A localising message from former MP Andrew George and journalist George Monbiot

andrew georgeFormer MP Andrew George sent an email message today; though no longer in Parliament, he wants to work with colleagues of all parties to create a progressive alliance to challenge and oppose government action detrimental to those who need help, our communities, our public services, the NHS and the environment.

He added that the Conservatives – with less than 25% of the electorate having voted for them – are now entitled to govern this country . . . They may have a parliamentary mandate, but they don’t have a moral justification to rule as they please”.

The next message in the inbox was from George Monbiot who took up the narrative and described the process:

George Monbiot 3He asserts that “No progressive party can survive the corporate press, corrupt party funding systems and conservative fear machines by fighting these forces on their own terms”. His prescription:

“The left can build only from the ground up; reshaping itself through the revitalisation of communities, working with local people to help fill the gaps in social provision left by an uncaring elite. Successful progressive movements must now be citizen’s advice bureau, housing association, scout troop, trade union, credit union, bingo hall, food bank, careworker, football club and evangelical church, rolled into one. Focus groups and spin doctors no longer deliver . . .

“In Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile, such movements transformed political life. They have evicted governments opposed to their interests and held to account those who claim to represent them. Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have been inspired, directly or indirectly, by the Latin American experience”.

Monbiot referred to Ed Miliband’s Movement for Change (read more here), which has “lobbied job centres to stop treating applicants like criminals; pressed local businesses to advertise their jobs openly; urged the police to change the way they engage with victims of domestic abuse; chivvied councils to clear up discarded needles; struggled against revenge evictions; asked local media to stop running advertisements for loan sharks and sought to provide alternative finance; and appealed to the owners of derelict buildings to rehabilitate them, all with a degree of success”.

He warns that rebuilding community has to start almost from scratch and might take decades because in Britain community life is weaker than almost anywhere else.

The timeline:

  • destruction of rural populations through enclosure and agricultural change, rapid and chaotic urbanisation based around industries that later collapsed,
  • the implosion of organised labour,
  • extreme atomisation and hyper-consumerism

But until it happens, there’s little hope for lasting progressive change in this country.

Monbiot ends: “Revitalising communities is not just an election strategy. It is a programme for change in its own right; even without a sympathetic government. If it takes root, it will outlast the vicissitudes of politics. But it will also make success more likely. If Labour wants to reconnect, it must be the change it wants to see”.

Birmingham’s budget dilemmas: defences against the vandalism of austerity

I’m just looking at the Birmingham City Council service reviews and budget consultation to make Localise West Midlands’ response – emphasising ways in which the Council can maximise local multiplier to reduce its whole system costs.
As a citizeSaveMRBn it’s incredibly frustrating to see the city forced into making such ridiculous choices. In my own area the likely closure of the much loved Edwarding swimming baths is painful to think about, but I know this is mirrored by similar swimming losses and threats to other vital local facilities across the city.  Then, talking to officers,  it’s clear that many of the procurement staff who were dedicated to maximising local returns from procurement are no longer in post: the cost saving of each salary needs to be set against the value of the contracts they would have brought in to the local area. I don’t think Birmingham City Council are yet calculating net costs and gains in this way, but hope I’m wrong.
Then of course there are the few who are still convinced by the false economy logic of the austerity agenda. In the collated responses to the inclusive economy part of the service review, I found the following perplexing little extract – albeit thankfully a lone voice:
“I object in the strongest terms to the whole idea of an inclusive economy. Do not spend my money on “addressing inequalities ” because you should treat all your residents equally. Every time you redistribute wealth you are incentivising dependency and failure. Your review has missed the point. Let people alone and they can work their way out of poverty. If you ‘ensure’ people have ‘skills and opportunities’ you are just going to treat them unequally and that is wrong. I think the review is deeply biased to outdated socialist notions and you need to modernise your approach.”
Someone obviously doesn’t quite understand that the inequality status quo didn’t arrive by laissez faire but by public intervention of the wrong sort.
Worth posting to demonstrate why it’s important to have some more progressive engagement with this agenda!
By contrast, Enfield Council are tackling the same set of problems by mobilising pension funds and persuading companies with large local markets to employ local people, and Preston Council are promoting employee buyouts to safeguard jobs and increase local control over the economy. Further afield, the advantages of municipal utilities are being rediscovered.ShitCreekPaddleStore Plenty of scope for Birmingham to learn from these and take them to a new level.
So – despite the vandalism of austerity, there are things we can do….
Karen Leach