Unless we go on a war footing over climate change and austerity we will trundle along, still in Brexit-land or out of Brexit-land; or hovering, part tied, just outside of Brexit-land. We will trundle along as that former empire endeavouring still to look noble and with all appearances kept up.
But the future will be grim, bleak, destructive, dirty, unclean, depressing and crime-ridden.
Possibly the most refreshing news I have heard recently is the claim by Labour that once the election is over and they are running the show then they will spend £150bn altogether (£400bn if you include the Green Transformation Fund) on addressing all of the damage done by the Cameron and Clegg partnership from hell – The Coalition.
Austerity is the most expensive piece of Treasury thinking ever invented, other than its opposite, which is throwing big money away willy-nilly. Investing in puffery rather than infrastructure.
We did it after the Second World War when, instead of spending all of our US taxpayers’ dollars on creating new industries, we spent much of it on maintaining an enormous worldwide presence and pretending we were still an imperial power.
Fortunately though we did save some US dollars to create the NHS and the Welfare State, but it was puffery over content. And we should never go down the road of spending too much on publicity like we
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But if Labour are to be believed they are offering “transformational money”. The kind of money necessary to get over the incredible damage done to our common good by austerity. Austerity only works when prosperity is flourishing. You cut and nip and reduce costs at the time that you are actually doing best. Successful businesses invest in hard times and cut in prosperous times. So if there is a reversal of fortune,
you are best prepared to take on the future when you’re at your leanest and meanest.
Of course, we didn’t. We got out the calculator and the slide rule and the petty cash tin and got some little plastic counters representing money and came up with a ham-fisted “back of a fag packet” financial strategy that led us directly into Brexit-land.
We know the big and dominating issue in the election, in fact why we are having it, is what Brexit and its lack of resolution has foisted upon us. But we should at all times flag up the reality of life after the election. And that needs severe mending and attention because we are missing the golden opportunity to reverse decades of neglect. Of the shrinking of local democracy, expressed in its best form as local prosperity.
But I am not madly, idealistically saying bring on the big bucks and spend them wildly. I am saying that the kind of damage that has been done over decades, aided and abetted by Austerity à la Coalition, needs to be addressed. Around the environment that people live in, and the environment of climate change.
But investments in businesses that reverse the effects of climate change could be a big opener-up of a new kind of climate-happy prosperity, as jobs are created around a green and sustainable landscape. Not that we are going to reverse it all, but we could, if we work together, cross-party and across the country, create a sustaining community that brings prosperity to all and not simply some knots of it here and there.
We have to reverse centuries of doing what is needed immediately to the harm of those born later
With this very much in mind we have been doing our own general election campaign: which is to get every candidate to sign up to our Future Generations Pledge to act today for tomorrow, to respect the needs of future generations, and to back our Future Generations Bill. This is the Bill we’re introducing into the new Parliament. It’s all about delivering a new, sustainable vision for the nation that prioritises the environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing of our current and future generations throughout the UK.
In fact I urge everyone to take a look at our campaign at bigissue.com and get involved.
We have had a very encouraging number of candidates saying that they will be backing our Bill which says no to short-termism, that we should not do things today to the detriment of tomorrow. That we have to reverse centuries of doing what is needed immediately to the harm of those born later.
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I do remember meeting with Mr Cameron before the big storm of the 2008 financial meltdown and asking him to promise the electorate green jobs, a green economy, and a green future. One that was lush with nature and lush with work that brought people out of neglect and need. And into a better future that was so pungent with opportunity and health that you’d never know what had hit us.
Pity that Cameron, a decent chap, capitulated to the knee-jerk economy where the poorest, the very poorest, were hit the hardest by the contraction of the state and the local economy, as the town halls of the UK were clobbered and bludgeoned into some imaginary fiscal health.
What a war we have been having with our poorest ever since. That is why we need the imaginative bringing together of business and government to create a newer version of prosperity that is green-based and locally efficient, and does not create divides across postal codes, bringing the easy money to some and the hard-to- reach money to others.
The damage meted out to those outside prosperity has guaranteed that they have stayed outside democracy. Because if you live in poverty you don’t live in democracy. Democracy is about choice. There’s no choice when there’s no prosperity. You take what you’re given.
John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue.