A new statesman?

The Bagpuss and Clangers creator issues a stark warning about the fate of the planet unless some tou

Yes! Yes indeed! If there’s one thing the world needs most urgently just now it is a new statesman, or come to that, an old statesman or stateswoman, one, or half a dozen even, who can draw the world’s attention to the sorry state it has got itself into, and persuade it to sort itself out.

Where would such a statesman start? What qualities would be needed? Courage, certainly. Also a complete absence of personal or political agenda; to be widely recognised and universally respected for sincerity, truthfulness and have the stature and authority to deliver. It’s a lot to ask.

But, literally at this moment in time, the need is simpler. We need a statesman with one over-arching faculty: the ability to recognise, bring to public attention and act on, an imperative.

What is this imperative?

Listen . . .Faintly, from over a quarter of a century ago, I can hear the icy Welsh voice of the Trade Union leader, Clive Jenkins, declaring gleefully: "The Cap-it-al-ist System has failed!"

Don’t be alarmed! I’m not suggesting that Clive Jenkins might have been the statesman we need. At the time his words just reminded me that Capitalism is not so much a System as a naturally-occurring growth: "wherever two or three are gathered together in its name, one of them will very likely open a shop."

So whether it’s called capitalism, honest trade, market economics or exploitation, the unbridled, self-generating search for personal gain has always been the driving-force of human life – and equally, a function of government has been to bridle it, to guard the welfare of the many and of the world itself, from the depredations of the greedy few (and pigs were meant to fly).

But Clive Jenkins’ words were prophetic. Human housekeeping has at last failed, not because it has ceased to grow and prosper, but because, like shot lettuce in an untended allotment, it has let itself grow into such an absurdity of self-indulgence that it has been blindly despoiling the planet, profligately using up its resources as if there was no tomorrow and has at last suddenly noticed something that has long been in front of its eyes – that there is no tomorrow.

The government has at last brought itself to admit that man-made global warming is the most dangerous peril that the human race has failed to face, and it is now busy failing to face it.
That sounds unduly damning, but it seems to be true. Having admitted the existence of global warming, the government has examined the evidence and has chosen to adopt a particularly optimistic prediction of the future effects of global warming. A prediction that has been recognised by its own chief scientist as being ‘politically biased’ (BBC Today 27 10 05). Its reason for doing this is that it allows more time than there is available, nearly half a century, in which to make corrections to the ‘economic system’ without unduly disturbing the river of conspicuous consumption on which it depends.

The likelihood that the chosen prediction, the prophetic “target” adopted by the government, could lead to the suicide of the world is now well known and is confirmed by the realistic and up-to-date research which takes into account the self-inducing nature of global warming and suspects that the time left may just be a few years*. But, looked at as a political policy, the draconian legislation that would be needed to save the world in the time left, does not seem to be being regarded as politically realistic and is therefore not likely to be brought forward.

So where does that leave us?

Us? The government has already chosen for us. For years now we have been farmed by the supermarkets and the supermarket-style government. We are free, free to have whatever opinions we fancy, because it doesn’t make any difference what we think, so long as we go on shopping.

So what the government seems to have settled for is the prospect of a slow death-sentence for the world rather than a sudden difficult attempt to save it. Not because it is deliberately callous but because it doesn’t think it could sell the idea of compulsory privations to an electorate so softened by years of ever-increasing standards-of-living that it has come to assume that complacent affluence is a basic entitlement, something it couldn’t be expected to live without. Oddly enough I am old enough to remember the so-called privations which we all lived through during the 1939-1947 war, and I know they were all right. But all the same I can see that, if they had an option, few people would fancy to try it again.

The difficulty is that in this case there isn’t any option. The prophesies and predictions offered by enterprising climatologists are just that: auguries, about as definitive as the entrails of chickens were to the Romans. We cannot base the life or death of our children on guesses. The only chance we have of saving the world is to cut CO2 emissions to near-zero immediately and so hope to reverse global warming while there is still time. That is the imperative.

This is difficult to come to terms with. Quite seriously, I doubt if many politicians know what an imperative actually is. Like most of us, they are conditioned to assuming that there is always choice, that life goes on; that ‘global warming’ is just one among many issues on which they can take a posture.

The political parties are already jostling and competing to show which is the greenest by proposing small cosmetic gestures intended to give the impression that they will reduce the ever-growing rate of CO2 emission. While all the time I suspect that they are fending off the thought that they might be kidding themselves, going along with the illusion of safety offered by the ‘chosen version’ rather than facing the fact that all the time there is a space-ship hovering out there, quietly brewing up to destroy life on earth. It may be called the sun, but that is what it is.

The statesman, or stateswoman, if there is one out there, might just discover that the human race is not after all as stupid as it has been led to believe it is. Then we might find ourselves a future, one in which common-sense and compassion are allowed to inform our natural greed, in a world that is safe at last.

© 2006 Oliver Postgate

* more about this on http://www.oliverpostgate.co.uk/archive16.html

Oliver Postgate was the creator of Bagpuss, the Clangers, Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog. His autobiography depicts his passage from grinning show-off to grisly old git, a journey that included not only a prison sentence but also a thirty-year period working with Peter Firmin in cow-shed and pig-sty, making small films. Oliver died on 8 December, 2008
Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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