I am haunted by a dream that I live in a country which is run by a government that was never elected; which is implementing a legislative program that was never put to the people at a general election; which consists of a second chamber that is unelected; which is commented upon by a media that is compliant; and which enjoys the support of those whose entitlements are mostly hereditary or, at least, class based and, therefore, natural to them and no one else.
Last night I went to a celebration of the Gay Liberation Front at Charleston called “A Gay Outing.” GLF was founded in London in 1970 one year after the Stonewall Inn riots in Manhattan, New York City. Charleston was the Sussex home of Vanessa Bell whose sister was Virginia Woolf. Charleston was a family home where what has become known as “Bloomsbury” artists, writers, intellectuals and others stayed. It was place in the first half of the twentieth century where people were free to have the heterosexual and homosexual relationships they wanted to have. And, therefore, an appropriate place to celebrate GLF.
The evening was particularly interesting because the panel discussion at the end of the program focussed on the origins and first days of the GLF and the context and times in which these events occurred. The discussion also contrasted that period with the present, including speculation under the ConDems coalition government whether any of the progress made for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people could be undone.
Listening to the discussion I was struck by the arc of time from what it was like to live in the UK as gay people in the 1970s to the present and how this span can be only fully appreciated when it is described by those who have lived it. I learnt from writing Animal Dharma that I believed at the time I got involved with the animal rights movement in the mid-1970s that I was in on its beginning. This, of course, is far from the truth as there was much that happened prior to my involvement. This was something I didn’t want to know and my adolescent arrogance wouldn’t have permitted. Today, I feel very differently and regret the animal rights movement pays very little attention to its past. This saddens me for no other reason other than we can learn from past mistakes which I see repeated all the time.
So, last night’s panel, which included historian Jeffrey Weeks, writer Elizabeth Wilson and transsexual activist Roz Kaveney, talked about how 40 years ago a radical GLBT social movement was born when GLF was founded. This discussion recognised, however, that there were individuals (e.g., Antony Grey) and organisations (e.g., Committee for Homosexual Equality) which pre-existed them but whose strategies were more focussed on legislative change and not on cultural and societal change as GLF was.
All of this led to a fascinating discussion about social movements and how they’re structured and organised, function and disfunction. I was intrigued by the comments made by Jeffrey Weeks about Antony Grey and CHE. He said his view of them had changed from 40 years ago when he thought they were conservative and irrelevant (my phrase, not his) to today when he recognised the vital and unique role they played as part of an essential comprehensive strategy. For example, GLF created the cultural space for people to love those of the same sex but CHE played a key role in helping to change the law so that same-sex among consenting adults became legal.
One of the panelists spoke about history moving forward “gradually and contradictorily.” This point rings so true for me. Further, I think it can be only appreciated with an understanding of the complex nature of social movements and how such a complex being as human society changes. We may well be on the cusp of a new time when the hard-fought for victories for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people are undone by a conservative government rolling back the state under the banner of alleged much-needed financial cutbacks. I was struck by Roz Kaveney who questioned the impact on transgendered people, who rely upon the National Health Service to meet their needs with surgery and medication, and the ConDem’s push to privatise the NHS. Some consolation was made in the remarks of one person who thought that the significant change in a positive cultural attitude toward gay issues could not be undone by any occasional but nonetheless determined political counter move.
What has all this got to do with the animal rights movement? Plenty. For a start, one speaker spoke last night about how diverse the gay world is today ranging from any number of polar opposites in political, social and economic perspectives. I thought this should be seen as a strength because it more accurately reflected the complexity of our society thereby making it more likely for it to move forward as one entity toward a progressive outlook. This diversity should, I think, be reflected in the animal advocacy movement. It’s strength is learning how to balance strategically and programmatically the utopian vision of animal rights on the one hand and the pragmatic politics of animal welfare on the other. It’s a tension where each side needs the other in order to move forward. There are always going to be those who are invested in one and attack the other. But I think an appreciation of each side’s strengths and weaknesses and how they could be complemented with insight and vision would make all the difference.
I left Charleston thinking that there are lessons we should learn from the past of not only those who campaign for animals but also those in other social movements like GLBT.
Last Friday evening at Canary Wharf I attended a large hustings meeting for the Labour leadership. All candidates were present and answered questions from the floor. There was very little disagreement between them. Just a few cases of personal sniping.
I’m trending toward one of Miliband brothers. If I had to pick one it would be Ed. Why? Simply because he seems less tainted by Labour’s Blair/Brown past. He’s also outspoken on the environment and was impressive as Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change. But I think David Miliband would be also ok; however, he’s got some form with Labour’s negative past. This “form” may be minimal, however. Either of the Milibands is acceptable to me.
I’m least impressed with Ed Balls. My hunch is that he’s, well, let’s just say, difficult. Difficult people are important to have but they often lack leadership abilities. Their personalities are often divisive. I think Andy Burnham is impressive. He’s particularly strong on the National Health Service. I’m not sure he’s ready to be the party’s leader, however. I would like to see him run the Department of Health again. He proposed a National Care Service to complement the National Health Service when he ran the NHS. I like this idea a lot and would love to see it happen. It’s a good idea of what a “Big Society” should be but any “Big Society” proposed by the ConDems, as they are, is going to be a return to a Victorian society when charity was a major force. Simply, I can’t trust anything the ConDems propose or do which is in principle a good idea because the way they will implement it will stay resonate with old Tory and conservative values.
Diane Abbot spoke well at the hustings meeting. I liked how she blanked the BBC Radio 4 interviewer yesterday when asked yet again about sending her son to a private school. At the hustings she identified this as the most difficult decision she ever had to make. She’s a leader on the back benches helping to make sure the Labour Party and future Labour governments stay on track. In fact, I’d like to see her even more outspoken She’s capable of having a considerable influence as a progressive, independent voice for socialism.
One fundamentally important factor about making this decision is determining which of the candidates is best qualified to be able to lead Labour back into power as the national government. Of the candidates standing I think only one of the Milibands is capable of achieving this challenge. So, to conclude, I’m trending toward Ed but David would do.
Guardian columnist Felicity Lawrence got to the heart of the matter in her recent column when she concluded, “In their Big Society [ConDem coalition] – which casts everything as personal responsibility – social injustice, like obesity, is indeed a moral failure, but only on the part of those who suffer it.” So, this morning’s news that the Food Standards Agency is to be abolished and folded into the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not surprising. Under the cover of the need to cut the country’s debt, which they claim is the responsibility of the previous Labour government while conveniently forgetting about the financial crisis caused by the “casino bankers,” the ConDems pursue an ideological agenda to privatise state programs like consumer protection and health care. What’s next? Slogans such as Your National Health Service is brought to you by Pepsi, BP and McDonalds.
UK Coalition Government Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, as reported in The Guardian on July 7.
It’s perfectly possible to eat a bag of crisps, to eat a Mars bar, to drink a carbonated soft drink, but do it in moderation, understanding your overall diet and lifestyle. Then you can begin to take responsibility for it.”
Published in The Guardian on June 19 I have only recently been able to catch up with reading this persuassvive criticism by Naomi Klein which frames the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill in the context of a larger criticism of capitalism.
In the arc of human history, the notion that nature is a machine for us to re-engineer at will is a relatively recent conceit. In her ground-breaking 1980 book The Death of Nature, the environmental historian Carolyn Merchant reminded readers that up until the 1600s, the Earth was alive, usually taking the form of a mother. Europeans – like indigenous people the world over – believed the planet to be a living organism, full of life-giving powers but also wrathful tempers. There were, for this reason, strong taboos against actions that would deform and desecrate “the mother”, including mining. The metaphor changed with the unlocking of some (but by no means all) of nature’s mysteries during the scientific revolution of the 1600s. With nature now cast as a machine, devoid of mystery or divinity, its component parts could be dammed, extracted and remade with impunity. Nature still sometimes appeared as a woman, but one easily dominated and subdued. Sir Francis Bacon best encapsulated the new ethos when he wrote in the 1623 De dignitate et augmentis scientiarumthat nature is to be “put in constraint, moulded, and made as it were new by art and the hand of man”. Those words may as well have been BP’s corporate mission statement. Boldly inhabiting what the company called “the energy frontier”, it dabbled in synthesising methane-producing microbes and announced that “a new area of investigation” would be geoengineering. And of course it bragged that, at its Tiber prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, it now had “the deepest well ever drilled by the oil and gas industry” – as deep under the ocean floor as jets fly overhead.
Earlier this year Michael Foster, who was the Labour MP for Hastings and Rye before his defeat by Conservative candidate Amber Rudd at the general election in May, presented a petition of 4,000 names to Parliament in support of the Hunting Act 2004. Michael recently forwarded to me the official response from the now Tory run Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which states:
Observations from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: The Hunting Act was passed by Parliament in 2004. It has not been demonstrable success and is difficult to enforce. Only three hunts have been successfully prosecuted for illegal hunting. There are many more pressing issues for parliamentary time at the moment, but the Government wish to give Parliament the opportunity to review the Hunting Act and, if it wishes, repeal this legislation. The Government will, therefore, put a motion before the House of Commons on whether the Hunting Act should be repealed and, if the motion is carried, it will bring forward legislation in due course.
The claim that the Act “has not been demonstrable success” is, of course, a matter of subjective opinion. To say that it is “difficult to enforce” should not necessarily make it irredeemable. Should we, then, only pass laws that are only easy to enforce? Of course, more to the point is that not enough law enforcement resources are deployed or it is not considered to be a priority. There is, of course, the socio-economic and cultural context of law enforcement having to ensure a law is obeyed by those who generally are members of the ruling elite who still have disproportionate influence over this country notwithstanding their relatively trivial number.
A briefing on the Hunting Act published by the RSPCA showed prosecutions under the Hunting Act compared favorably with other wildlife legislation, including the Badgers Act 1991, Deer Act 1991 and Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. Further, IFAW identifies more than 100 prosecutions under the Hunting Act. So, we have to wonder why DEFRA chooses only to identify three.
Yes, of course, there are many more pressing issues. So, why are the ConDems making such a fuss over the repeal of the Hunting Act? What’s next: the return of bear baiting and dog fighting? Back street abortions anyone? Repeal of the right for women to vote? Push the homosexuals back into the closet?
In a recent study of health care in seven countries (Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States) the Netherlands ranks first, followed closely by the UK and Australia. The US ranks last overall, as it had in earlier studies.
Important columnist Johann Hari ask this vital question — In 1980, the average CEO in America and the UK took 42 times the average worker’s wage. By 2000, it was 531 times. Did CEOs become 12 times more effective? Or was this another trick of the boom-light? — in a discussion of a new book by David Bolchover, Pay Check: Are Top Earners Really Worth It?, Hari concludes,
Bolchover suggests when a company has narrowed its CEO selection down to six good candidates, it should ask everyone on the shortlist to name the lowest wage and bonus package they are prepared to work for. The one who comes in with the lowest bid should get the job. (There would be a reasonable floor to make sure independently rich people didn’t fill them all by offering to work for £1.) Plenty of extremely able people would be happy to run a major corporation for a fraction of the current pay: the prime minister earns £130,000 a year, and there’s no shortage of candidates. Government regulation should make this standard practice. Suddenly, instead of the endless puffing up of CEO pay, it would start to fall to reasonable levels. It would be hugely popular: a poll for the Financial Times found 80 per cent of us think business leaders are overpaid. It would be a sign – at last – of a return to sobriety after the crazed, confected amphetamine rush of the boom-dream.
It would be interesting to see this idea put into practice by, perhaps, starting with the salaries of CEOs in the not-for-profit sector.
Caroline Lucas’s election as the Green Party Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion is a significant accomplishment and a beacon of hope in an otherwise dismal election. Listening to her on BBC Radio 4’s “Any Questions” reinforces my view of her as an articulate and capable politician. She’s more than proved herself to be an able leader in a country which is in dire need of truly visionary thinking.
I make no secret of my support of the Labour Party because I see from its history, including from the last government, that it’s a progressive social force which has championed virtually every positive change in the UK. In order for me to consider any support for the Green Party I’ve also got to see similar — and I don’t mean exactly the same — track record of real political accomplishments.
But there’s been a nagging thought in the back of my mind about the strategy of becoming an MP rather than persevering as an MEP, as she was until her election to the British Parliament.
Yes, the UK Parliament is the heart of democracy in this country but increasingly we live in an international world and in particular we live in the European Union. So, why give up a power base in the EU for an albeit different one in the UK? I’m mindful that animal welfare represent in some way many other issues in that there is simultaneously UK and EU legislation with the latter in certain circumstances trumping the former. When I look to the future I see a UK which is increasingly integrated into the EU. Clearly, what happens in Parliament as well as the Assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, will influence what happens in the EU.
But if Caroline wants to be at the forefront of an international stage providing truly transnational leadership that matters, why give up the EU for the UK when her leadership could take more than just the UK but also the rest of the EU to new horizons?
By asking this question I’m not impugning Caroline’s character or motives in any way. As I say, it’s just a nagging thought.