Opposites make the whole.

Satish Kumar’s wisdom is that opposites make the whole.  

So, for example, there is always the bad news, like Donald Trump. But then there is the election of Jo Biden, representing very good news. Although progress may not be linear, over time it is the good news that ultimately prevails. That is how humanity advances. Similarly, there are excellent democracies like New Zealand . And there are dictatorships like China and Russia; dictators like Xi Ping and Russian President Putin, who bumps off his opponents.

Can we imagine today the devastating war of 1939 to 1945 between the main countries of Europe? I believe that is the course of history. I for one am so glad to be living today, rather than 50 or 100 years ago.

Here is another example of bad – absolutely awful. During World War 2, Alan Turing cracked the enigma code and that shortened the war by several years and saved countless lives. Yet In 1952, Alan Turing was arrested for homosexuality – which was then illegal in Britain. He was found guilty of ‘gross indecency’ (this conviction was overturned in 2013) but only avoided a prison sentence by accepting chemical castration. In 1954, he was found dead from cyanide poisoning.

Biden calls for a “one nation” approach, for working together, repairing alliances, rising to the occasion in creating a new and better world. Joe Biden’s success over his long political career has come from seeking gradual reforms, building coalitions and aiming for bipartisan compromise rather than pursuing or leading a revolution. 

Trump was a divider. Biden is a unifier. He emphasized unity in his inaugural address in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the dangerous scourge of misinformation and bitter partisan divisions in modern-day America: “To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words and requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity.”

Joe Biden sends a clear message to the watching world – America’s back.

Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path

His success over his long political career, in fact, has come from seeking gradual reforms, building coalitions and aiming for bipartisan compromise rather than pursuing or leading a revolution. (I am indebted to The Conversation for these comments).

The position of women today is so much better. This is better for everyone. More top leaders are women and, on the whole, I believe they make better leaders than men. Think of the most influential women to day such as Angela Merkel. Then there is New Zealand’s highly regarded Premier. Roughly a third of UK MPs are women, thank goodness – generally they compare so favourably with some of their aggressive male counterparts. And more and more women occupy top positions. For example Frances Lorraine O’Grady is the General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), the first woman to hold the position.  That is not to say that we have not got much further to go.  In In 2020, only five FTSE 100 companies are steered by women.

For black people in Britain, the same is true. Black or brown men and women are in greater evidence in the news every day. Again we have much further to go.

Incidentally, another piece of good news today is that Unilever will force its tens of thousands of suppliers to pay their staff a living wage as part of a new range of commitments that is expected to impact millions of workers globally.

What you can do to use your power: Support organisations campaigning for democratic reform: Make Votes Matter , The Make Votes Matter Alliance, Compass-Together for a good society, Politics for the Many , the Electoral Reform Society, The Citizens Assembly Project, Constitutional Convention, Unlock Democracy, Counting Women In, 5050Parliament and Voice4 Change.

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.

A Broken Democracy

Democracy for Sale by Peter Geoghegan review – the end of politics as we know it?

I am hosting on my Blog the following review by John Naughton in the Observer dated Sun 16 Aug 2020. The openDemocracy journalist, John Naughton, delves into the web of power, money and data manipulation that is bringing our electoral system to its knees

These threats to democracy have, for decades, been visible to anyone disposed to look for them:

As we try to face the future, we are usually fighting the last war, he says, not the one that’s coming next. One of the most striking points the political philosopher David Runciman made in his seminal book How Democracy Ends was that democracies don’t fail backwards: they fail forward. That’s why those who see in the current difficulties of liberal democracies the stirrings of past monsters – Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, to name just three – are always looking in the wrong place. And if that’s true, the key question for us at this moment in history is: how might our current system fail?

What will bring it down? The answer, it turns out, has been hiding in plain sight for years. It has three components. The first is the massive concentration of corporate power and private wealth that’s been under way since the 1970s, together with a corresponding increase in inequality, social exclusion and polarisation in most western societies; the second is the astonishing penetration of “dark money” into democratic politics; and the third is the revolutionary transformation of the information ecosystem in which democratic politics is conducted – a transformation that has rendered the laws that supposedly regulated elections entirely irrelevant to modern conditions.

These threats to democracy have long been visible to anyone disposed to look for them. For example, Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money explained how a clique of billionaires has shaped and perverted American politics. And in the UK, Martin Moore’s landmark study Democracy Hacked showed how, in the space of just one election cycle, authoritarian governments, wealthy elites and fringe hackers figured out how to game elections, bypass democratic processes and turn social networks into battlefields.

All of this is by way of sketching the background to Peter Geoghegan’s fine book. It’s a compulsively readable, carefully researched account of how a malignant combination of right wing ideology, secretive money (much of it from the US) and weaponisation of social media have shaped contemporary British (and to a limited extent, European) politics. And it has been able to do this in what has turned out to be a regulatory vacuum – with laws, penalties and overseeing authorities that are no longer fit for purpose.

His account is structured both chronologically and thematically. He starts with the Brexit referendum and the various kinds of unsavoury practices that took place during that doomed plebiscite – from the various illegalities of Vote Leave , through Arron Banks’s lavish expenditure  to the astonishing tale of the dark money funnelled through the Ulster DUP and a loophole in Northern Ireland’s electoral law. One of the most depressing parts of this narrative is the bland indifference of most mainstream UK media to these scandalous events. If it had not been for the openDemocracy website (for which Geoghegan works), much of this would never have seen the light of day.

Geoghegan’s account of the genesis and growth of the European Research Group is absolutely riveting.

The middle section of the book explores how dark money has amplified the growing influence of the American right on British politics. This is a story of ideology and finance – of how the long-term Hayekian, neoliberal project has played out on these shores. It’s a great case study in how ruling elites can be infected with policy ideas and programmes via those “second-hand traders in ideas” of whom Hayek spoke so eloquently: academics, think tanks and media commentators. In that context, Geoghegan’s account of the genesis and growth of the European Research Group https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Research_Group – the party within a party that did for Theresa May – is absolutely riveting. And again it leaves one wondering why there was so little media exploration of the origins and financing of that particular little cabal.

The final part of the book deals with the transformation of our information ecosystem: the ways in which the automated targeted-advertising machines of social media platforms have been weaponised by right wing actors to deliver precisely calibrated messages to voters, in ways that are completely opaque to the general public, as well as to regulators.

Remainers will probably read Geoghegan’s account of this manoeuvring by Brexiters as further evidence that the Brexit vote was invalid. This seems to me implausible or at any rate undecidable. Geoghegan agrees. “Pro-Leave campaigns broke the law,” he writes, “but we cannot say with any certainty that the result would have been different if they had not. Instead, the referendum and its aftermath have revealed something far more fundamental and systemic. Namely, a broken political system that is ripe for exploitation again. And again. And again.”

And therein lies the significance of this remarkable book. The integrity and trustworthiness of elections is a fundamental requirement for a functioning democracy. The combination of unaccountable, unreported dark money and its use to create targeted (and contradictory) political messages for individuals and groups means that we have no way of knowing how free and fair our elections have become. Many of the abuses exposed by Geoghegan and other researchers are fixable with new laws and better-resourced regulators. The existential threat to liberal democracy comes from the fact that those who have successfully exploited some inadequacies of the current regulatory system – who include Boris Johnson and his current wingman, Cummings – have absolutely no incentive to fix the system from which they have benefited. And they won’t. Which could be how our particular version of democracy ends.

Now I add some extracts from final paragraphs of the book: There seems little prospect, either, of reorienting Britain’s lop-sided first-past- the- post electoral system …. that punishes consensus-building and vastly over-rea wards winners. The constraints on how we participate in public life are fast disappearing. The challenge is to create a more responsive version of the public sphere for the digital age, one which is not controlled by giant tech companies and which, unlike, unlike the sham “digital democracy” preached by Five Star and the Brexit Party, is genuinely participative.

Like the climate, democracy is fast approaching a tipping point. If the opportunity for change is not seized, the worst aspects of the present malaise – disinformation, dark money and spiralling polarisation- could well push us beyond a point of no return.

It is not too late. I am still an optimist, just as I was in rural Ireland two decades ago. Democracy faces many perils, but there is still time to act. We can build better systems, we can imagine more democratic forms of politics, and conversations. But we should be in no doubt about the urgency and scale of the challenge”. 

I add the good news: the growing use of Citizens Assemblies and the advocacy of Progressive Alliances for example and Progressive Alliances advocated by Compass.

Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics by Peter Geoghegan is published by Head of Zeus (£14.99). To order a copy go to the Guardian Bookshop https://guardianbookshop.com./. Free UK p&p over £15.

What you can do: Join the Electoral Reform Society; Unlock Democracy, Compass , sign up for Open Democracyto keep well informed 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.

Exploitation of the poor borders on evil, say clerics driven to tears by debt crisis

I am hosting this important article that appeared in the Observer dated 06.12.2020 https://www.theguardian.com/money/2020/dec/05/exploitation-of-the-poor-borders-on-evil-say-clerics-driven-to-tears-by-debt-crisis

Church pleads for government help as BBC film highlights the struggle of two Burnley community leaders to feed most needy

Pastor Mick Fleming is on the frontline of the pandemic – not in hospital wards and care homes but battling with loan sharks and landlords who are propelling debt-encumbered, low-income families towards an ever more precarious future.

Fleming, of Burnley’s Church on the Street charity, has spent months dealing with the fallout from the pandemic on the most vulnerable people in the Lancashire town. He and Father Alex Frost of St Matthew’s church have distributed food parcels and hot meals, and have helped families stretch their meagre incomes to meet life’s other basic necessities.

“I’m with people every day for whom gas and electricity are luxuries. People are getting into debt to pay for basics, and small loans quickly turn into colossal sums. It borders on evil the way some people prey on the most vulnerable,” Fleming told the Observer.

“We take food parcels to people, but what’s the point if they can’t cook the food because there’s no gas or electric? So now we provide hot, cooked meals as well.”

Fleming and Frost came to national attention last week when a powerful BBC film of the priests and their work was shared widely on social media. Both men wept on camera as they talked about the challenges caused by Covid – but, said Fleming, “an average day is far in excess of what was shown in the video”.

Following the broadcast, they set up a fundraising page with a target of £10,000. It reached almost £55,000 within two days, and the pair have been inundated with offers of help and messages of support. “It’s all a bit overwhelming at the moment,” said Frost.

This weekend, a coalition of almost 500 church leaders has written to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to highlight the growing crisis of household debt that millions of families are facing this Christmas. Their letter says: “We have heard countless stories from people who have faced awful choices, such as between affording food or falling behind on rent. Many of our churches have been on the frontline of providing food and essentials. Hundreds of churches provide debt advice for those at risk.

“We know from experience that this situation is exceptional and therefore requires an exceptional response.” Signatories to the letter include representatives of the Methodist church, the United Reformed Church, the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Salvation Army and the Catholic church.

In August, Citizens Advice estimated that six million people in the UK had fallen behind on household bills because of Covid – a figure that is likely to have risen significantly in the past few months.

Six months ago, Step Change, the debt charity, estimated that 4.2 million people had borrowed money to make ends meet, using credit cards, overdrafts or high-cost loans. Again, the numbers are likely to have dramatically increased.

The faith leaders’ letter points out that 350,000 households face the possibility of eviction because of rent arrears. “For many, this will be a frightening Christmas period,” they say, with worry and stress potentially leading to long-term mental health problems.

The Covid crisis has exacerbated inequality, with higher earners who have saved money during the pandemic paying off over £15bn of debt while low-income groups have taken on £10bn in debt.

Chris Carroll, who runs a debt advice centre in Newcastle, said one low-income family she worked with had seen their progress to free themselves from debt go into reverse during the pandemic.

“The dad was a chef, he lost his job back in May. The mum worked part-time on minimum wage but had her hours cut. They have two children at primary school. In February, they were just about debt-free and had turned their lives around by careful budgeting. Now they’re using credit cards to put food on the table and loans to pay the bills,” she said.

“People are borrowing money on big rates for very ordinary things. It will take years for these families to get back on track.”

Not all creditors were sharks, she said; some had been wonderful. “Some have offered payment holidays or removed the interest, or even written off debts.”

Paul Morrison, a policy adviser to the Methodist church and a trustee of the Trussell Trust, which supports a network of more than 1,200 food banks, said the debt crisis was expected to worsen.

“This is the calm before the storm. We thought the storm was going to hit in the autumn but now the real crunch is likely to be January or February when the reality of debt hits families.

“Debt is treated as an individual problem but this debt crisis is caused by policy decisions relating to the pandemic. This is something for which we all have a responsibility.”

He would like to see a debt write-off, “but I’d be happy if the government recognises that action needs to be taken on this issue”. The letter asks the chancellor to “work with communities, churches, charities and creditors to create a comprehensive and just solution to the unique problem of lockdown debt”.

In Burnley, Frost said the number of people accessing the food bank at St Matthew’s had “just gone higher and higher. And we’re just one food bank in town – probably the smallest of four or five. People keep asking me, what’s the endgame? I’m not sure I know. I’m not a politician. I’m just doing what I’m called to do as a priest – helping the poor.”

This article was amended on 7 December to correct a reference to the United Reformed Church; not United Reform Church.

Exploitation of the poor borders on evil, say clerics driven to tears by debt crisis

Bruce Nixon is an author, writer and speaker. In normal times, he gives participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. 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”. I update the book through my Blog https://brucenixon.com/ which includes many other topics.

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

Constitutional reform: then and now (1995-2020)

I am hosting this article with thanks to the Constitution Unit of UCL. Posted December 4 2020

In the latest blog celebrating the Constitution Unit’s 25th anniversary, human rights academic and advocate Francesca Klug recounts how aspects of the constitutional agenda of the mid-1990s were realised, and what lessons we can learn about how to entrench its achievements, prevent democratic backsliding and stop erosion of hard-won rights.

When I was at school, I learned nothing about the British constitution, but one thing I did absorb was this: although we do not have a written founding document, our invisible constitution was apparently uniquely successful and therefore inviolable. However, during the 1980s, I gradually became aware that there was something a bit odd about this perfect constitution. In other democracies, many of the controversial or unpopular measures introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s governments – such as the ‘poll tax’ and broadcasting and book bans – could be challenged in the courts. In the UK, however, there was nothing citizens could do to overturn such policies, except take to the streets to protest or wait up to five years for another election. 

This powerlessness and lack of accountability was a major driver behind the founding of Charter 88 in 1988, led by Anthony Barnett and Stewart Weir. I was lucky as a relatively young activist to be asked to join its council. We called for holistic change: a democratic second chamber, electoral reform, devolution, freedom of information and a bill of rights. And we had one major overall objective: we wanted the people of this country to have more power over the decisions which affected them; what in today’s money might be called ‘taking back control’. We sought this not for its own sake, but as a means of making our society fairer. 

It took a little time, but this message started to persuade people at the highest levels of the Labour Party. John Smith succeeded Neil Kinnock as Leader following the Conservatives’ 1992 general election victory and the following year he gave a landmark speech to Charter 88, entitled ‘A Citizens’ Democracy. For the first time, he articulated a clear objective for wholesale constitutional reform. Its purpose, he said, was to ‘restore democracy to our people – for what we have in this country is not real democracy: it is elective dictatorship.’ The use of the term ‘elective dictatorship’ is interesting, as it partly echoed Lord Hailsham, a former Conservative Lord Chancellor, who had coined the phrase two decades earlier. Notably, in this speech Smith committed the Labour Party to the introduction of a human rights act based on the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), which turned 70 years old this month. 

John Smith died unexpectedly the following year, but Tony Blair, despite some scepticism, largely kept faith with his predecessor’s commitment to constitutional reform. The precise objectives articulated by Smith, however, seemed to wither away and the purpose of the proposed policies became more obscure. In particular, there was no unified narrative to link them together and no sense of what might come next. 

By the late 1990s, Labour was in government and I was a senior research fellow at the Human Rights Incorporation Project at King’s College Law School, led by Professor Robert Blackburn. I was lucky to have the opportunity to work closely with then-Home Secretary, Jack Straw, and his advisors and officials, on the model for incorporating the ECHR into UK law which would become the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). The Constitution Unit – which had been formed in 1995 and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year – was also closely involved, along with Liberty, Charter 88, Justice, the IPPR and other NGOs and lawyers. 

Straw asked us to devise a model that would meet two key challenges: maintain parliamentary sovereignty whilst also ‘bringing rights home’ so that they could be exercised effectively in the UK. It is strange that in the 20 years since the HRA came into force, legislation that enabled individuals to claim their human rights through UK courts directly – rather than being required to appeal only to judges in Strasbourg – has been attacked for diluting British sovereignty, rather than increasing it

In terms of the narrative, there was generally a confusion between two objectives. The first was a minimalist vision: we already have these rights so nothing much would change other than ‘bringing them home.’ The second was maximalist, epitomised by Jack Straw’s description of the HRA as ‘the most significant statement of human rights in domestic law since the 1689 Bill of Rights’. Regardless of which vision motivated the government, too little was done to communicate what these changes would really mean. The judiciary received training, but the government did virtually nothing else to prepare the public for what was to come, despite two years elapsing before the HRA came into force in 2000.

Less than a year later, the dreadful events of 9/11 saw the government shift its position, to the point that it began openly briefing against the HRA and criticising judicial decisions; such as when the Act proved an impediment to detaining foreign suspects without trial. This paved the way for the increasingly shrill anti-HRA rhetoric adopted by the Conservative Party and Conservative-supporting press. Once David Cameron became Leader, the Conservative Party pledged to replace the HRA with a so-called British bill of rights. Ten years and three Conservative Prime Ministers later, no such replacement has been forthcoming, although Chris Grayling, as Justice Secretary, produced a policy paper revealing the nakedness of the promised ‘Emperor’s Clothes’ bill of rights. No new rights were proposed, and only ‘the most serious’ human rights violations would be protected, in all likelihood eliminating many of the benefits that the HRA has accrued to thousands of people in everyday life. Terms like torture would be ‘more precisely’ defined and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights would be subject to parliamentary approval, a proposal warmly supported in Moscow.

In truth the Cameron government only ever wanted to restrict the scope of the HRA, rather than expand it. Boris Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto dropped any pretence of making the HRA bigger and better by relabelling it as a ‘British bill of rights.’ Instead, what is promised is an ‘update’ of the HRA, and last month, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland confirmed his intention to soon establish an inquiry into the Act. There are no specific details on what is proposed but the direction of travel towards ‘death by a thousand cuts’ is pretty clear. The Overseas Operations Bill already seeks to introduce limits on the HRA’s ability to hold members of the military to account beyond specific time limits, even in cases of torture and murder. Alongside the government’s repeated attacks on ‘lefty human rights lawyers’ with ‘their grand theories of human rights’, are serious threats to curtail asylum and deportation appeals, signalling that the universal application of the HRA – a hallmark of the very idea of human rights – is likely to be a major target. An ‘Independent Review of Administrative Law’ is also underway, examining whether courts should be told by parliament what is, and is not, eligible for judicial review. The drum beat of anti-HRA rhetoric has been bolstered by some unpopular judicial rulings. But with the passage of time an increasing range of people have benefited from the HRA, both inside and outside the court room. Popular outcomes have included: the Hillsborough Inquiry; the prosecution of the London cab rapist John Worboys; the disapplication of the bedroom tax for disabled people who need a spare room; and the establishment of an inquiry into the use of ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ notices during the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside new guidelines for family visits to care homes. Should the government attempt to repeal the HRA now, I believe they will have a fight on their hands! 

The constitutional reforms of the Blair and Brown governments should have been the precursor to the UK finally adopting a written constitution, drafted and enacted following a major national conversation and debate, ideally involving citizens’ assemblies. Instead, devolved governments are seeing EU powers returned directly to London under the cover of the EU Withdrawal Act, there have been repeated threats to public broadcasters such as the BBC and Channel 4, and most striking of all, the UK government no longer feels the need to hide its intention to break international law if it does not get its way. Numerous retired judges, MPs and peers, across all parties, have expressed grave concern about the risks posed to our democracy by these and other escalations. 

Looking back, there is one simple lesson can we learn from the last 25 years. If you introduce piecemeal legislation on constitutional reform with no overall narrative, and fail to properly engage the public via consultation, participation and education, then a later government with a different leader can all too easily reverse your achievements. Indeed, they may not just erase the gains you made, but could even succeed in strengthening the elective dictatorship that John Smith and Lord Hailsham warned about so long ago. 

This blog is an adapted version of the contribution made by the author at a recent Unit event, Constitutional reform: then and now, at which she spoke on a panel alongside former Lord Chancellors Jack Straw and David Gauke. To watch all three contributions, you can view the event in full here

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Constitution Unit we have launched a special fundraising initiative, encouraging supporters to make donations incorporating the figures 2 and 5. If you value our work, and would like to contribute to its future continuation, please consider making a one-off or regular donation. Contributions are essential to supporting our public-facing work. Find out more on our donations page

Sign up to our mailing lists, for news of events and publications, or to our blog, here.

About the author

Professor Francesca Klugis a Visiting Professor at LSE Human Rights and Sheffield Hallam Centre for International Justice. As a Senior Research Fellow at King’s College Law School, she advised the then Labour Government on the Human Rights Act.

Bruce Nixon is an author, writer and speaker. In normal times, he gives participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. 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”. He updates the book through his Blog available at https://brucenixon.com/ which includes many other topics.

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

UK fishing: deal or no deal

I am hosting this blog post published by the New Economics Foundation in their issue 2 Zine magazine published Autumn 2020

The only viable option appears to be an agreement that sounds like ‘taking back control’, but changes very little.

By Chris Williams New Economics Foundation 19 November 2020

As anyone who has been reading the NEF blog over the past few years will recognise, fisheries – while only making up a tiny part of the UK economy – has developed totemic status in the UK’s Brexit narrative and remains one of the major obstacles to a UK-EU deal.

In the run-up to the Brexit referendum, it was impossible to avoid hearing about fisheries and Brexit and the oft-repeated soundbite of ​“taking back control” of our waters. This fits a portrayal of the UK as an island nation with a proud maritime heritage, so fishing has become the posterchild for a new chapter outside the EU. Brexit was sold to the public and fishing industry as a ​“sea of opportunity” by politicians and industry bodies alike. It wasn’t convenient for Brexit advocates to focus on the downsides of leaving the single market and customs union in any cost-benefit analysis.

Since the dim and distant days of the referendum, our research has shown a sea of risks for the majority of fishing fleet in the UK, with Brexit likely to create more losers than winners when it comes to fishing. The House of Lords European Union Committee was extremely clear in December 2016, that if the UK fishing industry as a whole is to thrive post-Brexit, it will need to continue to have access to EU markets. The majority of UK-caught fish and shellfish ends up in the EU. The total volume of the UK’s fish exports to the EU, including fish and shellfish, amounted to 342,000 metric tons in 2018 – so the impacts of tariffs and non-tariff barriers are extremely significant.

But due to the influence of money in politics and the media, the media coverage was skewed by powerful fishing lobbyists (as our analysis showed), who were quoted time and again, without any attention being paid to those who stood to lose out.

For this reason, we went to fishing ports around the UK to try to provide a voice for those who were most at risk, marginalised in the discussion, the politics and the media. We made a video in 2018 and took their voices straight to Westminster for a cross-party event.

The only viable option appears to be an agreement that sounds like ‘taking back control’, but changes very little.

https://neweconomics.org/2020/11/deal-or-no-dealU

Up until September of this year, lobbyists for the large-scale fishing fleet (representing mainly quota owners and those fishing for quota species, who are more likely to benefit from Brexit) were pushing the government to stand firm for fishermen, by refusing to compromise on EU fleets’ access to UK waters or status quo when it comes to quotas. Although by this point, international fishing industry commentators were already very clear about the risks of not having a fisheries agreement in place, both for the sustainable management of fisheries and for a sustainable industry.

Now, in November 2020, the tune is starting to change. The penny is clearly starting to drop.

The government guidance on exporting seafood to the EU is unworkable, and fishing industry leaders shared their concerns in a letter to the government, stating that the guidance places an unrealistic administrative burden on fishers who used to be able to sell their fish to the EU easily. The Financial Times has reported that there would need to be four times as many people involved in filling out the paperwork as there were working as fishermen. French fishing interests aren’t going to retreat without a fight and the narrative around who is to blame for the apparent plight of the UK fishing industry is also shifting away from ​‘them catching our fish’ to ​‘we sold them the rights to catch it’. 

But with time running out and ​“project fear becoming project fact” we don’t have the luxury of time. If the government fails to get a deal with the EU, a no-deal Brexit will be the final nail in the coffin for the struggling fishing industry. It would cause immense problems for fishers who export to the EU, and those who fish for shellfish outside of the EU quota system. Suddenly, the bullish narrative of the Brexit referendum has shifted. The costs to fishers are finally being recognised and concerns all over the UK are coming to the fore.

A deal now looks more likely, as the consequences of not having access to the main market for seafood would be cataclysmic for an industry already heavily impacted by Covid-19 and its impacts on seafood markets, restaurants and pubs.

The most extreme Brexiteers are now clutching at straws as the reality of no deal can no longer be ignored, with suggestions that our coastal communities will be rebuilt on the strength of their ability to use ​‘fish guts’ in pharmaceuticals (despite the fact that the EU has already been working on this, and that the UK could do it far more effectively with international support).

So, many years down the line and approaching the final days of negotiation the only viable political option appears to be an agreement that sounds like ​‘taking back control’ but really doesn’t change the status quo all too much. This would mean the UK civil servants and large-scale fisheries lobby can both be happy and a tale can be spun to say that the deal was reached to protect the small-scale fleet from a disastrous no deal.

Taking back control, to change nothing, isn’t really that catchy – but looks like the least worse option.

Trees

Lime Walk

We look out on trees from every window of our house: an avenue of lime trees leads up from the road to a path to a farm, fields and woods. At every season it is a beautiful scene. Gladstone used to walk up this Lime Walk from our railway station to visit Lord Brownlow in the great house Berkhamsted Place at the top of the hill where he lived.

On one side of our house are hollies and a yew in which birds often nest. On the back boundary is an Ash tree and beside it, in a neighbour’s garden a great Copper Beech whose leaves turn from one shade of copper to another throughout the seasons before its leaves fall. These trees are hosts to insects, squirrels, pigeons, blackbirds, and thrushes and the occasional owl at night. 

                                       

Copper Beech     

                                                

Ash

Trees are not only beautiful; they restore our wellbeing and nurture our spirits. They provide for us in hundreds of ways. The soil under them is enriched and many species are dependent upon them. Furthermore, look round your home: innumerable parts of your house and objects in it are made of wood. They provide your roof under the tiles, most windows, doors and floors. They provide paper and cardboard and much of the packaging we use. Trees have served us for thousands of years. We created homes from them. We built ships of wood before iron and steel were discovered.

An Oak

Trees are very beautiful at night

Sadly, I often hear that harsh, rasping sound of a saw being used to cut down a tree or cut it back in order to allow more sun into a garden. That is what happened to one side of our lovely Ash. It is in effect half a tree. I felt its pain as it was being cut. Recently a beautiful Cedar of Lebanon was felled.

Trees help prevent climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. Trees provide many benefits, every day. They offer cooling shade, block cold winter winds, attract birds and wildlife, purify our air, prevent soil erosion, clean our water, and add grace and beauty to our homes and communities. Woodlands are lovely places in which to walk or sit quietly on a log.

Hardings Wood at bluebell time, near where we live

Despite all these benefits, trees are not always valued and woodland fires rage out of control in the Amazon. The Greenpeace Brazil team witnesses devastating forest fires started deliberately by industrial meat suppliers. This year, by August, Greenpeace had witnessed 20, 473 fires across the area since mid-July. Blazes on indigenous lands were up 78% in some areas since last year.  Yet we know that trees fight climate change and can help solve the climate crisis https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/07/trees-reforestation-climate-change-crisis/.

The UK has fewer trees than any other European country despite having a mild climate that is ideal for tree growing. The UK government has announced it wants more than 10 million trees to be planted across England and it would create a £60m fund to do so. That includes £10m to plant at least 100,000 trees in towns and cities. The Woodland Trust – the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity – is aiming to plant 64 million trees in the next 10 years https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-plant-trees/. And it wants to get more than a million people to pledge to plant a tree in the run-up to a special day of planting across the UK on 30 November.

I have planted a mulberry tree in our garden.

Mulberry Tree

The State of Natural Capital Annual Report 2020

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/858739/ncc-annual-report-2020.pdf argues for a Natural Capital Approach that incorporates the wider benefits of the environment in decision-making instead of over-consuming and under-investing in Natural Capital.

Its key recommendations are:

The UK needs to plant 1.5 billion trees to tackle climate change, government told
  1. Local nature recovery strategies, Nature Recovery Networks, the national food strategy and the National Infrastructure Commission should all be aligned with the National Environmental Plan.
  2. To maintain and create new natural capital assets, sufficient long-team funding will be made available.
  3. Government should fully review the 25 year using the lessons learned to inform effective design of Environmental Land Management schemes and local nature recovery strategies and ensure it does not become another short-term project.
The UK needs to plant 1.5 billion trees to tackle climate change, government told

Woodland Trust director of conservation and external affairs, Abi Bunker, said: “The scale of what needs to be achieved to reach net zero targets is obvious; it will necessitate a three-fold increase on current levels. Let’s not shy away from the truth. It will be a challenge, it will cost money, it will mean tough choices, but the human race is at a crossroads for our environmental future. “To avoid climate breakdown we have to act, that’s the reality we live in, tough choices, big challenge, but we can all rise to meet it head on.”

 So if you wish to help, apart from planting trees, here is what you can do: Become a member of the Woodland Trust. https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ , plant trees with your school https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/support-us/act/your-school/plant-trees-with-your-school/ and donate to Plant a Tree – World Land Trust https://www.worldlandtrust.org/appeals/plant-a-tree/ and support Greenpeace https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/.

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 https://brucenixon.com/ which includes many other topics.

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

RACISM IS DRIVING US MAD

First published in The New Economics Zine Issue 2

When Samara Linton worked on a mental health ward in Newham, she noticed that patients tended to look more like her own family than her medical peers. She looks at why BAME people can’t access mental health services as easily as their white counterparts – and why, when they do get support, they have lower recovery rates

The link between socio-economic disadvantage and mental health problems is well-established. In the UK, the poorest fifth of the population is twice as likely to develop mental health problems than their wealthier counterparts.

People who are unemployed are two to three times more likely to die by suicide than those in employment. One US study found that the risk of chronic mental health problems increased as unemployment rose, but noted that this was especially true for Black people in 2007 to 2011, during the heart of the economic recession.

In the UK, low-income Black and Asian families were disproportionately affected by austerity measures, losing an average of £8,407 and £11,678 respectively, each year. Tax policy, welfare and wage reforms impact BAME women in particular, who are more likely to be caring for children and older family members.

In addition to material deprivation, income inequality has negative impacts on mental health. Countries with higher levels of income inequality see a higher prevalence of mental health problems; unlike physical health, as countries get wealthier, rates of mental health problems increase.

In Kensington and Chelsea for example, average income ranges from £15,000-a-year Newham has one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in the country. It also has some of the highest rates of poverty and homelessness. And it was there I used to work on a mental health ward. In the course of my job I wrote countless letters to housing support services, worried about the impact of continued homelessness on my patients’ wellbeing. I watched as welfare officers tried to guide patients through the twists and turns of the benefits system, and I pleaded with unwell patients who wanted to self-discharge be-cause their zero-hour contracts meant that while they were on the ward and unable to work, they could not receive any pay. And, as the days went by, I noticed that these people often looked more like my grandparents, my aunts, and my uncles than they did my medical peers.

People from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are more likely to experience poverty, low income, unemployment, poor housing, and homelessness than their white counterparts. This socio-economic disadvantage increases the likelihood of developing mental health problems, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of further socio-economic disadvantage.

For residents of World’s End Estate to £100,000-a-year for residents living on the other side of the King’s Road. A man living in Golborne ward can expect to live for 72 years versus 94 for a man living in Hans Town, near Harrods. As is the case across the UK, Kensington and Chelsea’s BAME residents are more likely to live in the more deprived parts of the borough, such as the northern region, where the Grenfell fire broke out. For many, this tragedy was the result of structural racism and classism, evoking anger as well as grief.

BAME people have poorer access to mental health services than their white counterparts, and even when they do gain access, they have poorer outcomes. BAME groups have higher rates of inpatient admissions, involuntary admissions, restraint, being placed in seclusion, and community treatment orders, and they have lower recovery rates than white people.

Still, the term BAME often masks the social structures, hierarchies, and intersections within its umbrella. For example, Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups have the highest levels of poverty in the UK, but Black groups are the most affected by mental health problems. Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with a common mental disorder such as

THE NEW ECONOMICS ZINE anxiety or depression, but suicide rates are highest among young South Asian women. Black men are the group most likely to be diagnosed with psychotic disorder and detained under the Mental Health Act. Eche Egbuonu, the organiser of Prison By Another Name, has bipolar disorder and frequently shares his experience of being taken to a police cell when he became unwell instead of to a safe environment for medical assessment. Shortly after being released, an altercation at his home led to the police being called. This time, he was tasered, handcuffed, and detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act. Like many Black men across the UK, Egbuono is distrustful of the mental health system.

Despite national initiatives to address racial disparities in mental health, these inequalities persist, and BAME people have to rely on grassroots organisations to provide the support they need. One example is Black Thrive, a Lambeth-based partnership for Black mental health and wellbeing, which aims to reduce mental health inequalities by addressing inequalities in areas such as housing, education, and employment. Another example is the Chinese Mental Health Association which runs housing and employment support projects. However, many grassroots organisations have suffered funding cuts, undermining their capacity to promote wellbeing and racial equality.

Tackling racial inequalities in mental health requires tackling the interlinked racial and socio-economic inequalities that exist in wider society. The Human Rights and Equality Commission has called for a comprehensive race strategy that includes education, employment, housing, pay and living standards, health, and criminal justice in Great Britain. A UN Special Rapporteur remarked that “the structural socio-economic exclusion of racial and ethnic communities in the UK is striking.” The government thanked the Special Rapporteur for her report but rejected her suggestion that its policies, regarding austerity, immigration and cirminal justice, further entrench racial inequality, stating simply that they are committed to the total elimination of all forms of racism.

When we refuse to see racism within its wider socio-economic and structural context, limiting its definition to explicit displays of prejudice, people suffer. When we refuse to see mental health within its wider socio-economic and structural context, increasing funding for crisis support but defunding women’s refuges, people suffer. The UK may not be 100% racist, but racism permeates through all levels of society, and, 100%, it’s driving us mad. Samara Linton is a junior doctor, writer and co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Exploring BAME mental health in the UK. She is currently working at BBC Three as a production trainee.

FURTHER READING From the Health Foundation: Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On (2020). https://www.health.org.uk/publications/reports/the-marmot-review-10-years-on From the Equality and Human Rights Commission: Healing a Divided Britain: the need for a comprehensive race equal-ity strategy (2016). https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/healing-divided-brit-ain-need-comprehensive-race-equality-strategy From the Mental Health Foundation: Poverty and Mental Health (2016). https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publica-tions/poverty-and-mental-healthFrom the Samaritans: Dying from Inequality (2017). https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/re-search-policy/inequality-suicide/From the Runnymede Trust: Intersecting inequalities: The impact of austerity on Black and Minority Ethnic women in the UK (2018). https://wbg.org.uk/blog/intersecting-inequalities-impact-austerity-bme-women-uk/

Wellbeing and GDP: explained

The New Economics Zine Issue 2

Focusing on wellbeing over economic growth could transform our economy – but it also has some blind spots. By Annie Quick

28 October 2020

“The goal and objective of all economic policy should be collective wellbeing,” said Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this January, in a speech where she said that wellbeing should be as fundamental as gross domestic product (GDP).

It’s always encouraging to see politicians challenging GDP as the primary measure of economic progress. But while calls to think more about wellbeing can be a force for progressive change, they aren’t necessarily so.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the new economy movement embraced the idea that wellbeing, rather than economic growth, should be the primary goal of economics. During these years, the grip of neoliberal economic orthodoxy was tight. Those thirsty for a new economic vision seized upon the suggestion that we could entirely reboot our economic system around wellbeing, rather than economic growth. 

As more and more people woke up to the challenge of the climate crisis, wellbeing was a new way to think about progress which didn’t rely on endlessly buying and consuming more stuff. The hope was that, if economics adopted wellbeing as a primary indicator then the implications would be transformative.

Wellbeing research shows that increasing the income of the worst off can create massive wellbeing improvements, while increasing the income of the already wealthy could have no impact at all. Wellbeing research also demonstrates the importance of security of work and housing, and the value of working shorter hours. Such findings all pointed away from the neoliberal orthodoxy and towards a transformative, redistributive economic agenda.

In 2010, however, the Coalition government embraced wellbeing alongside the Big Society and ​‘social action’. Phrases like ​‘community resilience’ and ​‘bounce-back-ability’ (the latter something I’ve heard used more than once by policy types, with no sense of irony) suggested that individuals and communities are responsible for improving their own wellbeing. This mentality says we can boost our wellbeing by pulling our socks up, doing some cognitive behavioural therapy and building a community garden.

This formulation of the wellbeing agenda can be not only misleading but deeply damaging. Headlines like ​“Happiness depends on health and friends not money” are deeply insulting to the 14 million people living in poverty in the UK today. Many wellbeing advocates prescribe mindfulness or volunteering, but finding the time, resources and motivation for those things isn’t easy when you’re living in a cold and overcrowded home, working two jobs to make ends meet, or fighting an increasingly punitive benefits system. All the while, these messages suggest that if you’re not happy, it’s basically your fault.

Crucially, the focus on wellbeing as something we possess and control as individuals gives little space for understanding oppressions, such as those based on class or race – oppressions that are enmeshed with Britain’s colonial history while being reinforced all the time by austerity and our criminal and education systems.

What wellbeing initiatives often lack is a real analysis of power. Many of the drivers of poor wellbeing are built into our neoliberal economic system that, since the 1980s, has been designed and maintained by the wealthy for their own interests. Too often, charities, academics and policy initiatives sidestep the question of power when making the case for the measurement and pursuit of wellbeing as a primary goal of economic policy.

At its best, wellbeing can be a powerful framework for a radically new economic vision. But in order to unleash this potential we need a clear power analysis: an understanding of whose interests are served by our current economy and what it will take to rebalance it. At a national policy level, that means looking at inequalities in wellbeing and supporting policies that can change the structural, upstream causes of poor wellbeing, such as poverty, precarity and ingrained racism.

Having a power analysis is just as important for wellbeing work at a local level. Many community wellbeing initiatives focus on bringing people together to take local action. Many have used NEF’s Five Ways to Wellbeing as a framework to think about these activities: being active, connecting, giving, learning new things and taking notice. These initiatives can provide an important opportunity to help build the social connections and collective control needed to create systemic change from the bottom up. However, on their own, the Five Ways to Wellbeing aren’t going to tackle predatory loans, the housing crisis or local authority cuts.

Initiatives that rely on people coming forward to volunteer their time often help the already privileged, mirroring power structures in the rest of society. However, the outcomes of these activities aren’t necessarily progressive. A few years back, people on our street came together to clear an overgrown area in a local park and create a playground for kids. The result is cute – handmade benches and donated toys suggest a model community initiative. Their motivation? Local sex workers had been using the area for work, and residents wanted to clear them out. No one, as far as I know, talked to the sex workers about any of these plans. Apparently, they don’t count as ​‘the community’.

Even where community initiatives are genuinely inclusive and diverse, it’s perfectly possible for people to improve life for some in the short term without tackling the underlying causes of inequality and poor wellbeing. Learning from the progressive traditions of community organising and community development, we need a better understanding of what turns, for example, a local play scheme into a group fighting against local cuts to children’s services. We need an analysis both of power inequalities within our communities, and a power analysis of the elite economic systems we’re up against if we’re going to create a real wellbeing revolution.

Annie Quick led NEF’s work on inequality and wellbeing until 2018.

Book review by Dave Young

The Hastings & St Leonards non-profit community newspaper

Casting light and bringing hope

September 22, 2020

Book review by Dave Young

The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness by Bruce Nixon has two immediately obvious attributes: positivity and accessibility.

Many recent tomes documenting the current ecological crisis have been incisive in diagnosing the problem, yet less assured in proposing remedies.  No wonder, the complex and interrelated economic and environmental problems of the planet have accrued over many years of industrialisation, and laissez-faire government policy; fixing all that is a tall order.

In contrast this book features short chapters, punchy paragraphs and a range of strategies from someone with direct experience of the private sector; who ultimately will need to be co-opted into any systemic remedies.

Bruce Nixon is a self-described: “veteran change agent, author, writer, speaker, facilitator and activist, former development consultant and business schoolteacher”. He is also part of his local Transition Town steering group. There’s a full and fascinating biography at www.brucenixon.com

In the book, Nixon confronts failures of political leadership
and makes a cogent case for fundamental changes to current democratic structures in order to support community-based environmental policy formulation. A new kind of politics based on an incisive and informative geopolitical analytical model he terms ‘systemic thinking’. 

“The greatest obstacles are the lack of farsighted, courageous leaders who are well-informed and will speak the truth, together with disempowered citizens who think there is nothing they can do.

“People (are) concerned about the unprecedented challenges facing humanity: Climate chaos, ecocide, economic and social injustice… 

“All over the West, neoliberal economic ideology, austerity, consumerism, free-market capitalism and top-down politics are being challenged, especially by younger people. The internet is transforming politics by facilitating dialogue and giving power to people. 

“We face the biggest challenges in our history. Science and technology will not help us unless we are determined to act urgently on the need to tackle climate chaos, conserve a living planet, resolve gross economic inequality and break entrenched power structures.”

First published in 2016 when it was awarded the Oxford Alumni book of the year accolade, this book offers ways forward and practical solutions based on ideas from an impressive range of people and institutions, such as the Electoral Reform Society, Global Justice Now and the New Economics Foundation – advocates of the Green New Deal. As Nixon says: “It will help you decide how you want to engage with others in creating a better world through a peaceful revolution. Above all it will give you hope.”

Published by Acorn Books, £9.99, PB, 300 pages.

Good News

Challenges and Opportunities

 

If don’t know about you, but I often wake up depressed. Apart from the deaths of many dear ones, Covid 19 has inflicted hardship on millions of people. In my case, I find it hard being unable to hug our two little grandsons who live nearby. Nor can I hug my best friends. Touch is important for humans. Also I can’t go to the Fitness Room or my favourite Greek café to read, get cheery greetings and meet new people. Nor can I go to meetings in London, give talks or sell my books. So like many others, I can’t earn anything. However, I participate in many hope giving webinars. There is no doubt that many people are suffering from depression. Often, my depression tells me there is something I need to do.

So how can we keep ourselves cheerful and optimistic? Before I start work I go for a nature cure by walking round the garden. Sometimes, my wife and I give each other what I call a “good listening to” for just seven minutes each way. I learned the value of this from a course in co-counselling.

Much of the news in the media is bad news. It’s about what’s going wrong. That is essential information that provides the basis for reform and innovation. But there has to be a balance. I have no doubt in my mind that good predominates. Love, not hate, is the dominant force. There is always more good news than bad. So I read Positive News that was created to counteract the false picture the media creates and is about what is going right.  Resurgence Ecologist is also inspiring.  

In some cases, the challenges are so great that they are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. For example it may be a long time before dictators like Russian President Putin, who bumps off his opponents by poisoning them, will be unseated – see Can Vladimir Putin Be Prevented from Killing His Political Opponents? Another dictator who may be in power for life it may be argued is Chinese President Xi Jinping . Mike Bloomberg argues that the Chinese Communist Party has a big stake in learning what the Chinese public thinks and providing some of what it wants. Limited forms of public engagement can help reduce corruption and improve compliance with regulations. Xi Jinping continues to mistreat minorities . Then there is Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator whose government has allegedly killed at least 31,000 in directly confirmed deaths and possibly as many as over 96,000 in projections. Surely he is a war criminal.

 

I am passionately European and Internationalist. I delight in being a European. Having graduated, at twenty years old I migrated to USA. Soon I decided that I am a European and returned to the UK. The European Union, despite its flaws, represents what I most value which is collaboration with other European countries. Europe has a vital part to play in the world. It is a force for high standards for food and other products which require a level playing field and for democratic government – particularly at a time when there are swings to the right.

Lack of democratic legitimacy If you are in any doubt about the lack of democratic legitimacy, read Peter Geoghegan’s Democracy for SaleDark Money and Dirty Politics . At the end of this book the author says there is a huge opportunity for change. But we’ll have to wait for four years for there to be the chance of a good legitimate government. See too what Unlock Democracy and the Electoral Reform Society say about the need for democratic reform. The UK economy will be severely damaged if there is a no-deal Brexit – IMF . See below for another estimate. And that is in addition to the effects of Covid 19.

Brexit is not the will of the people, as claimed. It was the will of some of the people. By international standards, David Cameron’s referendum was not conducted properly, as I have argued elsewhere . The vote in favour of Brexit was in part a symptom of major economic problems in former industrial heartlands, long neglected by successive governments for over a generation. Crucially, the younger you are, and the more educated, the more likely you are to value membership of the EU.

Brexit was the mission of a covert group – the European Research Group (ERG) which took over the government and is inflicting Brexit on the nation. This is revealed by Open Democracy in this article Revealed: the files that expose ERG as a militant “party within a party”. Documents released following openDemocracy’s transparency victory reveal European Research Group’s “highly partial” taxpayer-funded output. This abuse of our democracy will only lead to stronger demands for electoral reform and a written constitution. Most advanced countries have a written constitution.

Boris Johnson and his colleagues misled ordinary people into believing that Brexit would benefit them whereas it was likely to cut GDP by at least 7%. He expelled Tory MPs who were Remainers and created a government of Brexiteers. He even planned to prorogue Parliament in order to get his way. This was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court  . And he was prepared to break international law. The Justice Secretary said he would resign if the UK Government broke the law “in a way that I find unacceptable” .

According to one poll, most British people would now wish to remain in the EU. Just 35% of British people still support Brexit with 57% wanting to re-join. Almost 60% of people now want Britain to re-join the EU compared to the 48% who backed Remain in 2016.

 Good News

The reality is that all these challenges are opportunities.

 

Although Covid 19 leading to tragic deaths it is also creating opportunities for better ways of life. For instance it has led to more working from home, more walking, more cycling and more contact with nature. It is also accelerating existing trends such as shopping on line, changing the nature of high streets and, even better, reducing the use of large scale shopping centres with the pollution and congestion resulting from the use of cars.

We need to go beyond the idea of restoring normal. If we are to save our planet and create a fair world, we have to give up GDP-Gross Domestic Project – as a measure of progress. Increasing GDP accelerates destruction of our planet home. Sir David Attenborough’s stark warning below. New normal is a wonderful opportunity to do better. New normal needs to focus on the wellbeing of all . New Zealand has ditched Gross Domestic Product and adopted the Happiness Index instead. Businesses would gain $2.1 Trillion by embracing Low-Carbon Technology.

There is a vast amount citizens can do independently of government, and that’s how most change happens. Indeed most change in a flourishing society like ours comes from “below” not top down. Frequently government is the greatest obstacle to positive change and citizens have to campaign. Indeed there are thousands of campaigns, supported by people like you and me.  Many spheres owe little or nothing to government: a nation’s innovations, industries, inventions, culture, beautiful cities, towns, villages and countryside.

Citizens, ordinary and extraordinary, are the main creators of a good society. Of course governments can do immense harm as is the case in the United Kingdom now. They can also be a powerful influence for good as the case in case Angela Merkel’s Germany and Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand and the post – war Clement Attlee British government which created the Welfare State and the NHS, both models for the western world.

Sir David Attenborough’s campaign is another example of what a citizen can do, although he is far from ordinary. Here is another example: Prince William and Sir David Attenborough have joined forces to launch what they hope will become the “Nobel Prize for environmentalism” . They say the search is on for 50 solutions to the world’s gravest environmental problems by 2030. With £50m to be awarded over a decade, the Earthshot Prize is the biggest environmental prize ever.

Anyone could win, said the Prince, as he called for “amazing people” to create “brilliant innovative projects”. The Earthshot Prize is his and Sir David’s effort to ensure we hand the planet on to our children and grandchildren “in a better state than we found it.” During the conversation Prince William said the launch of the new prize marks the moment he takes up the baton of environmental campaigning from his father Prince Charles.

 

The biggest challenge facing us is our survival. In his new film, Extinction The Facts , 94 year old Sir David Attenborough looks back at his astonishing broadcasting career, which began in 1952 at the BBC. He offers a blueprint for our survival. With a million species at risk of extinction, David Attenborough explores how this crisis of biodiversity has consequences for us all, including putting us at greater risk of pandemic diseases such as Covid 19.

He says humanity is at a crossroads but it is not too late to prevent this catastrophe. We can still do lots to help tackle the ­climate crisis .

Since 1970, he argues, there has been a sixty percent decline in small animals and three quarters of large animals have disappeared. Of the estimated eight million species on Earth, a million are now threated with extinction. Vertebrate animals – birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians – have declined by 60%. 30%of land is degraded. 20% of plants are threatened with extinction. Paradoxically we are causing both floods and shortages of water. Five hundred plant species have disappeared. Yet the diversity of plants provides an insurance against the loss of species we have depended on.

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough have joined forces to launch what they hope will become the “Nobel Prize for environmentalism”. They say the search is on for 50 solutions to the world’s gravest environmental problems by 2030. With £50m to be awarded over a decade, the “Earthshot Prize” is the biggest environmental prize ever.

 

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough have set themselves the dizzyingly ambitious goal of “repairing the planet by 2030”. So where will the potentially planet-saving ideas they want come from? The answer is we just don’t know – you might have an idea that, with a bit of publicity and cash, we could reshape our world. Which is why awarding prizes can be so effective: we can all apply. The renowned broadcaster says the excesses of capitalism must be “curbed” to help nature.

Greta Thunberg, now 17, said No One Is Too Small to make a Difference. A proposed new Northumberland Coal mine was blocked by protestors  

Another champion for our planet was the late Polly Higgins. She decided the Earth needed a lawyer. She called on everyone to dare to be great – see her book I dare you to be great Sadly she died in 2019 aged only fifty.

Greta Thunberg, now 17, said No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference and created the world-wide extinction rebellion. A proposed new Northumberland Coal mine was blocked by protestors .

Here is another example of a citizen initiative. Run in partnership with The Trussell Trust, DENS Foodbank in Hemel Hempstead can provide up to three food parcels to anyone who is struggling in the community.

 

Children use their power. Lego to ditch plastic bags after children call for change, Lego will start replacing plastic packaging with paper bags from 2021 as the toy brick maker aims to become more sustainable .

Lego said it had been prompted by letters from children asking it to remove single-use plastic bags. Lego would be investing up to $400m (£310m) over three years to improve its sustainability efforts.  Lego bricks themselves are made of plastic, although the company is exploring alternative materials. “We have received many letters from children about the environment asking us to remove single-use plastic packaging,” Lego Group chief executive Niels B Christiansen said.

Close up of Lego blocksLego – Getty Images

Renewable energy is now the cheapest option – even without subsidies. This is the work of scientists and entrepreneurs. In recent years, the world has marched towards renewable energy. According to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), unsubsidized renewable energy is now most frequently the cheapest source of energy / . The report finds that the cost of installation and maintenance of renewables, which was an important stumbling block to mass adoption, continues on a downward trajectory.

Black Lives Matter The murder of George Floyd  had an enormous effect not only in USA but throughout the world including the United Kingdom. The media here exposed the extent that people of colour suffer from assumptions made about them. If you wish to learn more read Why I’m no longer talking to White People about Race . There has been a lot in the media lately about how unaware racism affects the chances of young people in getting into a top university, getting a good degree, getting a good job and getting arrested.

Renni Eddo-Lodge’s splendid book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People about Race describes the intolerable racialism that Black people face and compares it to class prejudice.

She says I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates our experiences”. She regards the Grenfell Tower catastrophe as another case.

 

A wholesale race equality strategy is needed to tackle the structural inequalities and institutional racism. October is Black History Month and Sir Keir Starmer has this to say: I have immense admiration for the Black Britons who have helped shaped our country’s history and culture. It was clear from early on that this pandemic was disproportionately affecting people from the Black community. We are at a historic point in the fight for racial equality and it deserves immediate action, not another review. Ultimately, I believe what we need is a wholesale race equality strategy to tackle the structural inequalities and institutional racism which still exists .

The way ahead for politics is hopeful. Although it may not seem like it now, the way ahead for politics is hopeful. Instead of adversarial politics, collaborative politics may emerge. A progressive alliance between Labour, the Green Party and Liberal Democrats is possible. As more women become MPs collaboration may become more likely. Their behaviour in general is significantly different and in my view more constructive. Do men and women communicate differently in the House of Commons?

Their full representation is essential as they have a different and much needed perspective.

If you wish to play a part in bringing about these changes, apart from those already mentioned, here are some more organisations you might like to support. You can support them actively in all kinds of waysYou can support them actively in all kinds of ways such as donating, signing petitions, spreading the word or helping in the office.. Here are some examples:

  • Climate assembly UK The UK is committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Climate Assembly UK brought together 100+ people from all walks of life and of all shades of opinion to discuss how the UK should meet this target .
  •  The World Wide Fund for Nature For many years, WWF has worked with the Southern Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) to protect the most critical habitats for iconic species such as whales, penguins, seals, seabirds and their prey – tiny Antarctic krill. In the Southern Ocean, CCAMLR has made a commitment to implement a network of marine protected areas around Antarctica, to protect a range of wildlife impacted by climate change including areas where whales feed on tiny Antarctic krill. WWF works with scientists to provide important information to help governments protect these crucial foraging areas .
  • Climate assembly UK We’re Fighting for Your World. We’re determined to stop the destruction of nature and help it to recover. We’re focusing on some really big challenges that will help turn things around and making the food system sustainable. We are Climate assembly UK .
  • Schools sustainable energy programme We give students engagement tools, programs, and training to help them gain the skills to become sustainability leaders in their communities .

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.