• These Are The Times

    An incandescent, bitter blow; last week’s result came as a shock to the system. There are all kinds of things you can say about it, all kinds of lessons that can be drawn, but what’s clear above all else is that the Lib Dems were punished for their years in coalition. Here in Lewes it stings perhaps more than for most. We've lost an excellent MP of eighteen years’ service; a champion for the anti-fracking movement, a man of serious commitment and the kind of character all too rare in Westminster.

    Now we’ve passed the sense of disbelief, if not necessarily the ‘visceral grief’ that inspired the founding of the People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove late last week, perhaps we can take stock more soberly and begin to look around for signs of how we can go forward. That the Tory government under coalition were bad enough these last five years and that the Lib Dems helped to reign them in hardly adds to any sense of reassurance. But if anything, their current coming term will only reveal them more clearly as the kind of force they are. They cannot hide forever behind figleaves of Labour’s ‘mistakes’ or share the blame with parties they once were in power with. They will stand exposed by their actions – after promises of the ‘greenest government ever’ is it any wonder if no one believes talk of the compassion of ‘One Nation’ Conservatives?

    But really what was in store during their last term was clear from its very early days. Now there can be no charitable selective sight, no delayed reckoning; the Tories are an unreconstructed force, intent on lining the pockets of the very rich while the sick and the poor pay the price. Should that seem in any way unquantified, cast your eye over Mary O’Hara’s indictment of the impact of austerity on the welfare state. In that light, the prospect of an extra £12 billion of welfare cuts couldn’t get much crueller. Already a constitutional assault is underway with an attack on the Human Rights Act, while a move to repeal the fox hunting ban only seems a sign of things to come.

    It’s easy to feel overwhelmed but we surely have to see we have a choice. “These are the times to try ones souls” as Tom Paine once wrote. He was writing during the American War of Independence of course, but his words ring true for anyone faced with crisis or adversity, who face the kind of tyranny a second term of Tories represents. In such times we can give up, give in to regrets or acrimony, lose ourselves in bitterness of spirit. Or else we can find our true reserves, find a certain hope in bloodymindedness, find the sense that Tom Paine wrote of again; “it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” We must “smile in trouble… gather strength from distress and grow.”

    Last week’s election results seem in a league of their own, somehow they surpassed all expectations of the kind of government we’d get; not in the worst dreams of many I know did we think it would be quite so catastrophic. It’s more important than ever that the Left as it stands comes together with the sense of cohesion last Friday’s result should only catalyse. If we are dismayed, take courage from a long-established history of dissent. Take courage from the counter-culture that flew in the face of Tory rule all through the eighties and later. Remember that there is no greater authority than that of the people themselves, that we give the mandate to any government and that democracy is not a thing that happens every half a decade; we make it; it rests with our voice and engagement.

    “Tyranny, like hell,” as Tom Paine wrote; “…is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” That day may now seem dismally far off, but our strength is surely to be found in our involvement. Who knows what history may have in store, what merits wait for our collective action? In the absence of hard and fast answers perhaps it’s enough to know, as last week’s events only help show, that divided we are nothing in the face of a map of so much and so many bitter blues. We should take comfort in this knowledge then, that division and dissolution are no choice at all, that we have to go forward because we know that we must, that history is full of the stories of struggles that won, even if their fruits are not always immediate or obvious.

    In the weeks and months ahead then perhaps we should look on the times ahead as a long walk or a time in the wild; the more we can gather together the easier the road, the more we can keep our eye on a distant goal the more bearable any current hardships. But for now, our strength comes in that act of going forward itself, in the act of knitting together, in picking up our feet, however sore. There remains a vast tract of resistance; a sometimes harsh but fertile span of ground. That being as it is, we should gather encouragement from its necessity, settle our spirits in the face of the challenge.

    A final quote then from Paine: “Heaven knows how to set a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange, indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.” We still hold a kind of currency before us; it’s there for redemption. It cannot be lost.

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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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