What do we value?
It’s a good question. Especially in the last days before a very tangled seeming general election, here in the UK. To untangle the clamouring claims and rebuffs, journalistic frameworks and fake news, our vote surely boils down to what is most important to us – what we value most. Who comes closest to representing that? Or to working in the direction of whatever this is. They will warrant our tick in the booth, no? We should talk about this.
A secondary question worth holding in the other hand, I would suggest, is: If we value something, how do we value it?
Attack and counter attack.
Our third indiscriminately murderous terrorist co-ordinated act since the spring. Shut down in a staggeringly impressive eight minutes flat by the capital’s security teams, but claiming eight lives so far, with nearly fifty other random individuals injured. The murmering social sound of Saturday night in the world’s most relaxedly cosmopolitan city shreiked apart by cry, gunshot and siren. For eight minutes, at least. Makes us ask, how do we value this way of life that is, we tell ourselves, ‘essentially part of what it means to be British’. Free. Colourful. Open.
What is it worth to us? And what is the currency of freedom?
Two attacks from apparent Islamist fascistas in one election. This is surely likely to divert the flow of the nation’s considerations, isn’t it? And yet, this was supposed to be the general election about >gah!< Brexit. Yet barely anyone has talked at length about that. And not a single leader has proposed any details about what they will be offering the nation as our negotiators with Europe during the next parliamentary term – because, how could they? We’ll be in the hands of beaurocrats slogging out the technicals for most of the time, not politicians. And it is Europe who will ultimately decide how we leave our agreements of partnership with them. What politicians will do is set the tone of the conversation. The relationship.
The way we talk is a pretty good indication of how we value something. Or someone. Tone. Friend or enemy. Indifferent or interested. Closed or open. Engaged or disconnected. Diplomacy is all about such theatre. The reality of how humans work, far from the spreadsheets and legal precidents. While singing from a hymn sheet, a speaker’s body language can broadcast the real story. Which is why a world leader will likely stand rigidly behind a podium when responding to national tragedy, to attempt to make the careful words the only signal. Theresa May did this on Sunday morning, outside number ten.
Her words were in line with how she has spoken on official occasions as PM before. She declared she was being clear and unambiguous. And she deployed some of the language of Britishness – refering to “Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights” and “pluralistic British values”, urging us to “continue to function in accordance with our values” and to “live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities, but as one truly United Kingdom”.
But the PM’s speech also included this: “Enough is enough” she said, “something has to change.” Reflecting a horrifying loss of life in the last fortnight alone, it’s a phrase that any Brit might say today. Children cut down at a concert in Manchester, visitors mown down on London Bridge. Something has to change. But what? It is ‘our shared values’ that are being targeted by terror movements linked to Islamist fanaticism. What is to be the cost of them to us?
In an election in which the middle political ground has collapsed in the national conversation, and the media stories pose hard-right against hard-left, invoking old ideologies, old demons and old comfort blankets of thought, the leader of the Conservative party has fared increasingly badly. Theresa May has abjectly avoided all confrontation. No debates on the media. Policed questions from any public appearances, which have been weirdly few. Brittle rehearsed lines in interviews. She is not someone at ease talking about ideas, and she has looked increasingly uncomfortable with direct challenges on anything. While Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn has begun to redefine an electorate’s expectations of how candid – how human – its politicans could appear to be.
So Mrs May tried to come out fighting. There at the podium in front of Number Ten. Because, with one phrase, she may have declared war.
“We have been far too tolerant of extremism.”
What does this mean? And who the hell is “we”?
Cost and real cost.
This election, I have postulated elsewhere, is about the story we each think we are in. Every election is. What narrative are you wanting to help write? A disaster mitigation movie, or an old utopian dream? Are there any of those left? I don’t think anyone in this UK General Election feels filled with encouragement about the feel of it. Everyone I talk to feels torn. Lots of people are undecided. And while Corbyn has been outclassing May as a human being conversing with other human beings, the reactionary anti-socialist story has been dug out of mothballs and thrown at the Labour leader so much, friends of mine – friends of mine, alive now, caring, thoughtful humans – are throwing around memes about anti-patriotism and the ‘terrifying’ prospect of this genial elbow-patched polytechnic tutor leading ‘our nation’. Add to that, the debate histrionics about whether he would push the nuke button or not, and we have good folk being moved away from rational consideration. Stories buried in our souls are being tapped into here, and it’s releasing stored drama. And all while none of the main parties are actually outlining any kind of plot for the future.
The story is that, with backs against the wall, the English will vote Tory. And it seems always true. With Scotland lost to Labour now, the main opposition party in the UK is really looking only at denting the government’s majority in the commons. But it’s a tighter race than many expected. And this is undoubtedly because we all feel torn – between wanting a more human future and wanting a more certain economically secure one.
But if the Conservatives are always the damage limitation party at least, when we consider security and economy, how are they earning this vote default today? How is Theresa May convincing you with her manifesto? And with her body language.
How do we break down the way Theresa May’s work in government values our British values. What does her statement mean?
Firstly, have you been tollerant of extremism? Because, you are clearly a villain if you have. Tacitly supporting a jihad on children. You. Always thought your eyes were too close together. What the hell does this mean? Is the Tory leader blaming British people for our indifference? I hardly think the outpouring of charity, courage and clear-headed help have looked like that. All that has looked like British values to me.
So have the British systems been tollerant of extremism? Who ran those for the last six years or so? Theresa May, as Home Secretary. Has she admitted failure? Nothing like this kind of language used, of course. Wouldn’t sound strong or stable. But if something has to change, as she says, what of the policies over the last decade were wrong? Immigration was the key issue in Brexit and she had the keys to this, officially. Intelligence is always believed to be the key to counter terrorism. She had the keys to this as well. And she locked up much of the police service’s effectiveness by cutting numbers of officers on the ground. The police themselves, in Manchester and London, are saying it is cuts that have led directly to failures of security. A simple line in a complex situation that is still chillingly relevant to policy planning. Would the Conservatives change any of this?
And would they like to change the idea of being the world’s second largest arms exporter? Are jobs of any kind more valuable than what they are paid for by?
And who we sell those arms to. Would Theresa May’s strength and stability ever enbolden her to have the difficult conversations with our largest single ally in the middle east for the sake of the British values of justice, charity and children? Could she ever be a leader of a party that thinks more commitedly about ways to need the economic relationship with Saudi Arabia to quite such the same degree, weening our own economy off oil supplies? I doubt it.
Why did the Conservatives cut police numbers? Because of the story they told us we are in. One of profligate spending by New Labour that demanded cutbacks to bring down the repayment deficit on our national debt, and maybe even the debt itself one day. We have to ‘spend within our means’ they said, and cut social wellfare costs and public services. Nurses, police, emergency services, immigration staff, local authority budgets – all reduced. To be fair and sensible with the way we spend as a nation.
Why did we balloon the national debt? The banking crisis, put simply. Our entire economic system was under threat, and we had to print money to save it. Britian PLC bailed out the banks to the tune of more money than you or I will ever practically understand. All western nations did it, in a panic, with the IMF and the EU and the US praying feverishly. It just about worked. But it pushed nations like Greece into penury, for fareness. And why? Because for a generation, our economic system has not just been built on labour units and wages, scarcity and supply, but on financialisg debt. Betting on people’s failure. Easy, talentless money – and we all got addicted to it in our exchequers. The Conservatives depleted the UK’s manufacturing base in favour of a service economy, including finance. New Labour surfed it, but Margaret Thatcher helped force it into the national identity. Demolishing communities that relied on coal as fast as she could. Valuing the economic shift more than who we took with us or lost in the process.
What is the probem with the UK economy now? One word will cover much of it – productivity. The measure of ‘what goes in and what comes out’ for the UK is now lagging behind Europe by nearly 20%, and behind the US by rather more. The cost of making stuff and how fast we can do it has all but flatlined since the banking crisis. And living standards tend to reflect such patterns. It’s not a virtuous circle we are in here. And it’s very free-market addiction issues that can be pointed to for causing this lack of productivity – crumbling under-investment in infrastructure, the growth of unskilled, cheap labour, and an over-dependence on the financial sector, rocked and diminished as it was by the crisis. Which means…
The shape of the challenge is the tax base. An ever-breathing source of oxygenation of a nation’s financial lifeblood. The Conservatives value financial wealth and the rich, aspiring to help everyone work to get it in their shared ideals, and not wishing to put off large investors and job creators with burdensome seeming demands from the exchequer. Low tax on business, incentives for large employers to base themselves here. So if they don’t want to increase taxation on anyone high up, lest we ‘scare off big players’ that leaves… cutting spending. And who does this hurt?
The poor. The young and aspiring. Those looking for education and skills training. The vulnerable. And, by degrees, this must inevitably diminish the general economic viability of our society. The more we are socially divided, the less productive and cohesive we will be. If we have to squabble about basics, the big vision stuff gets pulled out of our national conversation. If everywhere we go, fresh homeless are asking for money and help, our collective sense will increasingly be of failure, despair, gloom, resignation, embarrasment. Fear. And the answer isn’t to retreat inside a gated community like the super rich – for this timidly avoids the problem.
How do these emotional states impact the human mind? Individually, but also collectively. It’s not going to be good, is it. It’s not going to be… oh, what’s the word… inspiring.
What DO we value – and why? If we regularly hold up the NHS and its staff, service people in the armed forces, and police and security personnel as professionals and heroes of service, how do we value them? What do our values really mean? Will we spend on them? Or are they less valuable than some other things? Honestly. Things like a new nuclear deterrant to point at foreigners. Things like new nuclear powerstations to be built and owned by foreigners.
These are our values, are they? Weapons of mass destruction and offshore profits.
And is this sustainable?
Productivity – and real context.
We surely value our national service personal so highly, having NHS staff dance to fill a stadium at our olympic opening ceremony, because they remind us of how humanitarian the UK can be. We are similarly proud of our arts and culture in this country. Music, festivals, literature, theatre, film, radio, the visual arts. The work of vision. The work of looking at ourselves. The work of developing the tools to design the future – of innovation and engineering. So can we build a future that works for who we really are.
Context is everything. We each work and live in one. And it shapes who we are and what we do. What we are not, is robots. So much so that the coming immediate future will see millions of jobs lost to them – outsourced to automation. So for what good are humans? What are we useful for – meant to do? And how do we do things to the best of our ability?
We value things in more ways than we think. Economists boil down all our comings and goings into theoretical values of cash and it can look like witchcraft, such analyses. Insights of patterns that can make politicans feel like Gandalf. But humans instinctively value things in other ways. Time, being the main one. How do you most spend that?
Add up the time you spend doing things. It will give you an instant bar chart of what you’ve invested your life in. And, as someone once said, where a person’s treasure it, there too is their heart.
Where is your heart?
Where is mine?
Where is the UK’s?
Because enthusiasm for something spends time without even noticing. Is productive without even considering it so. Generates energy. Sports, family, creativity, nature, travel. All things that can cost money but fill the heart with gold. A different kind of currency in play with the supposed certainties of old money. Interesting, no?
The Conservatives have abjectly failed at boosting productivity. What is missing is… inspiration. Real investment. Investment in ideas. In what it means to be human. We are not excited about cuts. But we cannot keep building growth on a collapsing financial system. So what do we do?
We must surely begin to recognise – SEE – what we are already valuing differently.
The three bottom lines. Heard of them? Three things that the lovely first lady of Momo mentions often in her work as principles she has always looked to balance correctly for the best human outcomes in anything to do with the public realm. But really, for anything to do with humans. Social, environmental, economic. The three measures we must meet together when we attempt anything.
There is an entire essay in exploring these. But who of our politicians is planning around them? Properly. Using these measures as wise metrics for what might work for our nation. For people across the world. How all three elements of what we are are bound together – there is no economic benefit with environmental and social knock on. There is no social benefit without economic and environemental knock-on. Balance is what is needed. To make everything flow – grow – much more healthily.
Who is telling that story? The Greens. I’ve only just begun to glimpse it myself, the sheer scale of the realty opening up around us now. Far outscaling the tiny mean measure of story we are caught up in in our bitter, bonkers, grimply inevitable and strangely surprising 2017 General Election. We have to pick out battles, and there are points in time, moments in the game of progress, when you have to take a stand, defend a corner, attempt a little win in the right direction. For this reason, I have engaged in debate on line, attempting to understand other points of view as best I can as a passionate humanitarian and pompous arse. As will become apparent when I launch some of what I have been up to in the background soon, I believe in a future that can only happen if we include everyone. If we plan to be radically inclusive.
It is a weird measure of our society that what is most natural for us to do is often villified as too radical. Like living within our ecological means. Not endlessly digging resources out of one planet and burning them once only with toxic waste, and manufacturing unbinnable rubbish we don’t really need by the mountain load. This is radical. And our old economic story is living within our means.
And our values are backwards.
Except, are they? I doubt yours are. We just have to recognise them.
What would happen if we recognised them together? And truly shared them.
A revolution in wellbeing – in human being – might be sewn.
Maybe this, where I was walking back from in the below personal film, 48 hours after the events on London Bridge, represents a glimmer of a start. Is it time to start talking about what’s right with the world?
I will unpack more about #GlobalSharingWeek and the sharing economy in future. But two days before voting, this is how I am feeling.