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.

 

 

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