February 7, 2011
With all the cruel cuts being undertaken by this Tory-led government it has become very difficult to fight, or to blog, on all fronts. The barrage has seen the losing of EMAs, hiking of tuition fees, cuts to the poorest local councils, job losses, the restructuring of education and the NHS and above all the general dismantling of some of the most important parts of our social infrastructure. I don’t believe that the private sector will pick up the extra workforce, as David Cameron seems to. I don’t believe the ‘Big Society’ can plug all the gaping holes in services, in fact, I’m rather suspicious that the ‘Big Society’ is a convenient fabrication that allows government to renege on their responsibilities. I do believe, however, in the power of people and community action, not to fulfil the functions that the state should be providing, but to work in their own way to create a better society.
It is heartening to look to community groups that are making a real difference and to this end, I’d like to blow the trumpet of the Transition movement. These are local groups who work to make their area, and their lives, greener and more sustainable to fight climate change and to improve local life. Their organisation is highly democratic and inclusive and their aims largely altruistic, improving their society and aiding the environment. They share best practise with other groups in a cooperative network. Many towns have signed up to this and it has made a difference. In London, for example, just this month trees are being planted, Haringey has launched its sustainable food strategy and tropical vegetable gardening has become the new vogue. The Sussex town of Lewes has even invented it’s own currency for local trading.
To link this back to the cuts, at the risk of being too obviously allegorical, I’d like to consider the example of the selling (or felling) of England’s forests as an area where resistance could prevail. These could be cuts we can stop. Half a million people have signed a petition to save the threatened 258,000 hectares of English forestry estate. 84% of the public as a whole are opposed to the measure. MPs have rebelled on this issue, and David Cameron has been forced to declare himself ‘open to ideas’ as he recognised the importance this land held for the communities. Although this ‘green and pleasant land’ bit, may be more about preserving particular vistas, a valuable aim in itself, than halting climate change, it does demonstrate that many people do value nature and therefore green policies can be popular and effective.
If the government insists on its commitment to community, it should look to the movements who have engaged and empowered people to improve society. The green movement has a long history of being democratic, inclusive and progressive. Additionally, their values are vital for our time; we should learn to live without excess, without exploitation of people or the natural world, respecting the world around us and looking towards a better, more sustainable future.