One of a series of six resolutions for a better human society in 2016
Politicans attempt to shape the way we think about the world by continually crafting stories about the past which justify their particular policies. This is the job of a politician. Lurking beneath their stories are deep level commitments coming from how they see the world and their take on what progress is. The role of the citizens in a healthy democracy is to question these stories, examining them from every angle, bringing in the perspectives from the margins and forcing public debate.
The Scottish referendum was a case in point. In the process of the campaigns for and against Scottish devolution, an extraordinary proportion of Scots people were engaged in debate. It seemed like everyone knew about and cared about the issue. This was democracy at work. And it revealed the weakness of so much that goes on at other times.
One of the things to watch about political stories is where they are placing the blame. The government in power almost always tries to blame the ‘previous’ government for the ills it has inherited. This is such a common and standard response, as to feel quite banal. More subtly, governments can distract attention by their stories. If we are to listen to our current Chancellor on the subject of the economy, for example, it seems that he is trying to make the public to feel that we are to blame for the apparently unsustainable debt that the UK economy is saddled with. The dominant story seems to be something like, ‘we have all spent too much, our public services are bloated and must be cut, we need a much ‘smaller’ government’.
Yet the truth may be rather different. It may relate to the terrible dependency of UK government on global financial institutions. It may include worries about these institutions being run by a corrupt and unaccountable elite partnering with the mega rich to create a group of people beyond nationhood, who care nothing for history, the planet or any local identity. This story would tell of an unbalanced economy in which the financiers are actually in control and of the great financial crash of 2009, which revealed the manipulation and greed endemic in the system. It would show that it was losses incurred in this crash that rendered the UK debt unsustainable and it would critically examine the half-hearted attempts to restructure the financial system in the post crash period. The narrative might conclude with the attempt by the Chancellor over the Christmas holidays to ‘bury the bad news’ about how he intends to unwind proposed reforms of the financial sector. This is a very different story about the UK financial position with an entirely different focus for blame and responsibility.
Perhaps it is time for the people of the UK to reject this attempt to blame us for the financial problems we are confronted with and to work to find ways to break our dependence on global financial institutions that care nothing about our welfare? Here in Bristol we have a local currency. It is a small thing in terms of volume, but a big thing in terms of story, because it says there can be an alternative.
Shifting blame is one approach, but sometimes the political stories on offer are simply incoherent. Take the accounts of the refugees currently living in Calais for example. What are we to make of this phenomenon? Here are some people, who are desperate to enter this country and willing to risk their lives in the process as they live in a squalid camp and make nightly forays in an attempt to board some means of transport across the channel. What is our response to this? The government work to erect higher fences and tighten border controls to prevent these people arriving and then, when they do arrive, it examines their refugee status and, if genuine, gives them leave to remain in the country. What is this? There simply is no way that anyone can wrap up this set of actions into a coherent and morally defensible story. It is a nonsense and it causes terrible human anguish.
So in 2016, let us question what we are told. Let’s not accept the simple blame stories that government puts out. Let’s struggle for our common humanity and a vibrant democracy.
Happy New Year.
Resolution Two – Question the stories you are being told
Complexity of all true stories, process of storytelling. Financial deficit is not our fault. Need to address bank cultural problems. Osborne rowing back on this.