Think globally, act locally. The sentiment is sound but the first instruction requires a lot less effort than the second. A lot less effort, because successive centralist governments at Westminster have made the second instruction well nigh impossible to carry out.
Take the example of planning, where local discretion has now been all but abolished. When the 2004 ‘reforms’ were pushed through at the behest of the power of money, community groups naively fell in behind them. The package included a requirement that councils bind themselves to a ‘Statement of Community Involvement’. Community groups thought that Christmas had come early. At last, councils would be forced to do as they told them, and not as elected local politicians wished. The reality is – and always was – that this was a smokescreen behind which decisions were taken away from the locality altogether. Now unelected civil servants decide everything of any importance in the planning world and matters are getting progressively worse. The Campaign to Protect Rural England had the true measure of ‘community involvement’ all along. As their poster proclaimed, “Your new airport goes here. What colour would you like the fence?”
When Labour politicians – and the Tory ones are no better – speak of empowering communities, the rhetoric translates into reality with so many caveats as to be deeply deceitful. A new generation of environmental protestors is now coming to the fore, one that will not be content with sit-ins and stunts that simply delay the bulldozers by days. Westminster diktat may find itself met with a more resolute denial of authority and legitimacy. We should not be surprised to see big developers and their pocket decision-makers vilified very personally as the public enemies they clearly are. No moral individual could defend those who are busily wrecking Wessex in the name of a despotic Parliament whose right to rule is nothing but self-proclamation backed up with tanks. When road protestors set fire to the contractors’ plant, can we say that that was a crime? And that what that machinery was doing to our land was a lawful act, advancing truth, beauty and goodness? We shall have to think again very thoroughly about what we mean by the law. The only certainty is that Westminster has no claim to be making it.
One pressing reason why power needs to be radically decentralised is that the planet needs this. World government is not the answer to the world’s problems. Small is beautiful not because it allows good things to happen, although it does, but because it prevents big, bad things being allowed to happen. Those who have to live with the consequences don’t willingly foul their own nest.
So a philosophy that puts Wessex first is not one that denies our interdependence with the rest of the world. Quite the reverse. We seek to contribute to a sustainable, equitable world where the health, security and liberty of all is paramount, regardless of race or creed. But we do that from our own land, by showing solidarity, morally and economically, not by gung-ho intervention where we’re not wanted. Humanitarian aid – well-organised by charities – is best kept quite distinct from political meddling. ‘Foreign policy’ is a fancy term for not minding our own business. It could be a very attractive as well as unique selling point for the Wessex Regionalists to be the only party whose foreign policy is not to have one. Globalisation is on the defensive – protectionism is making a comeback – and internationalism is up for redefinition.
Watching the television news it is hard to resist the feeling that anywhere and everywhere matters except home. Recent events in Gaza were tragic. But did they justify top billing night after night after night after night after night after night after night? Let us examine why foreign news has such a fascination for broadcasters.
There are the superficial reasons. One is that foreign correspondents cost money. If you have them, you use them. Not using them would only get you into trouble with the accountants. Another is that editorial control is in the hands of a generation whose background leads them to embrace the foreign and despise the domestic. Hippies who spent the 60’s out east don’t care much what happens in Easton or Eastleigh. The Middle East is ‘cool’, whichever side you take. And so it’s assumed that everyone else would want to give it the same gravity.
But there is a deeper agenda. George Orwell’s proles and his ‘outer party’ won’t have spotted it but the ‘inner party’ will have thought it through carefully.
Firstly, for every foreign story that dominates the headlines there is a domestic story that has been spiked. So what is the bad news that this is a good day to bury? Corruption in high places? Another piece of repressive legislation waved through Westminster without the public’s knowledge? Revelations about a failed Government policy? The squandering of public money? Your guess is as good as mine.
Secondly, foreign news fosters a sense of powerlessness. Domestic news makes folk angry and there is plenty they can do about it. They can change the government. Even change the system. But foreign affairs are by definition immune to the outcome of a British general election. Whether Brown, Cameron or Clegg sits in Number 10 makes no real difference to the sufferings of others thousands of miles away (unless British troops are involved). So when foreign news makes people angry, that is all it does. And belief in politicians drains away all the faster. And if politicians can’t change anything, why have them? When pundits now talk about a ‘post-democratic Europe’, its handmaidens are easily identified. They are the sirens wailing their song nightly upon our screens.
When cuts fall on the broadcast media, it is not the foreign correspondents who suffer. The first casualty is always regional news. Understandably so, since it often amounts to little more than ‘cat stuck in tree in Chippenham’. One of our key tasks in the years ahead will be to change the media organisations, so that they speak to us primarily about ourselves. Together we can then make that story interesting as local action increasingly challenges our oppressors. Yes, folks. The revolution WILL be televised.