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The Times they are a` changin' … Part 3

April 20, 2020 12:00 PM
By Keith Melton

The Times they are a` changin' … Part 3

From the ChairNot only are the times a`changing` - they seem already to have changed. And, I suspect that some of the changes will have become a "New Normal" before we ever get to the point of relaxing the lockdown. In the last ten days or so we have seen the Chinese lockdown of Wuhan become far less severe and the news in the last week is that Austria is opening garden centres and DIY stores. Even Italy is experimenting with some shops being allowed to open - though not cafes or restaurants. And, most recently, Germany and New Zealand are tentatively starting to open up.

When I was out in the garden last weekend, I heard an unfamiliar sound which made me look up and there was a con trail of a plane travelling westwards. Where from and where to I know not - but the likelihood is that it was a cargo plane rather than a passenger plane. And friends who live in more urban surroundings than I do are reporting hearing birdsong during the day and seeing the sort of blue sky they have not been used to for years and reporting the ability to see more and brighter stars than for a long time.

I do not believe there will be a rapid return to air travel, not least out of a sense of fear of going to less safe places, but also because governments will not want to be the first to lift travel bans that suddenly bring a new spike of coronavirus cases. One radio news reporter suggested that politicians around the world are now conscious of the fact that there will be public inquiries, perhaps of great depth, and politicians will be reluctant to be the first to have fingers of blame picking them out for scapegoating. (And recent news reports in the Times and the Mail maybe now trying to scapegoat the PM?... or is it `scapegoating` if he really is to blame?)

A New Radical Green Settlement

I believe it is important that we now take the lead in trying to articulate what our "New Normal" should begin to look like. I made some suggestions in my last article (The Times they are a` changin' … Part 2) as to the things we would like to see in our potential new radical Green Political and Economic settlement. But we have to face the fact that we are not in the Prime Political Position to implement our preferred "New Normal" on our own.

One thing we might do, however, could be to use whatever influence and contacts we have, to bring together an array of talented thinkers and implementers of all parties and none into a joint radical, sustainable "Think Tank". I even thought of a possible working title for the aforesaid "tank" might be FIRST - the Freedom Institute for Radical and Sustainable Thought.

Alternatively, we could just work through existing routes of thoughtfulness such as the New Economics Foundation, NEF, which has been on the go for as long as the Green Liberal Democrats and our forebears, the Liberal Ecology Group. The NEF aims to …"create a new economy that by 2040 works for people and within environmental limits…" and it is true that Liberal Democrats and our own Green Liberal Democrats, such as David Boyle, have worked hand in hand with NEF over the years in developing policy ideas.

Peace, Arms reductions and getting rid of Nuclear weapons - starting with Trident

Since my article (…Part 2) where I made passing reference to reducing drastically the global arms trade and, in particular for the UK, getting rid of Trident, there have been others calling for similar things. It seems I am in good company!

The Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, has called for a Global Ceasefire…

Antonio Guterres (Antonio Guterres)He said, "Our world faces a common enemy: COVID-19. The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly. Meanwhile, armed conflict rages on around the world.

The most vulnerable - women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced - pay the highest price. They are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19.

Let's not forget that in war-ravaged countries, health systems have collapsed.

Health professionals, already few in number, have often been targeted. Refugees and others displaced by violent conflict are doubly vulnerable. The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.

That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives."

The global movement, Avaaz, has used this quote to generate a worldwide petition which has so far been signed by close to 2.5million people. Do please sign and share! https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/global_ceasefire_loc/

I fervently hope the Covid-19 pandemic has been a sufficiently clear eye-opener for our Liberal Democratic MPs to get together and call for the scrapping of Trident. That alone would be enough to make a huge difference to our NHS service in the long term and give it the recognition it deserves. Nuclear arms are the antithesis of Sustainable Development - for me this is the ultimate litmus test of whether politicians can truly be bold in the face of cold reality.

The current operating costs of Trident alone represent over £2 billion per year and the estimates for replacing Trident are at least £40 billion (Christian CND estimated last year that the replacement cost may be as high as £200 billion!) In our Changin` Times I would feel far more secure with that money being spent on nurses, doctors and equipment for the Health Service than on weapons of mass destruction. It really is time for a rethink of our Party`s policy on Trident and the Arms Industry.

Again, I find myself in good company. Bruce Kent, former General Secretary of CND has written recently about scrapping Trident. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work on the UN nuclear ban, has also pointed to the numbers of former Generals and submariners who have now declared themselves to be against such weapons.

Food Security

Still on the topic of "security", but on, perhaps, a more mundane level, the pandemic has shown up our shocking lack of food security. It took a little while to sort out, but we now have a technically superior food rationing programme. All of the major supermarkets are now rationing various types of foods, particularly if you have food deliveries or click-and-collect. You cannot, for example, have more than three jars of Bolognese or lasagne cream sauce in a shop and, frankly, you are lucky to get spaghetti - you might get penne or tagliatelle substituted for it, of course!

And all of this is done without rationing books, that some of us can actually remember as small children! Partly this has been done to ensure basic foods are available for front line NHS staff and vulnerable stay-at-home isolationists. But, partly, it has had to be done because we have become too dependent upon just-in-time deliveries and long supply chains, having to depend for our food on the commerce of foreign countries (and their kindness!?)

As well as needing to grow more of our own food to ensure long-term security, the countryside and biodiversity would benefit tremendously from a greater variety of crops being grown on UK soil. We should be building a radically refreshed, more environmentally friendly, agricultural industry. This may mean that food takes up a greater share of the family budget for many families. To offset this, however, we need also to look at a more generous economic settlement for society which includes an unconditional, or universal, basic income scheme (UBI) and a changed taxation system to pay for it - all things which I have mentioned before.

Tim Lang is Professor of Food Policy at the Centre for Food Policy at City University of London and his recently published book, "Feeding Britain: Our Food Problems and How to Fix Them" contains this sentence…

"For a country blessed with a relatively benign climate not to maximise its own sustainable food produce is immoral and could come back to haunt us…"…and he goes on. "A powerful strand of both the British political Right and Left subscribes to the view…that all that matters is to fill bellies as cheaply as possible. This is both stupid and dangerous."

Our radical Green Liberal settlement must take this notion on board and call for appropriate changes as we emerge from this forced hiatus in our previously unthinking rush towards oblivion.

And finally…

Economic alarm bells are being set off about the scale of the economic `hit` we will all suffer because of the extended lockdown. Certain sectors look as though they will not easily or quickly recover - not least the hospitality sector which may struggle with both the length of the shut-down for them, but also the remaining `fear` which is likely to militate against crowded social situations for quite a while after a modest "all (maybe) clear" is sounded.

Can we apply our Green Liberal Democrat `hive mind` to potential solutions for building up sustainable economic activity to mitigate the inevitable harm that will be done to these `at-risk` sectors?

Let me give you a `starter for ten`. As seems to be the case in other countries emerging from lockdown, one of the earliest areas for opening up is likely to be schools. However, to minimise risks associated with larger class sizes and the need to maintain some form of physical distancing, teachers will need to have help in breaking class sizes down to smaller groups. This will need numbers of teaching assistants, offering increases in job opportunities. This in turn will need to be financially resourced, so education budgets need to take a higher priority as we open up. This needs both planning and political will.

Would you all, as you read this, apply your minds to what could be real, positive, environmentally sound ways of emerging through to the `other side` of our economic challenge. I look forward to hearing from you… responses to keith.melton@greenlibdems.org.uk please.

If you missed reading "The Times they are a` changin` " Part One or Part Two you can see them by clicking the green link.