Outside the marginals

A commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010, 2015 & 2017 elections (and THAT referendum)

What about the Elephants?

This (2015 UK) General Election seems to consist of lots of minor and pretty irrelevant skirmishes. The major issues seem to be un-addressed in the election.

So what are these elephants in the room?

My list (many of them interlinked):

The crises in the Mediterranean resulting from Global Migratory Pressures highlight so many issues.

  • We live in a global world where national boundaries are not recognised by many people in many areas.
  • We live in a world of inequality but of mass communication so that the streets of even the meanest cities in Europe appear to be paved in gold to many desperate people.
  • We live in a world where the meaning of nationality is increasingly blurred as we have to recognise the need for trans-national co-operation.

We have had no real discussion of what to do about large masses of people migrating from impoverished areas willing to risk anything and unwilling to accept that they should not have the same opportunities as the rest of us.

One response to this problems seems to be to mentally pull up the drawbridge and become insular. But some global issues such as Climate Change and Resource Utilisation have no respect for drawbridges.

  • Climate change is talked about, but without co-operation is not addressed with action.
  • We are wedded to a model of consumption that appears to accept that we can over-consume natural resources and that the “developed” world can consume significantly more per capita that the rest of the world.

The Greens have probably addressed this issue, but have not been heard – I have not even received their election address (perhaps to save resources they are not printing leaflets?). The major parties seem happy to trade long-term issues for the short-term.

There seems to be no discussion of the Global Economy.

  • Europe is seen as “a political problem” rather than a major player in the global economy.
  • The Millennium Development Goals seem to being ignored.
  • There is no motivation to try to tame the wilder excesses of globalisation; we seem to have accepted globalisation as our master.
  • TTIP – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (and it Pacific Equivalent) seems to being accepted without serious discussion.
  • Allied to this we seem to have accepted that the big global corporations should rank alongside national states.

Again the Greens may be discussing this and I think they are trying to open up a debate on whether globalisation should be seen as a given.

Possibly the lack of such discussion is due to a Crisis of Confidence in Democracy.

  • The “West” is no longer willing to intervene to “bring democracy to those under the heel of dictatorships and other systems of government”.
  • To some extent this is a welcome dose of humility – it is possible that “western style” democracy is not the best system for people who value security, family or even tradition before values such as personal freedom. Think Maslow‘s hierarchy of need.
  • It is also a reflection on the fact that we have arrogantly asserted the superiority of democracy rather than making the case for democracy.
  • We also tend to think that in the West democracy is a “done project” when it should be evolving and improving.
  • Instead we are allowing our perversions of democracy to fight perversions of other forms of political organisation (which often have terrorism implications).

In the UK the reform agenda appears dead – possibly because the current system suits the old elitist parties.

Within the UK there is an unspoken debate taking place beneath the surface – The Americanisation of Society.

  • Do we want a society more like America?
    • More self-reliant with more “personal responsibility”
    • But with more poverty and inequality suffered not just by the feckless but by the unfortunate,
  • Or do we think the “European Model” can evolve and reform?
    • Social responsibility and co-operation with a more inclusive view of “community”
    • But with more powerful agencies as a means of delivery – preferably subject to some form of community control.

Some form of consensus over this issue is going to be essential after the election (unless the Conservatives get a majority or a workable minority with UKIP support). However, there is no discussion of this key divide – it’s all done through “proxy spats” over issues such as taxation of the rich, benefits cuts and caps, tax freezes (and surely an implied use of welfare cuts to absorb any economic shocks) and privatisation of services such as health and education.

Allied with this decision about levels of inequality in Britain (An American style society leading to greater inequality, whilst a European style society would be more equal) there is the corrosive effect caused by failure to address two long term domestic issues:

  • The price of housing (either to rent or to buy). Domestic bricks and mortar are unfortunately investments rather than homes – which means the next generation will struggle to own a home.
  • The cost of retirement – pensions and long-term care – which means the next generation will in all likelihood have to bail out their parents (particularly if those parents never got on the housing ladder).

The first problem is so intractable that people are desperate to “get into property”, whilst the second problem is so intractable that few make satisfactory provision for their old age. And yet the parties proposals are messing around at the edges and not addressing the core problem – in fact they may be making the situations worse.

Are these issues more important than a promise that personal allowances will be raised by £2,000, yet another promise that VAT will not be raised, and promises that the government will “crackdown on welfare scroungers” but that your child relief will not be touched?

I suspect that the above issues can be placed in a chart of issues with axes:

  • Communitarian < > Corporatist
  • Internationalist < > Isolationist
  • Conservationist < > Exploitative

These issues are also longer lasting – but that does not mean we can put of considering them.


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