• Lights in the Storm

    Sometimes it feels like it could be merely a question of not looking down. We seem sustained at times by unlikely hope and cannot entertain the mounting evidence of financial malaise rising around us like water in the Maldives. News comes sure enough; the families in B and B’s in London, the particularly eye-watering cuts of public services in Newcastle, salient for the ten libraries that are due to close. The memory of the penny pinching cuts to EMA still rankling at the back or the forefront of the mind. The dawning sense that this may not be some interim bleak period we are sure to emerge from sometime soon but that we could be only just getting a sense of an ongoing economic situation that may well be with us for years down the line.

    And the dominant party in government; frequently feckless, plutocratic, often skilled manipulators of the public mood, the news of no corporate taxes for those at the top while children go hungry and individuals spiral off the rails as sureties vanish and the phrase that “we’re in this together” sticks like a bone in the throat. But this is obvious and sadly nothing new even if the sense of it grows sharper by the day. How do we react then, how do we address a very real deficit, a financial elite running rings round any regulation and a cabinet that do themselves few favours in their public eye concerned as they often seem to be with little else than feathering the nests of their friends in big business? At what point does enough become enough? At what point does a population collectively reach such a stage of realisation and how might it respond constructively?

    We have apparently few choices. People can take to the streets, maybe get in a riot, maybe make themselves feel better for a while for getting in a ruck as if that in itself did anything but propagate more violence in a world that’s surely seen enough. At the other extreme, we can fly the standards of slacktivism, fire off salient, well intentioned and maybe even effective petitions and then assure ourselves we’ve done our bit and can relax and sit tight in the meantime come what may.

    Neither of these are answers or enough. On the other hand we can turn away from politics entirely, seek to keep ourselves and our communities afloat through what is coming if national politics seems beyond hope or our influence. Is it enough to try to live lives of compassion for those around us as long held props of old securities weaken or shake or simply vanish? Is it enough to look to our own outgoings and incomings and square things up, strive to live within our means even as the ratchets tighten further? Is it enough to try to meet these times without resort to bitterness, to endeavour to keep our spirits true even when enduring trial?

    Perhaps we can still find that there is more that binds us together as a country than divisions that could otherwise drive as apart. We certainly need such instincts at a time like this. We seem to be living through what is at the very least a severe stripping back of the social services that were implemented through massive popular will due to everybody living through the wake of what can happen when such safety nets do not exist, when folk are easy targets for extremes of right or left and bitterness breeds and whole countries can be seduced by those who claim they have some kind of one size fits all golden answer.

    The great story of the welfare state, pre-empted by Tom Paine himself; its essential narrative was that it offered a way to address appalling divisions of wealth and carried the belief a better world could still be built despite, or even because of those divisions. That it may have grown corpulent or open to abuse at times does not negate that enduring truth that it represents the best embodiment we have of a fairer society; of what that can look like and how governments can be the instrument of helping shape such a society, how they can embody the best of public will and rise above minutia and scandal and the daily inroads currently created to open up the way for private companies making a mint from the things that once were held quite rightfully - and often far from uneconomically - in public trust.

    That this is happening at all speaks volumes about how sharp we keep our collective memory, or perhaps about the sense we have that some things are untouchable and our disbelief they ever could be threatened. We give power to those who govern us with such passive culpability, or perhaps it is simply a question of being culturally deconditioned to raising our voices; even at the point of daylight robbery we do not want to make a fuss. That the present bunch in power are engaging in a near revolutionary carve up of the social landscape of these Islands by now brings no surprise. We can meet this with rage or a cooler resistance and they themselves are helping set the stage where response of an appropriate scale brings with it a logic of its own. Protestors up and down the country have known this logic for some time and many more are cutting their teeth with its arrival. Those protests, be they mass demonstrations or anything else, are as necessary now as ever. Meanwhile there is a kind of defiance that everyone of us can take on board: the knowledge of our own humanity; candles in the coming storm and surely sheltered by the help we lend to one another however and wherever we can.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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