaped by Thatcherism, providing skills and training for the low-paid and the un- and erratically employed. Then it could give them stable, decently-paid jobs, building and operating wind and solar farms, constructing flood defences, desperately-needed council houses, new hospitals and new schools, and repairing and expanding transport infrastructure, among other things. It wouldn’t be just construction either – there’d be people in the offices doing the admin, people working in the canteens, people cleaning, plumbers, electricians and maintenance staff.

People will always ask where the money’s supposed to come from. We live in a country where the 1000 richest people, or 0.003% of the population, saw their wealth increase from £99bn to £413bn between 1997 and 2008. The richest 10% of British people have got more than enough money they don’t need to fund this kind of programme twice over.

That would do for the short to medium term. It would lift thousands of people out of poverty – not just because of the wages, but the finally affordable housing and the like too. Longer term, the whole economy will have to become about stability – if we’re going to survive within our environmental limits, we need to have economics without the obsession with economic growth. That means radically cutting down what we consume, and producing as much of what we do as locally as we can.

The kinds of industries have been flogged abroad over the last century – food production, all kinds of manufacturing etc – should be brought back to Britain, creating jobs aplenty. It wouldn’t be the most efficient way of doing things, but that would no longer be the point – economics would be about providing stable livelihoods and locally producing what people need to live comfortable, healthy lives, not massive profits or endless expansion.

Cornish people might wear clothes made in Cornwall, for example, eat food made in Cornwall (what kind of eco-socialism worth the name would be without state-subsidised pasties for all), live in houses build by Cornish builders. People would still come to Cornwall on holiday – even more than now, perhaps, as travellers were discouraged from making fuel-guzzling plane journeys. But the county wouldn’t be held hostage by tourism. It sounds incredibly, implausibly radical in 2014. Pre-industrialisation, people managed it for thousands of years.

In the current political climate it’s hard to think of a situation less likely to come about. But that doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly possible – and that it wouldn’t be the best thing both for the majority of humanity and the environment we depends on for our survival.

Consuming Cornwall: Pasties, poverty, economics beyond growth

cornwall

Lovely Cornwall

Pasties, poverty, economics beyond growth

Cornwall is one of the nicest places in the world. It’s not only often spellbindingly beautiful, friendly, enigmatically Celtic and unusually progressive for provincial England, it invented the greatest pastry product in human history, the meat-and-potato-based colossus that is the Cornish pasty. It’s a culinary legacy that will live on long after the county gets swallowed by the rising Atlantic and its bakeries are only frequented by pilchards and deep-sea divers.

Upsettingly, though, Cornwall is also the poorest place in the UK. When people talk about the North/South divide, it’s fairly insulting to the perennially neglected West Country. The popular perception that there’s nothing but cows, fields and rich shire Tories south-west of Bristol is only almost completely accurate. At Parliamentary and local government level, at least – as if that’s an accurate representation of diverse local opinion under an electoral system as dismal as First Past The Post – it is mostly Blue, although the still-lingering Paddy Ashdown effect means there are patches of Yellow left over from when the then-Lib Dem leader was MP for Yeovil. It is, pretty indisputably, very rural too. But rural doesn’t always have to mean rich and agricultural. Continue reading

It’s Flooding: Moral sickness and the Daily Mail school of mob psychology

somerset floods
The famously low-lying Somerset Levels haven’t mixed especially well with nigh-on two months of sustained heavy rainfall.

The worst hit settlements have been gutted by floodwater, and hundreds of people have been evacuated. Prospects for the future look grim – and not just because the rain shows no sign of letting up.

The bill for repairing extensively water-damaged homes and replacing destroyed household appliances looks set to run into the tens of thousands of pounds, and if the big insurers prove as compassionate as usual, stricken residents could be left paying for most if not all of the reconstruction themselves. That’s on top of the emotional hammer-blow of seeing your home suddenly and unexpectedly ripped apart before your eyes, along with the kind of sentimentally valuable bits and pieces you care a lot more about losing than your microwave.

It’s a horrible predicament for anyone to find themselves in. That doesn’t stop The Daily Mail’s campaign to suspend Britain’s foreign aid commitments and divert the funds to flooded parts of the South-West being morally sick. Continue reading

It’s Flooding: Austerity Bites In Sodden Somerset

Moorland

Moorland

It’s not stopped raining in Somerset for about a solid month. Arbitrarily, Bem Towers happens to be up a reasonably steep slope, water runs downhill, and thus our books, pot-plants and stacks of David Bowie CDs remain nice and dry. A few miles down the road in the villages of Moorland and Burrowbridge, though, people are dealing with a level of devastation you don’t often see in First World countries.

It’s quite inconvenient for the government. Ministers have been relying on the worst effects of their budget butchery not being felt for years, giving them time to finish the job then bail out into lucrative post-political careers on the boards of big private companies before people start brandishing pitchforks. Continue reading

Forehead-Town Sold Down The River

The Great Satan

The Great Satan

Back to Somersetian small-town David vs Goliath politics now, and plucky community campaign group Forehead’s ponderous, circling duel to the death with the Great Satan of retail-driven consumer-capitalism

Tesco, feckless retail juggernaut, has finally submitted an application to parachute a grimly enormous 60,000 square foot megamarket into our ailing town centre. Public opposition to the proposed development is near-universal, but in another spectacular triumph for local democracy, our corporate-pandering Tory-dominated District Council is doing everything in its power to drive the deal through. Continue reading

March of the Kippers

ukippersBarely dented by accusations of extremism, UKIP’s highest profile County campaign in history saw the mainstream parties shunted aside by the purple juggernaut.

Here in the eternally green, pleasant and Blue-or-Yellow-ruled West Country, a gruelling night of ballot-box overturning revealed astounding levels of support for United Kingdom Independence Party, Britain’s foremost catch-all protest party of wax-jacketed xenophobes.

Nationally, UKIP have just pulled off the biggest jump in support any fourth party has achieved in over half a century. At the last County elections in 2009, eight UKIP councillors were elected. Yesterday, they got 147. Of all the votes cast in 34 separate elections across England, nearly a quarter went to UKIP. In Somerset, they leapt from nowhere to secure three seats. Continue reading