The Worst of Times and the Best of Times*

*With apologies to Charles Dickens

 

Covid 19 has had tragic consequences. Many people, especially older people, have died or become extremely unwell. Families have lost loved ones. Life is hard for people who have had to self-isolate and do not have gardens into which they can invite loved ones or friends. On the other hand, for some of us our lives have been transformed partly in benign ways. In some ways, I see this as a benign time in which humanity has opportunities to make great progress.

 

We are discovering new ways of working and living that may benefit us and our planet. Our shopping, working habits and ways of travelling have probably changed permanently.

 

When the lockdown first occurred, I felt a wonderful sense of peace and stillness. There was little noise from cars or aeroplanes. There were fewer trains on the nearby railway. It was a wonderful peace. As never before, I heard the sounds of Mother Nature: the wind in the trees, the rustling of leaves and the sounds of birds. We could more easily hear the happy sounds of our neighbours’ children playing. The beautiful sky could be seen in all its different moods.

 

We got to know our neighbours better. On one side of our house, there are West End performers, who can no longer work. They have invested in a swimming pool. It was lovely to hear them, their daughter and her best friend, splashing about in the pool and having fun on their trampoline. I got bolder and talked and laughed with them over the hedge. People were kind and did shopping for us. Fairly soon a Whats App group formed in our road, nearly fifty households. We made new friends and got to know others better. We communicate about things people want to give away for instance or simply joke about this and that. On Thursday evenings we had fun clapping from our windows for the NHS. Hitherto the Pakistani family at the top of our road had kept themselves to themselves. At last, we got to know them. They were violently robbed and the father was severely injured. We got together and gave them a huge bunch of flowers.

 

I’ve had to give up my work: giving talks, going to meetings in London and selling books. So I am unable to earn anything. However I continue to post blogs. Instead of going to meetings in London, facing all the stress of travelling in and out of London on crowded trains, I take part in webinars. Compass events, once a week, have been particularly valuable. I also took part in the New Economics Foundation webinar. Of course, there are disadvantages: I do not get to meet new people and I cannot give participative talks.

 

Zoom Our weekly yoga class continues on Zoom. Suzanne, my wife/partner, and I participate in my study. I like this arrangement: instead of having to walk home on a busy street after feeling so peaceful, we just go downstairs. We also have family zoom gatherings. On my birthday, the whole family, including my son and daughter – in – law in Hong Kong, were together for an hour on the screen of Suzanne’s computer at the kitchen table. We have similar meetings with friends.

 

Many important issues have re-emerged since Covid 19 took hold earlier this year: We need to see these challenges as opportunities to build a better Britain.

 

The appalling situation of underpaid staff in care homes, without proper protection from infection; the need for care homes to be a part of the NHS and the long term underfunding of the NHS leading to the extreme difficulties when a health crisis such as Covid 19 strikes. The current increased abuse of women by their male partners.

 

Unhealthy food and life styles, obesity, its contribution to ill-health and the need to encourage walking and cycling have come to the fore. The Prime Minister has emphasised their importance through his own slimming programme.

 

The need for an economy that works for everyone. We have an unbalanced economy both geographically and with a large financial services sector and a small manufacturing sector. Governments have failed to address the long term poverty in former industrial heartlands for over a generation. Job insecurity and the gig economy add to the problem. Inequality in terms of income and wealth in the UK is one of the highest amongst advanced countries  . Poverty and the huge gap between rich and poor prevail – both incomes and wealth. The adverse position of women underpaid compared with men, especially mothers without a partner, results in their being disadvantaged for their whole lives.

 

UK’s housing stock ‘needs massive retrofit to meet climate targets. The need for a mass housing refurb, affordable housing and social housing are important opportunities. New research by the Institution of Engineering and Technology and Nottingham Trent University has found that meeting government targets of 80% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century would require sweeping policy change. Hundreds of millions of pounds must be spent to achieve 80% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a report shows. Housing energy use is responsible for 27 per cent of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Our current rate of building new energy efficient homes is very low compared to the size of the existing stock, which means that approximately 70 per cent of our energy inefficient housing will still be in use in 2050. Some estimates show that at our current rates of demolition the average house may have to last 1,000 years before it is replaced.

 

Democracy We need to devolve power from Westminster and adopt proportional representation. Our parliament is unrepresentative. Elected without proportional representation, our governments lack legitimacy. Furthermore the role of the European Research Group and Aaron Bank’s role is highly questionable .

Incidentally, would we benefit from representation of all stakeholders on company boards as in Germany?

 

As countries respond to COVID-19, female leaders seem to have a leadership style better suited to responding to the crisis than that of their male counterparts – see Do men and women communicate differently in the House of Commons?

It is interesting that hitherto Germany and New Zealand have done better, and in Scotland the messages from Nicola Sturgeon are more clearly communicated.

This confirms the importance of equal numbers of female and male MPs.

 

This confirms the importance of equal numbers of female and male MPs.

 

Why do we tolerate ministers, unprepared for their role such as George Osborne with his economically illiterate imposition of years of austerity and with dire consequences? I am not alone in arguing in my book The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness that MPs and Ministers should have an education programme before taking up their roles.

 

Global warming and destruction of our habitat Our contribution to global warming and destruction of our habitat  and other species is of the greatest concern. In his Chair’s message in the State of Natural Capital Annual Report 2020, Professor Dieter Helm says there is very little evidence of improvements in the state of England’s natural environment over that of previous generations and there is a very real danger that this could condemn the next generation to a poorer economy and environment. The report says that in order to meet the 2011, objective to be the first generation to improve the environment, the government must strengthen and reintroduce the various essential Bills into parliament as a priority.

 

Black Lives Matter went mainstream after Floyd’s death. The killing of George Floyd had a huge impact in the United Kingdom. Now Jacob Blake, another Black American has been shot by the police . One example of unconscious racism, and there are many, is the case of a black bank manager who was arrested. He says he was wrongfully targeted by officers, and faced accusations of money laundering, terrorism and trafficking in an investigation which lasted more than two years before being dropped with no apology. He is to sue Metropolitan Police for racial discrimination after 26-month nightmare  . This kind of racism is extremely common and often affects innocent young black people There is stark evidence of everyday racial bias in Britain. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick in denying that her force is institutionally racist, appears to be in denial. Unaware racism is an issue of the utmost importance. We need to look into ourselves. Tackling tackle racism is a top priority.

 

David Olusoga, historian, broadcaster and writer has called for a structural change in the U.K. television industry to bring about inclusiveness, but has also warned about the “lack of trust” the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic community has for the existing system after 30 years of neglect. “We need to make structural changes, not merely seek to bring black and brown people into a system that has historically failed them.”

 

There has been much debate about the extent to which Britain took part in and benefitted from slavery. When I visit stately houses or walk round Clifton in Bristol I am always aware that these beautiful buildings were funded by slavery. The toppling of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue was a multiracial protest.

 

Clearly some countries are better managed than others. But what citizens do makes an enormous difference.

As the late Polly Higgins advocated, we need to “Dare to be great”.

 

If you wish to take action, here are some organisations to support and learn from: Black Lives Matter UK , Hope Not Hate , The New Economics Foundation, Global Justice Now, The Soil Association, GM Freeze, Garden Organic, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace,Campaign to Protect Rural England, The Wildlife Trusts, Compassonline, Build Back Better, The Resolution Foundation’s Economic policy beyond the lockdown, Shelter, Joseph Rowntree Foundation – inspiring social change, Basic Income, Universal Basic Services, Unlock Democracy, The Electoral Reform Society, The Constitution Unit, University College London, Education Policy Institute, The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, The Kings Fund, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Citizens Assembly Project, Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Peace Direct, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote and 38 Degrees, an online campaigning organisation, involving more than 2 million people from every corner of the UK.

And Lobby your MP.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. In normal times, I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics.

 

If you value what you have read, please spread the word.

 

 

Synopsis of The Production of Money – How to Break the Power of Bankers by Ann Pettifor

This is an inspiring book. It is short, bold and thought provoking. First published in 2017, revised in 2018, it is full of insights on this most important subject. Since it was written, global economies have been totally overturned by Covid19 and the book is even more relevant. Ann validates and draws on John Maynard Keynes’s ideas. In the synopsis below I  try to capture the key arguments.

The chapter titles indicate clearly what it is about:

  1. Credit Power
  2. The Creation of Money
  3. The “Price” of Money
  4. The Mess We’re In
  5. Class Interests and the Moulding of Schools
  6. Should Society Strip Banks of the Power to Create Money?
  7. Subordinating Finance, Restoring Democracy
  8. Yes, We Can Afford What We Can Do

Chapter 1 Credit Power

The global finance sector exercises extraordinary power over our society and government. They dominate policy making and undermine democratic decision making. The private commercial banking system creates 95 percent of our money in various forms while the central bank issues only about 5 percent or less. In the UK the financial sector has expanded vastly and detached itself from the real economy which has declined. Economic power has been transferred away from government whose role is to create the money needed for public good. One of the consequences was the great financial crisis of 2007 – 2009. Ignorance of how money is created poses great dangers, not least the need to manage or regulate finance in the interests of society as a whole and the environment.

Chapter 2 The Creation of Money

The good news: The miracle of a developed monetary economy is this savings are not necessary to find purchases or investments. Those entrepreneurs or individuals in need of funds for investment need not rely on finance from individuals that set aside their income in their savings bank or under the mattress. Instead they can obtain finance from a private commercial bank. This availability of finance in a monetary economy is in contrast to a poor, under-developed, non-monetary economy where savings are the only source of finance for investment, and where inevitably, there is no money for society’s most urgent needs.

To sum up: in a monetary economy saving is different from the business of building up a surplus of corn, and then lending it on. The corn can be saved without it ever affecting others. However, saving in an economy based on money always “affects others” because it is always an act that sets up a financial relationship with others: a claim. The borrower has a duty to pay back the loan. It is the case that if savings in an economy are to expend then it will be necessary for debt to expand too. It is when debt exceeds the capacity to repay, that it becomes a burden on individuals, firms and the economy as a whole. To avoid the exploitative nature of debt that two conditions must prevail. First, the interest on loans should be low enough to ensure repayment. Secondly, loans should be made for activities judged to be productive and likely to generate employment and income. Ideally, lending for   activity other than this, should be discouraged or banned. As Keynes argued, what we create, we can afford. The credit system enables us to do what we can do within the physical limits of imposed by our own, the economy’s and the ecosystem’s resources. That is the good news. A well-developed monetary system can finance very big project, projects whose financing can finance whose financing would far exceed an economy’s total savings squirrelled away.

Unfortunately, western democracies have not used their existing power to control rekless national financiers and speculators. Instead, elected governments allowed global financial corporations to move capital offshore and across borders to create credit without over-sight, regulation, taxation or restraint and amass astonishing amounts of wealth. The Bretton Woods era, (1945-71) was a time when, thanks to John Maynard Keynes, the financial system was made to work largely in the interests of society. It has to be said that this is largely true of Germany’s multi-tiered banking system.

Chapter 3 The “Price” of Money

The rate of interest on credit charged for economic activity is fundamental to the health of an economy. Rates that are too high stifle enterprise and ultimately render debts unpayable. However in the neoliberal era, under Mrs Thatcher, rates of interest rose steadily. Between1971 and 1974 credit fuelled inflation: a 35% rise in consumer prices and 79% rise in import prices. For the next thirty years, high interest rates periodically bankrupted many individuals, firms, industries and economies, leading to unemployment, culminating in the 2007-9 crash. Little has been done since then to remove control from commercial banks.

The development of banking and sound monetary systems should have ended the power of any elite to extract outsized returns from borrowers. However, elected government had conceded despotic power to financial capital.

Now of course all this is turned on its head and is history. Government borrowing is phenomenal sums in order to tackle the consequences of Corvid 19.history for the time being. Extraordinary sums are being borrowed.

Chapter 4 The Mess we’re In

At the time when this was written, before Covid 19 emerged, the world and Britain, in particular, was in a mess its government having decided to leave the European Union, its largest and nearest market.

Anna Coote said: We live in turbulent political and financial times, and in a global economy dogged by failure. We survive precariously on a planet warmed by human –induced greenhouse gas emissions and disturbed by human-induced mass extinction. The financial system is currently volatile, corrupted and widely discredited. Scandals of mis-selling, theft, manipulation and fraud abound. And the cry “there is no money” for care for the elderly, the mentally ill, or for social housing; none for or for public investment in water conservation, renewable energy, flood defences, the retrofitting of old, energy leaking properties , or other investments designed to protect society from climate change.

There is a chorus that “there is no money” and an argument that public debt ought not to be used.

Chapter 5 Class Interests and the Moulding of Schools

The first part of this chapter is an account of the moulding of economic thought. Staggering as it may seem, she argues, the overwhelming majority of mainstream economists do not understand the nature of credit and money or the wider financial system. Policies based on a vacuum in economic theory still prevail in western treasuries. While the resulting finance economy remained intact, according to the International Labour Organisation, around 200 million people were made unemployed in 2015 and the Middle East and North Africa had the highest youth unemployment in the world. Europe, with obstinately high levels of unemployment, faced frightening political tensions and division sand the rise of right- wing, even fascist parties.

Dominant schools of thought have led to vast capital gains for financial elites but prolonged failure of the global economy and rising inequality.

After World War 2, acceptance of John Maynard Keynes’s thinking (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Maynard_Keynes) that the monetary system should be steered away from serving class interests and serve the needs of society as a whole, led to the Golden Age (1947-71) near full employment and unprecedented narrowing of income distribution. But this did not endure. Dear money was restored in 1980 and since then advanced economies have endured high levels of unemployment, periodic financial crises and severe instability culminating in the global financial crisis of 2007-09. Unpayable debts are more likely to build up under dear money. Politicians do no more than build up political capital – “we’re balancing the books”, “living within our means.”

Chapter 6 Should Society Strip Banks of the Power to Create Money?

Ann Pettifor is opposed to the Positive Money Movement https://positivemoney.org/our-proposals/sovereign-money-creation/ which proposes Sovereign Money Creation as a way of paving the way for a Sustainable Recovery. She applauds their taking aim at reckless greedy bankers. But she believes the public need to be involved and that would not be the case if these decisions were taken centrally and for banks to be constrained in lending and for firms and individuals to be constrained in borrowing. To remove this public involvement at a micro level in the creation of the nation’s money supply, and instead rest this power with a small committee would be steps on the road to autocracy.  However, Ann argues, there is no reason why society should not aspire to building a gift based- economy for clean air and a safe environment. The closest we have come to this is free education, a free Health Service, subsidised housing etc.

The creation of a socially just monetary system that enables us all to do what we can do, and be who we can be should be the aim of any progressive movement. 

Human – induced climate change represents a major threat to a liveable future. It will require above all a great deal of finance, for example to transform transport, erect flood defences, retrofit ageing housing or to make buildings more energy efficient. Employment will generate income with which to repay the credit or debt. Fundamental to any attempt to wrest power back from financial markets must be greater understanding of the nature credit, money creation and the monetary system as a whole. That is what this book is about.

Chapter 7 Subordinating Finance, Restoring Democracy

Finance capital’s “despotic” power over the world’s nations has led, since the 1970s to a series of ongoing financial crises, and to the build-up of mountains of private, unpayable debts. These have inflicted grave costs – human, ecological as well as economic – on whole societies. The US Treasury estimated that 8.8 million jobs were lost in the US alone, and $19 trillion of household wealth was destroyed during the 2007-09 crisis. But finance capital’s power has done more: it has hollowed out democratic institutions, as those powers that have the allocate resources have been privatised. This helps explain why the costs of crises have not been borne, on the whole by the finance sector. Most financiers were bailed out after the 2007-09 crisis. Those who have paid the price, directly or indirectly, include, include tax payers, the unemployed, bankrupted small and large firms and the homeless. The affordability of homes has been adversely affected. Western social democratic and conservative parties also paid a high price for their neo-liberal policies and in effect colluding with finance capital interests rather than the interests of their populations.

In this chapter, Ann propose goes on to set out tried and tested key economic policy proposals amongst which are these:

  1. Private created finance for productive activity should be encouraged. Money for speculation should be strongly discouraged and priced at very high rates of interest. Germany is given as an example of doing this well.
  2.  Managing the price of money. Too high and investment and employment will suffer. Realistic rates and householders and entrepreneurs will benefit and economic activity will flourish.
  3. Governments of advanced economies should spend and borrow.
  4. Central banks should manage exchange rates.
  5. International cooperation and coordination.

Chapter 8 Yes, We Can Afford What We Can Do

First, the public must develop a much greater understanding of how the bank money system works. Knowledge is powerful and empowering. Today’s flawed economic ideology will be weakened by wider public understanding. For women the issue is central. Women are largely responsible for managing household budgets but they have largely been excluded from managing the nation’s financial system and budget. At present the networks that dominate the financial sector are largely male. Thankfully this is changing.

Secondly, Ann argues that the refrain “there is no money” most frequently applies to women’s interests and causes. Hence there is never enough money to fund the all the social services women provide, nor enough money to reduce the high rates of maternal new born mortality across the world, fair and decent wages to women or provide adequate high quality child care for women at work. Then there are environmentalists. There is a direct link between deregulated uncontrolled credit and increased consumption, rising greenhouse gases and increasing exploitation of the earth’s scarce and precious resources. To protect the ecosystem it is vital to manage and regulate finance.

We need to rebuild and strengthen democratic political parties and institutions and participate in political debate and elections. In other words we, the people, have to organise. There needs to be a partnership between labour and industry.

Because there need never be a shortage of finance, we can afford to undertake this huge transformation and care for an aging population, the young and the vulnerable only within the limits of the limits of the ecosystem.  

Suggested further reading:

·   Strategic quantitative easing: Stimulating investment to rebalance the economy https://neweconomics.org/2013/07/strategic-quantitative-easing/

  • Positive Money https://positivemoney.org/our-proposals/sovereign-money-creation/ There is a need for an alternative strategy for a more sustainable economic recovery. This paper proposes this alternative, a new solution called Sovereign Money Creation (SMC). SMC offers a way to make the recovery sustainable. In a similar way to Quantitative Easing, SMC relies on the state creating money and putting this money into the economy. But whereas QE relied on flooding financial markets and hoping that some of this money would ‘trickle down’ to the real economy, SMC works by injecting new money directly into the real economy, via government spending, tax cuts or rebates.
  • For an overview of the challenges facing us read: The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness. Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016 https://brucenixon.com/books/new-book-the-21st-century-revolution-a-call-to-greatness/

Organisations to support:

Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote. And Lobby your MP.

Women leaders and coronavirus: look beyond stereotypes to find the secret of their success

I am hosting this important article written by Kate Maclean,Professor of International Development, Northumbria University, Newcastle and published by The Conversation

Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan and Angela Merkel of Germany have all been singled out for the way they have handled the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve been praised for demonstrating care, empathy and a collaborative approach. These skills – stereotypically described as “feminine” – have enabled them to listen to scientific expertise, work with local authorities and communicate effectively with the public. It has made them come across as transparent and accountable at a time of mass confusion.

In stark contrast, male leaders in some of the worst performing countries – the UK, the US and Brazil – have adopted a leadership style of belligerent rhetoric. They’ve taken guidance from entourages of confidantes, often instead of experts. Their inconsistent, unclear communications have been compared to “gaslighting” . Their tendency to follow this path perhaps isn’t surprising. After all, the “hyper-masculine” style – a maverick leader who establishes authoritative power by aggressively rejecting “feminine” traits like collaboration, empathy and respect for due process – proved a successful electoral strategy for these leaders.

There are many men of course who are not like that – just as there are women who don’t consider themselves particularly empathetic or collaborative. So, while it is wonderful to see women leaders and feminine leadership being praised so widely during the pandemic, emphasising the stereotypical characteristics of the leaders themselves may reinforce the gendered thinking that helps put macho populist leaders in power.

Breaking the mould To understand the success of these women leaders in handling COVID-19, the focus should be on the political culture and institutions which allowed women who adopt a “feminine” approach to leadership to come to power. More representative systems create styles of leadership which inherently involve compromise and collaboration rather than aggression and domination. This can create a political culture in which femininity and power are not in contradiction.

We can see the perpetuation of stereotypes in the way that women leaders have been praised for their management of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, beyond that, we can also see how these women are breaking the mould.

Ardern is only the second premier in the world to give birth while in office . She has placed empathy and care at the centre of her personal style of authority. This, in itself, is a breakthrough, but it is notable that when she exhibits the traits of strength, decisiveness and military command, which have also been prominent in her management of the crisis, these too are seen through a maternal lens. One religious leader accused her of implementing a “nanny state”, being an “overly controlling parent” and even BBC

Newsnight described her as “putting the entire nation on the naughty step”.

Merkel isn’t just successful because of her ‘mutti’ image. EPA

Tsai

Merkel is not a mother herself, but she is known in Germany as “mutti” – the “mummy” of the nation . Her route to power is a study in the discourses which frame the way women in politics are seen. Her mentor Helmut Kohl famously nicknamed her his “Mädchen” – his girl – and she demonstrates her economic credentials by evoking the thrifty schwäbische hausfrau (Swabian housewife). It has come to the fore in this pandemic, however, that she also has a PhD in quantum chemistry.

Tsai, who also has a PhD, has been praised for her swift action to protect citizens’ health during the pandemic. She has also sent humanitarian aid to other countries, including the US.

However, while similar action by Ardern was attributed to her compassion.

Arden

Tsai’s response is more consistent with her strong assertion of Taiwanese independence.

There were fears that if the virus spread, China would be able to take geopolitical advantage .

Checks and balances produce great leaders

These women are good leaders because they are highly skilled, qualified and experienced. Crucially, though, they have come through political systems in which their kind of skills can be valued, which are explicitly designed to keep strong-man populist leaders at bay. New Zealand, Taiwan and Germany all have multiple institutionalised checks and balances on executive power. They have strong local institutions of governance which favour local participation in politics, rather than a top-down approach.

These nations also have electoral and party-political systems which adopt elements of proportional representation. Such systems frequently give rise to coalition governments and hence necessitate collaborative leadership. To counter perception-biases in voter choice, electoral systems in these countries use party lists, where votes are cast for a party and positions are allocated proportionately to listed individuals. This is how Tsai, Merkel and Ardern were all first elected.

Of course, these systems are not perfect, but the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted both the dangers of systems that promote mavericks and the need for strong institutions to check their whims.

The pandemic has also placed in sharp relief the need to invest in care and social infrastructure – “feminine” areas of the economy that have been overlooked for too long. The experience of women leaders who have reinvented both political leadership and femininity and the institutional contexts which have allowed them to get to the top, can help reimagine inclusive political processes in the wake of the crisis.

Bruce Nixon is an author, writer and speaker. His latest book, The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”.

Footnote

If you find Kate Maclean’s article useful, please consider supporting The Conversation

The Dominic Cummings Story

Dominic Cummings is Boris Johnson’s de facto chief-of-staff

Hollie Adams/Getty Images

 

I strongly recommend Emily Maitlis’s BBC2 Television Programme,

Taking Back Control: The Dominic Cummings Story. To some he is an evil genius, to others a master strategist. This film examines Dominic Cummings’s place in our politics over the last two decades, from Blair to Brexit and beyond. David Gauke and Rory Stuart, who opposed a hard Brexit and were thrown out of the party, take part. 

 

The film confirms my view that Brexit is an abuse of the UK’s democracy and that we have been taken for a ride. It was a great conspiracy. We were told lies such as the £350 million savings a week we’d make by leaving the EU; illegal money and misleading social networking were used in the campaign. Behind it all was Dominic Cummings. He had ready collaborators in the form of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, all of whom are clearly narcissists. Is Cummings’s power legitimate in a democracy? Is it in accord within the spirit of our unwritten constitution? One of my friends said to me, “He should be had up for treason”.

It can be argued that Dominic Cummings has the characteristics of a sociopath. Adolph Hitler was an extreme example, as psychoanalyst Walter C. Langer in his book Adolf Hitler described Hitler as a “neurotic psychopath.” Let us beware.

 

Brexit is the will of the British people is complete nonsense, as I have argued elsewhere. There were many discontents underlying the vote for Brexit, including the failure to enable the rebuilding of the economies of large areas of the UK, especially in our former industrial heartlands of the North.

 

I quote the BBC’s description of the programme: “For critics and supporters alike, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser – the man who is said to have masterminded Brexit – is an enigma. Dominic Cummings is perhaps the most powerful unelected political figure in Britain today, but what does he actually believe? What has shaped his approach to politics and the media? And what can his rise to power tell us about how politics has changed?

 

In this programme, Emily Maitlis examines Dominic Cummings’s place in our changing political landscape, stretching back over two decades.

 

With testimonies from some of his fiercest critics and closest political friends, Emily Maitlis sheds light on a man whose ambitions may now direct Britain’s journey for years to come.

The film charts his arrival in Downing Street as a senior adviser with significant and perhaps unprecedented power. Now, at the apex of the largest Conservative majority since 1987, Cummings aims to play a key role in reshaping the nation, our economy and government”.

 

See what the critics say: BBC 2’s new documentary on Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings promised to “shed light on a man whose ambitions may now direct Britain’s journey for years to come”. But some critics aren’t impressed: see Taking Control: The Dominic Cummings Story. “The view from all sides seems to be that Cummings is awful. It’s just that some people think he’s brilliant, and so put up with him being awful.” Naturally, I would select the following comments, amongst others which are critical of the programme: “Dominic Cummings was a brooding puppet master. A new documentary shows nothing has changed.” Lebby Eyres said the documentary “seems to confirm what I’ve thought all along: it’s not really our Prime Minister Boris Johnson who’s in charge, but Dom”.

 

Meanwhile, we are involved in two crises, namely the climate catastrophe and Covid 19. We need to work closely with our fellow European neighbours and it is ironic that we are embarking on doing the opposite.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book, The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics too.

If you find what you have read useful, please spread the word.

 

 

 

The Happy Blog

Yesterday, I accompanied my wife for a routine test at the local hospital. There was a poster display showing that people from 199 nations work together in the NHS. How wonderful! And all those we met were so caring and kind. I rejoice in the diversity of our nation. This makes me happy, as I shall describe further on.

 

One Team Many Nationalities - Copy

 

It is the same in our town – many people from other lands working in our supermarkets, providing restaurants or coffee places. I love this. They enrich our town. I love multi-cultural London too. It is amazing how kind so many Londoners are to a man like me of a certain age. If I am standing on the tube or train, they offer me a seat. Often I decline with a smile and say standing helps keep me fit.

 

Every time I walk down to the town, looking ahead of me with an open face and just a hint of a smile to come, I get smiles and “Hellos”. Smiles are good for us. I say to myself: “one thing at a time”. So when I am walking, I am walking, not looking down into an I-Phone but taking things in, whether people, many of whom, whatever their age, are beautiful, or the architecture or the natural beauty in the town. When I am walking, I also remember what my Alexander teacher told me – “open your lungs and walk tall with your head up looking forward”. I also remember what my physiotherapist said “squeeze your glutes”. That too helps me walk upright, rather than stooping as so many older people do. Stooping reduces your lung capacity.

 

Another thing keeps me happy: the Fitness Centre. I go twice a week. That is good for my wellbeing as well as my physical health. I meet many different and interesting people. Diversity is good. The Manager and I do a lot of laughing, seeing the funny side of life.  Every day I do something for my body: yoga class Monday evening. Royal Canadian Airforce Exercise Programme before lunch if I am not going to the Fitness Centre.

 

Being kind and friendly is good for wellbeing. I usually say to people in shops and cafes, “How are you today?” Or if they are young, “Is this a temporary job? What next?” In this way l get into conversation and learn a lot about people. I think people like talking with someone who shows interest. In effect it is part of being kind. We may discover that we have common interests, and we end up having a fruitful conversation. Sometimes they are interested in my current book and want to buy it. Many of my sales are done in this way or at conferences. It is a book about the biggest challenges faced by humanity and how we need to respond to avoid catastrophe. Because the book is short, concise and reasonably priced people buy it.

 

I spend some three hours at my computer before lunch, mainly researching, writing and sometimes campaigning. Unless I have decided to defer this and write, I’ll look at the flood of incoming e-mails, careful not to be distracted by Facebook, deciding which are important and need a response, and deleting the rest. If I am not careful, I’ll lose track of time. However, particularly if it is sunny, I’ll go into the garden for a nature cure. In the summer, when much of the gardening has been done, I’ll hike into the nearby fields and woods. However, I hate mud so rarely go hiking if it is wet. After lunch, I’ll often go to a café to read or check a draft.

 

I go to many meetings and conferences, mostly in London arranged by think tanks and NGOs. I find this enormously uplifting as it shows how many people are working to create a better world. Such people are far more racially diverse than used to be the case.

 

Our beautiful town is mostly a happy place. We have open spaces and trees, a little river and a canal. At times, the cafes are full of happy mums with babies or small children. The staff create a warm and friendly atmosphere. Many people, like me, work in the good environments of these cafes.

 

There are two markets a week and one farmers’ market a month, mostly organic. Going to the market on Saturdays is sociable occasion when we bump into friends and chat.

 

I realise we live in a highly privileged bubble. Everywhere should enjoy these features. Of course not everyone looks happy, and some are clearly depressed and or unwell. All human beings deserve to live in a good environment as a human right. In many areas they do. But in many areas they do not. Judging from the huge and expensive cars in our town, some people clearly have too much wealth. The UK is one of the most unequal amongst OECD countries. It is the responsibility of good government to put this right.

 

The reality is that living lightly on this planet is urgent. Otherwise we face catastrophe. This is not widely understood. Continuous economic growth is unsustainable. We are already consuming one and a half planets’ worth a year . And of course that is down to the wealthiest countries. We need governments with the courage to take on that challenge with vigour and urgency. Wellbeing is more important than economic growth measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) . Happiness and wellbeing trump material growth. The Gross National Happiness Index is worth looking at. We need to measure the progress of our economy by looking at the quality of and improvement in people’s lives. Also it has to be the wellbeingwellbeing of people in all nations.

 

One recent piece of good news is that a World Health Organisation expert said that there was a steep decline in newly-reported cases of COVID-19 due to actions taken by the Chinese government to contain the deadly coronavirus.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics too.

 

If you like what you have read, please spread the word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case for Universal Basic Services

In their bold new book, Anna Coote and Andrew Percy argue that this transformational new policy – Universal Basic Services (UBS) – is exactly what we need to save our societies and our planet.

UBS Cover - Copy (2)

In their bold new book, Anna Coote and Andrew Percy argue that this transformational new policy – Universal Basic Services (UBS) – is exactly what we need to save our societies and our planet.

 Trials of a Universal Basic Income are quite widespread. But the authors take things much further. The old argument that free markets and individual choice are the best way to solve pressing problems of poverty, inequality and environmental degradation has led us to catastrophe, and must be abandoned. They show that expanding the principle of collective universal service provision to everyday essentials like transport, childcare and housing is not only the best way of tackling many of the biggest problems facing the contemporary world: it’s also efficient, practical and affordable. Anyone who cares about fighting for a fairer, greener and more democratic world should read this book.

This is a proposal whose time has come. The idea is that healthcare and education should be provided as universal public services to all who need them is widely accepted. But why leave it there? Why not expand it to more of life’s essentials? Anna Coote, Principal Fellow at NEF and Andrew Percy, co-director of the Social Prosperity Network at UCL, argue that this transformational new policy – Universal Basic Services (UBS) – is what we need to save our societies and our planet.

 Recently I watched the BBC Panorama “Universal Credit: One Year On”  . For generations, governments have sought to simplify the benefits system. The latest attempt, Universal Credit, merging six benefits into one was supposed to make life better for claimants. But it is not working. It was heartrending to watch as one enthusiastic young woman on a zero hours contract became discouraged as she was given little work and struggled to make ends meet. Another young woman with a child struggled to pay for the essentials she and her cheerful little daughter needed and to pay off the loans she incurred in order to survive.

This would not happen if the principle of collective universal service provision were applied to everyday essentials of life such as housing and transport, combined with a reformed social security system that gave everyone a decent income. This is the best way to tackle many of the biggest problems facing the contemporary world. It is equitable, efficient and sustainable – and it builds solidarity. For all these reasons and more, UBS offers a progressive, practical and affordable alternative to dependence on cash transfers, loans and market transactions.

 If implemented, Universal Basic Services (UBS) could bring enormous benefits to the whole nation, including those worst affected by Universal Credit argues the University College London Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP). Instead of attempting to alleviate poverty through redistributive payments and minimum wages, the state should instead provide everyone with the services they need to feel secure in society. Their radical proposals include building 1.5 million new social homes to provide rent-free accommodation for those in most need.

The Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) says UBI is expensive. Paying all UK citizens the current Jobseeker’s Allowance amount of £73.10 per week would cost almost £250bn per year – 13 per cent of the UK’s entire GDP. By contrast, widening the social safety net through more comprehensive services would cost around £42bn, which can be funded by lowering the personal income tax allowance from £11,800 to £4,300, according to the IGP’s analysis. 

Strengthening and extending universal services would also be a more effective way of tackling global poverty and improving wellbeing than a Universal Basic Income (UBI), according to a report by the University College London Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) .

 We look forward to a potentially better future with robotics and AI. Universal basic services could work better than basic income to combat ‘rise of the robots’, say experts. The team at UCL IGP says the state should make shelter, travel and IT services available to all, free at the point of use, rather than focusing on redistributing money. Could one billion humans be pushed into unemployment by robots and AI software? asks Christine Evans-Pughe .

Robotics and AI offer human beings wonderful possibilities. Arduous or boring jobs could be done, often more efficiently, by robots. These days, 3D printing and now 4D seem to be at the core of most new research ventures, whether it’s developing ways to print entire meals or recreating facial features to repair a patient’s face. Skylar Tibbits wants to up the ante; he’s hoping 4D printing will be the thing of the not-so-far future. Objects could be printed, but thanks to geometric code, could also later change shape and transform on their own.

The key point here is that humans could be released from arduous, unsafe or boring jobs and enabled to do what they do best and gives them most joy, such as engaging in work that requires creativity or the heart, without suffering a precarious or low standard of living.

The Labour Party adopted Universal Basic Services as one of three pillars in their economic platform in 2019.

There is no doubt now that keeping planetary warming within limits necessary for continued human habitation will require transformational change of an unprecedented scale and pace. Such radical change can only be delivered through collective action and UBS may have a key role to play in delivering the rapid and mass behavioural change needed. The Right to a Good Life, Labour 2019.

Irrespective of the merits of Universal Basic Services, chapter 5 is invaluable in describing best practice, in Europe and elsewhere, in housing, transport and information technology in fostering wellbeing and in recognising the importance of the internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Conclusion.

Canada and other countries are trialling UBI . The Greens in the UK are considering UBI.  Nordic countries are also doing so and now Ireland is considering UBI. It is to be hoped that these countries will follow the lead of the British Labour Party.

REVIEWS

“If the UK is so rich, why do so many of us feel so poor?  Coote and Percy argue that by rethinking what, how and why we provide collectively, we can ensure that the economy and society works for everybody.”
Jonathan Portes, Kings College London

 “In arguing for universal basic services Anna Coote and Andrew Percy call on us to think differently about both the scope and character of public services in rich countries. They do not want free services for everyone, all of the time, but they explain why the state must take responsibility for seeing that our essential needs are met without cost ever being a barrier. These proposals are ambitious but not utopian and sit squarely within the practical traditions of post-1945 democratic socialism and human rights.”
Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society 

“What if there were a way to reduce inequality, promote social solidarity, improve levels of education and health, and create a better functioning democracy, all in the context of sustainability? Universal Basic Services. How does it compare with Universal Basic Income? Read the book. It is beautifully simple in its writing and elegant in argument.”
Michael Marmot, Director, UCL Institute of Health Equity 

 “Universal basic services speak to the necessity for everybody in a thriving society to have shared experiences and a common understanding of the resources needed for people to participate fully. We do not have that, after years of individualist policies and austerity; as a result our society is fracturing. This book speaks to the urgent need for everybody to have access to collective services that are sufficient to meet their needs.”
Diane Coyle, co-director, Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Cambridge University

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my BlogImages for Blog which includes many other topics.

If you like what you have read and find it useful, please spread the word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnson’s faded green vision.

I am hosting this article first published in the New European Thursday, February 13, 2020 with their permission.

The prime minister shows no signs that he is up to the challenge presented by climate change, says CATHERINE ROWETT.

Prof Rowlett 1

Catherine Rowett was a Green MEP for East of England from2019 to 2020.

Has Boris Johnson ever spoken an honest truth? I don’t mean an accidental one, uttered to deceive but failing in its intention, but a genuine avowal of his own honest opinion? It’s possible that one such truth may have inadvertently crossed his lips in the admission that he “doesn’t really get” climate change, as reported by Claire O’Neill after her abrupt sacking as head of the COP26 climate summit.

 

Her dismissive remarks might sound like a case of sour grapes, if it wasn’t for the wealth of supporting evidence suggesting the prime minister really doesn’t understand the task in front of him when it comes to environment. Right now, Johnson’s failure to grasp the climate emergency is possibly more scary than any of his other multitudinous lies that have harmed the UK politics since he opted to campaign for Brexit in 2016. Scary, because as we approach COP26, to be hosted in Glasgow in November, all the signs are that the prime minister is destined to fluff this great opportunity.

 

The conference should have been the moment for Britain to step up onto the world stage and lead the way forward from 2016’s Paris Agreement and the last session in Madrid: to reiterate and embed the lessons of science; secure international cooperation; speed up the process of setting and meeting ambitious targets; and get every country in the world on board, including reluctant ones like Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Australia.

The only chance of a breakthrough is with preliminary diplomacy in these crucial parts of the globe. Sacking the conference co-ordinator with ten months to go does not inspire confidence or a sense of leadership. As the COP26 host, we need a prime minister who understands what a climate emergency is.

 

Johnson has been trying to burnish his credential this week, with the decision to proceed with HS2 and to invest £5 billion over five years to improve cycling and bus services, including 4,000 “zero-carbon” vehicles. Yes, this indicates that someone understands that the UK is at a standstill because of its woeful failure to invest properly in mass transit systems and reliable networks that outperform car travel. That’s good news indeed, but let’s just check whether the proposals provide real solutions, and if so, solutions to what exactly?

 

HS2 splits opinion between those who are thrilled and those who are appalled. The enthusiasts are those who think that what’s needed is to move more people around faster and with less crowding. The opponents see that the real challenge is to reduce the demand for fast travel and find zero carbon solutions.

 

HS2 is not a zero carbon means to anything, least of all to shifting people from cars into trains (for that we need plentiful short haul trains from people’s actual homes, to where they actually want to be, not via London, and not especially fast). Any ordinary train is faster, more reliable, and less hassle for the passenger, than running a car. It need not go at 225mph. Nor will HS2 reduce domestic flights. To do that, we should either abolish those altogether (after all, why not?) or price them properly.

 

For sure, there’s a vociferous technophile pro-HS2 lobby whose letters I expect to see here next week. They are prepared to destroy woods and chalk streams to secure their short ride in a fast machine. Their enthusiasm occasionally tries to dress itself in green, but HS2 will do nothing for the UK’s carbon emissions, except perhaps increase them.

 

What about the zero emissions buses? Beware the term “zero-emissions”. It probably hides something quite sinister, namely the misconception that hydrogen-powered vehicles have a zero-emissions energy source. Yes, there are no emissions from the vehicle itself – helpful if your problem is urban air quality – but hydrogen is not a source of energy. It’s an extremely inefficient way of storing energy, taking far more power to make than is obtained from using it, and it is only as clean as the energy used to produce and deliver it. And the £5 billion pledged in this area is only a fraction of the investment required.

 

What the UK really needs – to go alongside a transport revolution – is renewable energy and a commitment to reduce demand. Certainly shifting from cars to buses and trains helps. But we also need huge reductions in air travel, a freeze on airport expansion, insulation for buildings, an end to gas boilers.

 

We need subsidies, for renewables, not for gas or coal or oil or shale gas or any other new-fangled so-called low carbon systems. And, above all, a complete moratorium on new nuclear, which, like HS2, is a false diversion that pretends to be a solution.

New nuclear power is too slow, too expensive (currently twice the price of offshore wind but with a scheduled rise in price that looks set to make it perhaps 100 times more expensive, if not more, than real renewables) and has a huge carbon footprint in the construction.

 

Where then is the investment in very low cost local installations, in good sources of background energy such as tidal and wave power, in energy storage?

 

What a mess! How can we claim to be global leaders in the fight against climate change, with such a confused, sometimes contradictory strategy?

 

So no. This government, and its prime minister, does not get the climate thing. Not at all.

 

 Bruce Nixon author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog https://brucenixon.com/ which includes many other topics.

 

If you like what you have read, please spread the word.

 

 

 

A New Dawn for British Politics (Updated).

This is updated to include the massive Make Votes Matter Alliance that you may wish to join .

The UK is a wonderful country full of gifted people, cultural as sets, magnificent countryside and beautiful cities and towns. For the most part it is a multi-cultural society in which diversity thrives. Talented people come here to set up businesses or contribute to our rich cultural life and make it their home. We should be delighted that they do so; most of us are.

Reading Positive News confirms this picture of our nation.

 

Yet there is another side to it. We are a deeply divided nation: divided between extremely wealthy and poor; South East and North; Scotland and England. One of the richest countries in the world, we are also one of the most unequal. See Poverty in the UK: a guide to the facts and figures.  We are divided over Brexit too, at the time of the referendum, roughly 52% in favour; 48% against but differing considerably between different parts of the UK and generations . The young, whose futures will be most affected, strongly support Remain.

 

Our politics is broken. As A C Grayling says, “Parliament is now an expensive charade” . For many people, politics is a dirty word. They don’t want anything to do with it. It is nasty. One side against the other; accusations and criticism, followed by denial instead of listening and learning from each other with an open mind. Prime Minister’s question time is a prime example. Two people exchanging insults, to a background of braying supporters. Some MPs shout at each other. Could anything be more infantile? And what an example to the nation. The popular press, with its sensational headlines, behaves similarly rather than offering a sensible, informed conversation.

 

It is arguable that the bad behaviour in the House of Commons has contributed to both verbal and physical violence in the country as a whole – for example the murder of Jo Cox.

 

Of course this is only part of the picture. Very good work goes on. Parliamentary committees function extremely well. A large part of the work of the House of Commons and the House of Lords takes place in committees. These committees consider policy issues, scrutinise the work and expenditure of the government, and examine proposals for primary and secondary legislation. Parliament can hold the Prime Minister to account. The Liaison Committee, as a cross-party committee, is very well placed to do this. The new government will face important challenges in the months ahead, deciding the next steps on Brexit before the deadline of 31 January 2020, as well as planning subsequent stages in negotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU.

 

People Power. In contrast to the state of our democracy, there are hundreds of wonderful, enlightened Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) supported by thousands, if not millions of people worldwide, working to create a better world and prevent our extinction. For example, the worldwide Extinction Rebellion  initiated by Greta Thunberg. The problem is that, with this exception, so many people are not aware of them. Instead of facilitating change, governments too often resist change.

 

Citizenship It is understandable that people have a distaste for politics. But perhaps it is more useful to talk about citizenship. We cannot have a good democracy without active citizens. Citizenship needs to be taught in schools from an early age. Democracy cannot function well unless people are engaged. But they will not engage unless they believe they have a voice. And that will not be the case if they are not represented because of the out-dated first past the post voting system.

 

Brexit is a prime example of a flawed approach. It was initiated, unwisely, by David Cameron, instead of working on the underlying causes of discontent. People were misled by untruths, simple slogans, big money and manipulation by social media. It was about gaining power, rather than putting the interests of the nation first. Remainers warned of the adverse consequences of leaving, but failed to make an inspiring case for remaining in the EU. We need to remember our history in creating European collaboration.

 

The referendum was not only inappropriate; it was flawed in design . It was explicitly advisory. And generally a two thirds majority is required.

And see my blog post .

 

We face two existential challenges: destruction of all life on the planet, as David Attenborough constantly warns us, and annihilation through nuclear war. Yet instead of working closely together with our European allies we are breaking apart.

 

Proportional Representation and Constitutional Reform. The situation we are in demonstrates the need for both proportional representation and constitutional reform.

 

Representation. Like many others, my views have never been represented by my MP. We joked good humouredly that we disagreed on most everything. Nor am I represented in the borough. Roughly half British citizens are unrepresented. This need not be so. Under proportional representation, parliament would better reflect citizen’s views. Under some forms of proportional representation such as the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) there could be six representatives in a constituency, thus reflecting the diversity of voters to a considerable extent.

 

The campaign for PR was begun 136 years ago by the Electoral Reform Society. Millions of people want their votes to matter – they believe that the share of seats a party gets should closely reflect the share of votes they get. Many organisations and public figures agree and support the movement for equal votes as you will see . Join the PR Alliance.

We need to get on the streets if necessary.

 

Constitutional Reform. The flaws in the referendum demonstrate the need for a written constitution that specifies how it must be done. However we also need a different way of doing politics. Instead of adversarial politics, with one side deciding the way forward, we need collaboration for change, as has so often been argued by Compass . We need tried and tested processes like Consensus Design. Others include Constitutional Conventions and Citizens Assemblies .

 

Devolution. Power needs to be devolved to the lowest effective level. It needs to be devolved from Westminster to the constituent countries of the UK and down to communities. The distinctive powers of Westminster need to be defined. People will only get involved if they believe they have power. Consulting people is not sufficient; in order to find the best solutions, people need to be fully involved in designing their futures. People are cynical about consultation: “They consult us and then do what they intended”. Citizens Assemblies provide a way of enabling people and reaching consensus. They need to be widely used from now on.

 

Today there is a dearth of great leadership in politics. I have just finished reading this inspiring book, Citizen Clem . Often referred to as Britain’s greatest peacetime leader, Clement Attlee came to power in 1945 when Europe had been devastated and Britain was exhausted and impoverished. During his tenure as Prime Minister he emphasised the importance of citizenship. After the war, there was widespread consensus about the kind of society citizens wanted.

 

It was a time of great leaders: Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge, George Marshall and more. In 1942, Sir William Beveridge had produced the Beveridge Report that amounted to a comprehensive manifesto for social reform, including social security, a National Health Service, a full employment policy and other advances. This is what Attlee’s government implemented including massive construction of affordable housing. He also played a major part in creating the Commonwealth.

 

So what are our prospects over the next five years of Boris Johnson’s Government? Regarding Brexit, Andrew Adonis’s advice is. “Boris Johnson now owns Brexit and has a parliamentary majority. See what he does and then react accordingly”.  In his article The Brexit Nightmare, A C Grayling sets out how a return to Europe can come about.

 

Here are some key organisations for you to join: The New Economics Foundation, Compass https://www.compassonline.org.uk/, Unlock Democracy, The Electoral Reform Society, The Constitution Unit, University College London, Up to Us, The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Citizens Assembly Project, Make Votes Matter, Black Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote. And Lobby your MP.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics.

 

If you like what you have read, please spread the word.

 

Positive News

The conventional media serves a valuable purpose, but gives a disproportionately negative picture of what is going on in our world. Stories in the popular press are particularly sensational and often politically biased. Of course we need to be informed about the challenges humanity faces. For example, the desperation of some 2 million people, many of them little children, caught in freezing temperatures in Idlib in a murderous war . But despite this horror, the reality is that humans do far more goodthan bad.

 

Positive News is a quarterly magazine that puts this distorted picture right. The hundredth issue of Positive News offers 100 People & Organisations Bringing Hope in 2020. Making hope the headline.

Posiive News


 

In this article I shall give you a taste of some of these stories. I hope it will give you good cheer. However if you want to read all of them in full you can subscribe to Positive News magazine and get 20% off with code HOPE2020.

 

Children march for their rights in Scotland. Scottish ministers have promised to enshrine children’s rights into law – kids marched to Holyrood to remind them of their pledge.

 

University teaches students how to be happy. The University of Bristol is offering a “science of happiness” course designed to teach students a set of science-based strategies for living a happier and more fulfilling life.

 

Part of a mosaic of peace: The schools bridging religious divides. The inclusive ethos of Northern Ireland’s integrated schools has been replicated in other divided lands such as the integrated Jewish-Arab schools in Israel.

 

New Zealand to consider climate in all policy decisions. Climate change will now be a standard part of cabinet’s decision making along with gender and human rights. Government has also made a commitment to plant 1bn trees by 2028 and tax farmers who fail to cut emissions. New offshore fossil fuel exploration has also been banned.

 

On a page of Good Figures, the Divest Parliament Pledge led by Caroline Lucas has been signed by MPs across the house including Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Conservative Members.

 

There is a section called HOPE.

Race to the Top: The trend towards better business. Scores of corporations are now committing to balancing profit with positive impact. Is it all “purpose wash” or a genuine turning point for business in society? B Corps is by no means a lone pioneer in changing business for the better. And worldwide, a notable minority of business leaders have long demonstrated their commitment to society and the environment through actions rather than words.

 

The first black mayor of a UK city, Marvin Rees, has a plan for Bristol. He is the mayor with an ambitious plan to tackle inequality. His One City Plan proposes a vision for Bristol in 2050 divided into six categories: connectivity, economy, environment, homes and communities and learning and skills, based on the UN’s sustainable development goals.

 

Wellbeing Economy Governments. What if the success of a country was measured by the happiness of its citizens as opposed to GDP? That’s the aim of Wellbeing Economy Governments currently comprising Scotland, New Zealand and Iceland. They argue that the goal of economic policy should be a nation’s collective wellbeing rather than its collective wealth.

 

ROTTERDAM: THE DUTCH CITY WITH A CIRCULAR VISION. In an abandoned Centre Parcs in Rotterdam, entrepreneurs are making innovative products out of rubbish, as the city strives to become a circular zero waste economy by 2050.

 

London Borough of Waltham Forest has some 13.7 miles of segregated cycle lanes and cycle training for 15,000 residents and has bagged the 2019 Ashden Award for clean air in towns and cities.

 

THREE PROJECTS CLEANING UP OCEAN PLASTIC on page 46. City to Sea, Ocean Cleanup Foundation- the largest clean-up in history, eXXpedition , “An all-female sailing crew is on a mission to find solutions to plastic pollution”.

 

FEEDBACK The campaign talking down the food system. A team of activists exposing slights of hand by the likes of M&S using food to pull a fast one on consumers through misleading labelling. Feedback’s campaign is called Total Bull .

 

New Year new resolutions. Simple is moving to 100% recycled plastic bottles made with renewable grid electricity. No colour, No perfume, No harsh chemicals.

 

Pedal Me: a ride-sharing start-up that puts its drivers – and the planet first. A ride sharing service based in London, it now has 42 bikes and 45 riders. It claims to be the fastest way to travel across London. Started by a central London borough planner who wanted to deliver people and goods without contributing to air pollution or climate change.

 

YOUTH VOICE Wales’ first Youth Parliament is campaigning to reduce plastic waste and improve mental health. “I’ve found out that it’s possible to be heard – that gives me confidence.” Their focus is on littering and plastic waste, mental health and wellbeing, as well as life skills in the school curriculum. Lewis, a member, says he is impressed by the level of respect the diverse members have shown each other. “It’s really refreshing in this day and age.”

 

SUBVERT the ADVERT Can an industry built on flogging us stuff ever be ethical? We meet people making “ad land” more responsible.

Less is More Welcome as such moves are, having policies in place to do no harm should constitute “basic housekeeping” for any reputable ad agency. So says Jonathan Trimble, chief executive of London based ad agency And Rising, which, like Good – Loop and Futerra, is registered under the ethical certification scheme B Corp. And Rising actively seeks to help promote brands with progressive product propositions.

 

Beautiful Minds Rather than simply accepting people with neurodiverse conditions like autism or dyslexia, what if we recognised their hidden talents? Four neurodiverse people explain how the way their brains work has been the key to their success.  

 

Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness which was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. His Blog and occasional newsletter, which you can sign up for on this site, are available to keep you up to date. Bruce gives talks in schools, colleges, universities, communities and at conferences.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Dawn for British Politics.

The UK is a wonderful country full of gifted people, cultural assets, magnificent countryside and beautiful cities and towns. For the most part it is a multi-cultural society in which diversity thrives. Talented people come here to set up businesses or contribute to our rich cultural life and make it their home. We should be delighted that they do so; most of us are.

Reading Positive News confirms this picture of our nation.

 

Yet there is another side to it. We are a deeply divided nation: divided between extremely wealthy and poor; South East and North; Scotland and England. One of the richest countries in the world, we are also one of the most unequal. See Poverty in the UK: a guide to the facts and figures. We are divided over Brexit too, at the time of the referendum, roughly 52% in favour; 48% against but differing considerably between different parts of the UK and generations. The young, whose futures will be most affected, strongly support Remain.

 

Our politics is broken. As A C Grayling says, “Parliament is now an expensive charade” . For many people, politics is a dirty word. They don’t want anything to do with it. It is nasty. One side against the other; accusations and criticism, followed by denial instead of listening and learning from each other with an open mind. Prime Minister’s question time is a prime example. Two people exchanging insults, to a background of braying supporters. Some MPs shout at each other. Could anything be more infantile? And what an example to the nation. The popular press, with its sensational headlines, behaves similarly rather than offering a sensible, informed conversation.

 

It is arguable that the bad behaviour in the House of Commons has contributed to both verbal and physical violence in the country as a whole – for example the murder of Jo Cox.

 

Of course this is only part of the picture. Very good work goes on. Parliamentary committees function extremely well. A large part of the work of the House of Commons and the House of Lords takes place in committees. These committees consider policy issues, scrutinise the work and expenditure of the government, and examine proposals for primary and secondary legislation. Parliament can hold the Prime Minister to account. The Liaison Committee , as a cross-party committee, is very well placed to do this. The new government will face important challenges in the months ahead, deciding the next steps on Brexit before the deadline of 31 January 2020, as well as planning subsequent stages in negotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU.

 

People Power. In contrast to the state of our democracy, there are hundreds of wonderful, enlightened Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) supported by thousands, if not millions of people worldwide, working to create a better world and prevent our extinction. For example, the worldwide Extinction Rebellion initiated by Greta Thunberg. The problem is that, with this exception, so many people are not aware of them. Instead of facilitating change, governments too often resist change.

 

Citizenship It is understandable that people have a distaste for politics. But perhaps it is more useful to talk about citizenship. We cannot have a good democracy without active citizens. Citizenship needs to be taught in schools from an early age. Democracy cannot function well unless people are engaged. But they will not engage unless they believe they have a voice. And that will not be the case if they are not represented because of the out-dated first past the post voting system.

 

Brexit is a prime example of a flawed approach. It was initiated, unwisely, by David Cameron, instead of working on the underlying causes of discontent. People were misled by untruths, simple slogans, big money and manipulation by social media. It was about gaining power, rather than putting the interests of the nation first. Remainers warned of the adverse consequences of leaving, but failed to make an inspiring case for remaining in the EU. We need to remember our history in creating European collaboration.

 

The referendum was not only inappropriate; it was flawed in design . It was explicitly advisory. And generally a two thirds majority is required.

And see my blog post .

 

We face two existential challenges: destruction of all life on the planet, as David Attenborough constantly warns us, and annihilation through nuclear war. Yet instead of working closely together with our European allies we are breaking apart.

 

Representation. Like many others, my views have never been represented by my MP. We joked good humouredly that we disagreed on most everything. Nor am I represented in the borough. Roughly half British citizens are unrepresented. This need not be so. Under proportional representation, parliament would better reflect citizen’s views. Under some forms of proportional representation such as the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) , there could be six representatives in a constituency, thus reflecting the diversity of voters to a considerable extent.

 

Proportional Representation and Constitutional Reform. The situation we are in demonstrates the need for both proportional representation and constitutional reform.

The flaws in the referendum demonstrate the need for a written constitution that specifies how it must be done. However we also need a different way of doing politics. Instead of adversarial politics, with one side deciding the way forward, we need collaboration for change, as has so often been argued by Compass . We need tried and tested processes like Consensus Design. Others include Constitutional Conventions and Citizens Assemblies .

 

Devolution. Power needs to be devolved to the lowest effective level. It needs to be devolved from Westminster to the constituent countries of the UK and down to communities. The distinctive powers of Westminster need to be defined. People will only get involved if they believe they have power. Consulting people is not sufficient; in order to find the best solutions, people need to be fully involved in designing their futures. People are cynical about consultation: “They consult us and then do what they intended”. Citizens Assemblies provide a way of enabling people and reaching consensus. They need to be widely used from now on.

 

Today there is a dearth of great leadership in politics. I have just finished reading this inspiring book, Citizen Clem. Often referred to as Britain’s greatest peacetime leader, Clement Attlee came to power in 1945 when Europe had been devastated and Britain was exhausted and impoverished. During his tenure as Prime Minister he emphasised the importance of citizenship. After the war, there was widespread consensus about the kind of society citizens wanted.

 

It was a time of great leaders: Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge, George Marshall and more. In 1942, Sir William Beveridge had produced the Beveridge Report that amounted to a comprehensive manifesto for social reform, including social security, a National Health Service, a full employment policy and other advances. This is what Attlee’s government implemented including massive construction of affordable housing. He also played a major part in creating the Commonwealth.

 

So what are our prospects over the next five years of Boris Johnson’s Government? Regarding Brexit, Andrew Adonis’s advice is. “Boris Johnson now owns Brexit and has a parliamentary majority. See what he does and then react accordingly”. In his article The Brexit Nightmare, A C Grayling sets out how a return to Europe can come about.

 

Here are some key organisations for you to join: The New Economics Foundation, Compass https://www.compassonline.org.uk/, Unlock Democracy, The Electoral Reform Society, The Constitution Unit, University College London, Up to Us, The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Citizens Assembly Project, Make Votes Matter, Black Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote. And Lobby your MP.

 

To bring about Constitutional Reform we need a massive collaboration. The campaign for PR was begun 136 years ago by the Electoral Reform Society. We now need a massive popular campaign in which all these organisations collaborate together to bring it about at last. We need to get on the streets if necessary.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”.

 

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