Please scroll down for the title you would like to read. Here you will find Thoughts on ... 

 

A new vision for society

 

The Corona Virus crisis

 

Brexit and our present and future belonging

 

The election and a manifesto for the next decade

 

Abstention rebellion  

 

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Thoughts on ...                                                    

 

A new vision for society                                                         18/7/20

 

There has been a lot of talk about how the Corona pandemic should be used to reassess the way we organise our society for the better. I have three problems with this talk. One is that it is premature. The overwhelming priority for all of us, especially our political leaders, must be to protect lives – which is something we have tragically failed to do over the past few months. The loss of life in the UK has been unimaginably appalling, and is still the second highest per capita in the world, and we must strive to the utmost to keep the mortality rate as low as possible.

 

The second problem is that it should not take a pandemic to get us thinking and talking about a better society. People have, after all, been doing this for over two thousand years and enormous progress has been made. Generally we behave better towards each other than ever before and in theory we have good values and attitudes. Clear principles for how we should behave have been laid down by the world’s religions, and frameworks of law established by nation states.

 

In practice, of course, we are still a long way short of perfection. Sadly we continue to inhabit a world where there is an enormous amount of violence, conflict, war, poverty, hunger, exploitation, inequality, prejudice, greed, envy, dishonesty, self-interest, intolerance, irresponsible behaviour, foolishness, egotism, materialism, and every form of physical and mental suffering. We can and must do better.

 

The third problem I have is with the unintended, but unfortunately, glib manner in which the general sentiment is expressed that good can emerge from bad. It is certainly true that if we learn something positive and useful from bad life events this can be beneficial. But in the case of what has been inflicted on our own country and the whole world the bad is on such a vast scale that it will require an almost infinite amount of good to compensate for it.

 

But it is my belief that, individually and collectively, human beings do actually possess this infinite amount of goodness. It has always been present but has been revealed in abundance through countless acts of caring during the pandemic.

 

We did not need the virus to bring out our basic humanity as it is always there when it is needed. But what we must do is ensure that it is engrained both in our daily lives and our political decision-making. And this is why I am adding my thoughts to the discussions that are now taking place and which should continue indefinitely.

 

We need to decide on the sort of society we want and how it should be organised, how the economy should be managed and above all how we should be educated to lead good, caring and loving lives for our families and everyone else.

 

We must have a different vision for the future. One that is not based on acquiring more and more material goods or having more and more expensive leisure experiences, but one in which we find our deepest fulfilment in caring for our loved ones, showing kindness to others and enjoying the simple pleasures in life.

 

As individuals we must control our obsession with buying more and more “stuff” and as a nation we must end our obsession with a continually growing GDP. We must  cooperate more than compete with other nations in the interests of our citizens and theirs and we must always strive to interact with people across the world as fellow human-beings to whom we wish no harm even when their leaders are  dangerously misguided – people to people much more than governments to governments.

 

Our vision must be a fair and compassionate society in which everyone can lead a fulfilling and happy life. We must aspire to ensure that we build a better world which provides the greatest possible well-being for the greatest possible number of people.

 

Over the past few years I have been fortunate to have had the time to reflect on what we can do to achieve a new vision for society. Before the general election at the end of last year I collected some of my thoughts together and wrote a manifesto containing ideas and policies which I hoped might contribute to this vision being achieved.

 

For anyone able to spend a few minutes looking at these thoughts they can be found at:

 

https://www.quercuspublications.co.uk/quercus_manifesto.html

 

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Thoughts on ...

 

The Corona Virus crisis                                                          14/3/20

 

This is a letter to my MP expressing my concern about the way the government is handling the crisis at present.

 

Dear John

 

Like many other people I am very, very concerned that the government’s approach to dealing with the Corona Virus outbreak is seriously misguided. I acknowledge that I could be wrong but equally the government should acknowledge the same.

 

I have been utterly bewildered at the logic of the discussion about different phases in the spread of the virus and moving from one phase to the next. Common sense, often more useful I suspect than big data and computer modelling, surely dictates that there is only one phase that matters – the overall phase of limiting the spread and eventually trying to eliminate the virus altogether.

 

The so-called second phase we have entered has seen the introduction of the concept of herd immunity to the discussion. I am sure this is an extremely important factor in infection control but in the present context it has appalling implications.

 

If Patrick Valance wants 60% of the population to get the virus in order to develop herd immunity and if the mortality rate is, as I have heard on the BBC news, at least 1%, simple maths tells us that 400, 000 people are going to die of it. Such a strategy is not only totally unacceptable it is insane.

 

I cannot help wondering if some of the thinking behind the policy arises from an admittedly understandable concern to minimise disruption to the economy and to our way of life. Sadly the economy, and therefore individual people, will take time to recover and some people are going to be much more affected than others. This, however, should not be our present priority and in my view having the budget last week was wholly inappropriate except of course for the measures to support those suffering financial difficulties.

 

As for disrupting our normal lives it is already doing this, and more so in other countries. There will inevitably be more disruption but not going to a football match or not having a drink in the pub is not a huge sacrifice to make in order to keep the virus at bay.

 

I hope the prime minister is not misreading history if, as an authority on Churchill, he is thinking back to events from the past. There are two great lessons from the experience of both world wars when the challenge facing our own and other countries was far greater than that of today. One is the incredible resilience and courage shown by those who were affected especially those were engaged in the fighting and who made the supreme sacrifice. The other is the fact that people may have kept calm and carried on – but definitely not as normal. Ordinary life was completely turned upside down.

 

I am encouraged that the British public is not following the advice of the government and is sensibly taking action to limit gatherings at sporting and other events where it must be obvious to all of us there is a possibility we could be infected by those close by at the actual event or as we travel to it.

 

Like everyone else I am not an expert but surely we can do much, much more than just wash our hands however essential this still is. So far government policy has clearly failed to slow the rate of infection so another strategy must be put in place – one that does not involve wiping out hundreds of thousands of people.

 

I suggest everyone should be told to do as much social distancing as possible and only come into contact with other people if absolutely necessary. Everyone should immediately be issued with a supply of effective masks and instructed on how to use them properly. Schools and universities should be closed and if this means exams are cancelled that would be no great loss to anyone. Non-urgent hospital appointments should be postponed.

 

Shopping by delivery should be greatly increased especially to the elderly and infirm. There should be no foreign travel for the moment and anyone returning from abroad should be monitored for at least two weeks.

 

We have to do more now. When we know the cost to the economy we can do something about this such as cancelling HS2 and other infrastructure projects. There would be nothing wrong in putting up income tax to support the economy and those suffering financial hardships.

 

Our absolute prime focus must be to slow the spread of the disease immediately and reduce, not increase, the number of infections. This is what other countries are doing and some appear to have done it successfully. The prime minister is gambling and it is time he changed course.

 

It is time, also, to put aside party politics and have a government of national unity, one which will welcome all constructive ideas about how to deal with the crisis and consider them on their merits.

 

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Thoughts on …

 

Brexit and our present and future belonging                         10/2/20

 

Click here for the full post

 

Summary

 

... But why did many people appear to have sufficiently strong feelings about the EU that their own beliefs became so deeply entrenched and they became so intolerant of other viewpoints?

... It was belonging that caused the problem – belonging and the emotional attachment that accompanied this, plus the feeling of loss that would result from disrupting the attachment. It was a heart more than a head problem.

... I have not mentioned British values because I like to think those to which we aspire – kindness, fairness and tolerance – are universal. We can be proud that we inhabit a tolerant, diverse and multi-cultural society in which different faiths and different sorts of relationships are accepted by the vast majority of people.

... All these aspects of life in the UK, and many more, contribute to the montage of British identity. For those who wish to express their sense of belonging and patriotism, but not for me, there are also the emotional activities of quoting a line or two of “this sceptred isle”, singing Land of Hope and Glory and waving the Union Flag.

... I think it is likely that those who voted to remain in the EU share a broadly similar sense of emotional attachment towards the aspects of British life referred to above but in addition feel something of an emotional attachment to Europe.

... So, what should we do about our belonging in the future? What hopes should we have?

... We should recognise and celebrate the individual character of the countries of the world, we should encourage trade and commerce amongst them and at the same time we should encourage them to be more self-sufficient. We must also be unwavering in our efforts to support the well-being of our fellow humans in other countries by acting to prevent conflict, violence, hunger, poverty, exploitation, prejudice, gross inequalities and human suffering of any sort.

... Instead of the ever closer union that is advocated for Europe I would like to see a different goal – an ever closer global union. One that preserves the legitimate sovereignty and character of different countries but which unites them in striving for the well-being of all human beings on the planet.

We can get there one day if, as caring and thoughtful individuals, we try hard to develop a profound sense of global belonging rooted in our common humanity.

 

Note:

 

Click here for the full post. It's quite a long essay but maybe some people can spare the time to read it in full.

 

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Thoughts on …

 

The election and a manifesto for the next decade                23/12/19

 

In the 2106 referendum I voted to leave the EU and by a small margin more people voted for this option than to remain. I am extremely pleased therefore that the outcome of the general election has meant that finally the result of the referendum has been honoured and the government has implemented what it was mandated to do. The attempt by opposition parties to obstruct the process and reject the democratic wish of the majority of those who voted was shabby and unprincipled.

 

I thought it likely that the Conservatives would win but admit to being nervous they might not secure an overall majority. In the event the scale of their victory surprised me as much as it did other people.

 

As I explained in my Thoughts-on column, Abstention Rebellion, (see below) I would have liked to have spoiled my ballot paper by voting for all four candidates who stood in my constituency but in fact voted in the normal way although on behalf of an elderly friend of mine who did not receive her postal vote. My abstention would have been a protest against the bizarre electoral system we have as well as our desperately immature and unnecessarily embittered political discourse.

 

But my abstention would have been more than a protest. It would have been a way of saying – to myself, as only a few other people counting the ballot papers would have seen it – that I could not give my full support to any of the parties on offer. Their policies and views did not match my own sufficiently.

 

But I do not believe in disagreeing with ideas and not having alternatives to put in their place. Which is why I compiled my own manifesto containing the ideas and policies I would like to see shaping our society during the next decade.  

 

Although the result of the election is undoubtedly a big win for Boris it is not quite the resounding triumph it appears. With only 29% of the electorate voting for him he cannot claim to have the endorsement of an overwhelming number of the nation’s citizens. Nor for that matter would Tony Blair have been able to make such a claim when he gained an overall majority of 68 seats in 2005 with the support of just 21.6% of the electorate. Coincidentally this figure of 21.6% of the electorate is precisely the same share given to Jeremy Corbyn in the general election.

 

The result is not good for Labour especially when compared with their impressive showing in 2017 when they gained 40% of the vote but clearly it is not the disaster that Blair and others would have us believe. They should be reminded of his meagre support in 2005 and also the fact that Corbyn’s share of the vote this time, as well as his percentage support from the electorate as a whole, has been higher than that which Labour received in 2010 and 2015. 

 

All of which makes it entirely unnecessary for the Labour leadership to apologise for losing the election – which is not a sensible thing to do anyway, as nobody should apologise for putting ideas before the electorate so they can choose which way to vote.

 

The reason why Labour support declined in some of its traditional heartlands could be a combination of the Brexit and Corbyn effects both of which have been given as explanations. Or there could be other factors involved. I can think of one that would have a connection to sociology and one that would be connected to psychology.

 

The former could be that in parts of the country which have lost their dependence on traditional industries, old loyalties and class distinctions have been loosened. Employment in non-manual occupations may well have increased and people in these jobs may have become less inclined to stay loyal to Labour.

 

And the factor connected to psychology could be as simple as this: Boris Johnson’s larger than life personality, his generally cheerful demeanour, and his positive outlook, may well have been more appealing to the electorate than Labour’s gloomy emphasis on all the ills of society.

 

No doubt plenty of other factors contributed to the result of the election and forensic analysis of voting patterns and intentions will tease out many of these. One that immediately comes to mind is the decline in the Labour vote in Scotland over recent years.

 

So neither a huge triumph, nor a great disaster, for the two main parties but, apart from honouring the referendum result, the election, in terms of democracy, has been another sad example of our moribund political system. I am pleased to see in the Queen’s Speech that a commission is going to be established to look at our constitution and it will be interesting to see what emerges from it. I doubt whether it will propose radical reforms of the sort I would like to see but it should at least provide an opportunity to raise awareness of alternative systems of voting and, dare I say, alternative systems of governance as a whole.1

 

But, as the saying goes, we are where we are and I am cautiously optimistic that the new government will not only deal with some of the difficulties we have in the provision of health and social care but also manage the economy sensibly. I am not so hopeful that it will deliver the fairer society we need or, even more importantly, provide sufficient assistance to those who have been left behind in the never-ending march to advance our material prosperity.

 

The fairer society I would like to see would be based on the ideas in my manifesto. Its guiding precepts are summed up in the phrase on the front cover: “well-being for all in a caring and fair society”. Amongst a wide range of proposals, it contains ideas for how wealth can be redistributed more evenly and how all types of work should be properly rewarded.2 

 

The Quercus Manifesto is a manifesto for the future, for the next decade at least. It challenges the received wisdom and old orthodoxies that have become fossilised in our social, economic and political thinking. And not just in our thinking but in our doing.

 

Our present system of adversarial and tribal party politics, a system in which we directly participate when we cast our vote, is one of many items ready to place in our national fossil collection. This is where it should remain and, for anyone interested, become available for future academic study.

 

Before it finds a home in the collection, however, we can learn from it now. We can discuss the shortcomings of our present system of party politics calmly and rationally and decide how to make improvements. Because if we learn how to do politics better I am sure it will help us do society better.

 

Notes

 

1  See the section on Governance in The Quercus Manifesto which contains this:

 … We will work to persuade people that the constitution should include the following: more referendums on key political issues; the abolition of the House of Lords; a new voting system to elect members of parliament; and procedures for coalition governments which, under the new system, would become the norm.

Referendums would be mandatory, advisory or indicative. It would be possible to vote on more than one issue at a time, this voting to take place either on a parliamentary election day or a separate day…

 

2  See the section on The Economy in Quercus Manifesto.

 

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Thoughts on ...   

 

Abstention rebellion                                                               11/12/19

 

I have had to change my voting intentions. I will explain why in a moment. The carefully conceived plan was to go to my polling station, to be given my ballot paper and to put a cross in the box for all four candidates standing in my constituency.

 

This would seem a reasonable thing to do if the ballot paper was seen more as a survey or questionnaire rather than a means of casting one’s vote in an election. The instruction could either read: put a cross against the candidates who have policies you agree with, or the opposite, put a cross against the candidates who have policies you disagree with.

 

Since all four candidates are standing for parties which have policies I agree with, and also embody basic values I share, I would be able to put a cross against each of their names. I agree with the Conservatives about Brexit and I like their belief in personal responsibility. At the same time I strongly believe in the notion of a caring state and a fairer society which inclines me much more towards the Labour Party and some of their specific policies – for example, free personal care for the elderly and higher rates of tax for the richer members of society.

 

I like the rent to buy proposal from the Liberal Democrats and I strongly agree with the Green Party that Trident should be cancelled – an issue that should have received far more attention than it has in this election.

 

If the ballot paper were a survey asking me to put a cross against candidates who supported policies I disagreed with, I would equally be able to do this. I disagree with the Conservatives wanting to continue with our present electoral system, with Labour supporting the renewal of Trident, with the Greens on giving 16 year olds the vote, and with the Lib Dems for their unprincipled position on Brexit.  

 

But our ballot papers are not surveys and to put a cross against more than one candidate would obviously invalidate my vote. I hope, though, that the point I have made about looking at specific policies illustrates how unsatisfactory our system of democracy really is and why we should be making strenuous efforts to change it. 

 

We need to be able to vote on the merits of specific issues and not have them bundled together by political parties and presented as a whole package either to accept or decline. And the best way to do this would be to move away from our system of so-called representative democracy to one with  more direct democracy - in other words, more referendums, which would be indicative, advisory or mandatory. (See the section on Governance in my Quercus Manifesto. )

 

Spoiling my ballot paper by voting for more than one candidate, and writing my reasons for doing this, would be my protest against the undemocratic system we have. But it would also be a protest at the immature tribal behaviour engaged in by politicians, activists, tweeters and others who have an unquestioning allegiance to one political party or another. For decades now we have had to endure a political discourse that, all too often, is offensive, disrespectful, unwilling to listen to opposing viewpoints and, sadly, nothing like as thoughtful as it should be. 

 

Since the referendum the discourse has become increasingly strident and embittered. It lacks maturity, rigorous thinking and kindness. I would be very happy to register my feelings about the dismal state of our politics by staging a rebellion against it and spoiling my ballot paper in the way described.

 

However, there is more to my rebellion than protest. I believe that as human beings we broadly share similar beliefs about how we should live our lives. We all have individual aspirations we try to fulfil but at the same time we all want to care for each other. It should surely not  be difficult, therefore, to come up with precepts and policies that underpin the actions of a government that we can more or less agree upon and which can deliver what most of us want or find acceptable.

 

I have set out some possible ideas for people to consider in my Quercus Manifesto and, self-indulgently, for some time, have shared my views on many subjects in the posts I have put on my website. The manifestos and policies of the four parties on the ballot paper in my constituency do not match my own sufficiently for me to be able to support them with my vote and so, with a bucketful of immodesty, I feel obliged to reject them in favour of the ideas I am proposing myself.

 

Which, in fairness, would make my spoiled ballot paper a positive abstention – even more so if I wrote my website address on it.(1) But ... I am no longer able to carry out my abstention rebellion and the reason is this. I applied for a postal vote for a friend of mine, who is no longer mobile, but unfortunately she did not receive it.(2)

 

I told her I was intending to abstain by voting for more than one candidate thereby spoiling my ballot paper. However, I suggested that as she had not received her postal vote I would willingly vote on her behalf if she told me which party she wished to support. So, rebellion cancelled. I shall be voting in the usual way after all. 

 

Whatever the result of the election I believe we can find a better way of doing politics than that which exists at present. We can come up with ideas that will help us forge a society which provides well-being and fairness for everyone and we can discuss these ideas in a civilised and courteous manner.

 

If you’ve had enough of politics don’t stay at home and do nothing about it. Go to your polling station and stage your own abstention rebellion.

 

 

Notes

 

1  I accept that only a few people at the count would see it.

2  I did ring the electoral services department of our local council but I am still not sure why she didn't receive it.