“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.”
Otto von Bismarck, 1867
Bismarck’s most famous quote is characteristically double-edged. Understood passively, it implies working within the constraints of the world as we find it. But to what end? Understood assertively, it implies redefining those limits, steadily moving the goalposts onto new territory. So that what was previously impossible becomes possible. And what was previously possible – for others – ceases to be so.
We live, increasingly, under a system of totalitarian liberalism, where democratic choices are assumed to be limited to superficialities, to whether Leader A appears to have more charisma than Leader B. Because nothing striking separates them on policy. The London parties fight for control of the centre ground when what is actually required is to roll up the centre ground and re-locate it. Lenin did that in 1917, not just for Russia but for the world. Thatcher did it in 1979. The scale of the challenges we face today demands no less a transformation. Do it now and we at least have some chance of avoiding the suffering they both relished imposing.
Last week’s news was dominated by population growth. We ought to be alarmed that human numbers are exploding but the BBC – what a vile organisation that’s become – was shamelessly biased in its coverage. Those for whom growth is an opportunity rather than a problem received significantly more prime airtime for their views. Once again we were assured that growth is good, that it will pay for our pensions and our long-term care. How thick do they think we are if they believe we won’t spot the flaws in their population Ponzi scheme?
With impeccable timing, last week also saw the publication of the latest issue of Population Matters Magazine, a periodical put out by the pressure group Population Matters. It certainly does matter, especially on the frontline of the battle against growth, here in Wessex. Norman Pasley writes of his own experience in Hampshire:
“Last year I remember a flurry of letters in the Hampshire Chronicle – mostly generated by members of the Winchester Population Matters local group – about the population pressure on Winchester’s primary school places and classrooms, and the controversy about taking cherished green spaces for more housing.
In April this year, Jonathon Porritt gave a talk to 225 people in Winchester. Also in April I gave a talk to 120 members of U3A in Fareham called, ‘As we journey to 2050, do we need to look after the planet?’ The audience were on-side, the hour went well, and they asked lots of questions. Only 30 people took my hand-out (it seems you can’t inspire everyone!).”
So concerned folk puzzle over what, if anything, they can do. Elect dozens of Wessex Regionalist MPs and thousands of Wessex Regionalist councillors. Every one of them unafraid to defy Westminster’s anti-Wessex laws because they understand the fundamental illegitimacy of top-down rule. That much ought to be obvious. But all the while the puzzling continues, so does the destruction. It rolls on because totalitarian liberalism insists that the locusts must go where they will. Green Belt is invaded. Villages double and triple in size. Roads slash the countryside. So much beauty. So much history. So much food security in an uncertain future. Lost, for what?
A false promise of prosperity from perpetual motion, fuelled by a system of debt-driven finance that inexorably ratchets up the damage. Blessed are the accountants, for they shall devour the earth.
A different approach isn’t difficult to define. Moving to a steady-state economy, tackling unemployment through shorter working hours, not through ever higher levels of socially useless activity that piles on more stress. Measuring success other than in monetary, GDP terms. Anti-globalisation and defence of the common wealth. A community-benefit State that does not shrink from ruthless punishment of those companies that put profit before people and place. Repudiation or rescheduling of debt wherever it is doing more harm than good. The inspirational books have all been written. Their prescriptions are well-known. Political debate manipulates them where it can and ignores them where it can’t.
Labour in 1997 and the Coalition in 2010 both came to power promising to rein-in the insaner plans for housebuilding that we have witnessed. Prescott promised to replace ‘predict-and-provide’ with ‘plan-monitor-and-manage’ but in no time he was back to ‘think of a number and double it’. Pickles promised localism, but then admitted that the only discretion devolved was how to accommodate growth, not whether to do so. (A case of ‘you pick the beauty spots to destroy, so we don’t have to shoulder the blame’.) We know, of course, that by 20th century standards housebuilding is currently at a rather low level (hurrah!), but the damage it does is cumulative and in the past there was at least an understandable reason: slum clearance and post-Blitz rehousing. Today we do have a choice but are failing to exercise it openly. It is being made for us by those who think they know best. No wonder there is such widespread despair at the failure of the London parties to articulate real local concerns honestly and consistently.
Breaking the pro-growth consensus requires a whole new level of campaigning. We are engaged with the intellectual debate, the ‘metapolitics’ that defines the centre ground. And, being a political party, we are engaged with the more rough-and-tumble world of demonstrations and elections. We need both, to sharpen the weapons of argument and to use them, to stand in the vanguard of a movement for change in Wessex.
Against us are ranged two camps. There are the boneheads who think that an ever-expanding population inhabiting a finite environment is an opportunity for innovation (if they’re LibDems), for profit (if they’re Tories) and for repression (if they’re Labourites), not a problem that an ecologically aware and freedom-loving society ought to confront before it reaches catastrophic proportions. And then there are the airheads who won’t even discuss the issue because it’s too difficult for them to cope with. The mentally cauterised who imagine that there has to be some racist sub-text behind population concerns (so how DO you raise them?) or that to complain about the loss of all that we value is only subjective after all, while their own selection of values has to be objective truth because they learnt it in first year sociology.
Simon Ross, writing in Population Matters Magazine, put it thus:
“Developmental and environmental groups, particularly, seem determined to ignore the ‘elephant in the room’… The Campaign to Protect Rural England’s charter to ‘save our countryside’ from development carefully avoids addressing England’s high population density and population growth. Such groups are one focus for our lobbying but we may have to wait some time for a change of heart.”
It’s a nuanced assessment, but it ignores the gaping chasm of reality. Time is something we just don’t have.