The worst thing about the coalition? The wasted opportunities

The chance to build a different kind of economy after the crash was lost. For real change, voters should look to the Greens.

As the saying goes, as one door closes, a window opens. Sadly the coalition’s approach to the feng shui of government has been to slam shut important policy windows, bolt the doors and throw away the key. This is a government of wasted opportunity.

2008-2010 represented a period of dramatic change – not just in the financial markets but in the arena of economic debate. As the housing boom turned to bust, questions were asked of the fable that unshackled capitalism, big business and endless growth should be the raison d’etre of government policy.

Paul Gilding’s book The Great Disruption: How the climate crisis will transform the global economy used a Boserupian framework to argue that, unless large (though ultimately positive) changes are made to our world economy, 2008 will only be a taste of things to come. Even David Cameron, leader of a party which, as its name suggests, is not generally enthusiastic about change, promised a great deal. He was snapped hugging hoodies and huskies, he added a lick of green (wash) to the Conservative emblem and he talked up the importance of people’s happiness as a guiding principle of government.

The latter of these points built upon a decade of important work in social science interrogating the assumed wisdom that happiness is inexorably linked to economic growth. Richard Layard’s book Happiness laid some of the foundations since built upon by the likes of the new economics foundation (nef). Layard showed how unequal societies driven by the need to earn more money and accumulate more goods are not only destructive to the earth but also to people’s happiness. Happier societies are those built on community values, family-life and a declaration of stalemate in the war to keep up with the Joneses.

Against this background, 2010 was supposed to be an election of great change. The public were prepared for it. We all bought into the idea that there was going to be painful but necessary change as easily as we have bought into the world of cats pulling grumpy faces. Sadly, the government let us down. Change, yes. Painful, undoubtedly. Positive, no. George Osborne has gone back to fuelling a housing bubble as if 2008 never happened. They’ve taken a slash and burn approach to benefits. Not only is action on climate change now off the menu but we’ve regressed to a point where denying its very existence is an okay thing to say in a mainstream broadsheet newspaper. Even Labour’s not-really-that-left-wing announcements at conference have been easily portrayed as the ghosts of Communist past. The coalition has divided and conquered.

What’s become apparent is that if you want real change, you have to vote for it – rather than expecting it from established parties who promise much but are ultimately encased by the trappings of their traditional backers, funders, and thinkers.

That’s why I’m a Green Party supporter: because they’re a party that believes in, and is committed to, change. They don’t think it unreasonable to give everyone a bigger slice of the pie when currently the top 1% possess the same wealth as 60% of the UK population combined. They don’t think it strange to suggest that everyone should earn at least the living wage – one that they can build a life around. They believe in the importance of community and a rejection of the old idiom that we live to work. They don’t think that privatisation has been a resounding success – not least for the railways. And, they believe we can tackle climate change and do so in a way that builds a better future around renewable energy and a sustainable and creative use of resources.

If you’re not satisfied with your current government provider and you’re thinking of switching, I’d certainly urge you to investigate the positive vision offered by the Greens.

Matt Hawkins is co-media office of the London Green Party

David Cameron and Nick Clegg visit Wandsworth Day Nursery on March 19, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Matt Hawkins is co-media officer of the London Green Party

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Charlottesville: a town haunted by the far right

Locals fear a bitter far right will return.

On 12 August, a car ploughed down pedestrians in the street where I used to buy my pecan pies. I had recently returned to London from Charlottesville, Virginia – the scene of what appears to have been an act of white supremacist terrorism – having worked and taught at the university there for four years. While I unpacked boxes of books, the streets I knew so well were full of hate and fire.

The horror began on the evening of Friday 11 August, when thugs with torches marched across the “Lawn”. Running through the heart of the university, this is where, each Halloween, children don ghoulish costumes and trick-or-treat delighted and generous fourth-year undergraduates.

But there were true monsters there that night. They took their stand on the steps of the neoclassical Rotunda – the site of graduation – to face down a congregation about to spill out of St Paul’s Episcopal opposite.

Then, on Saturday morning, a teeming mass of different groups gathered in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), where my toddler ran through splash pads in the summer.

We knew it was coming. Some of the groups were at previous events in Charlottesville’s “summer of hate”. Ever since a permit was granted for the “Unite the Right” march, we feared that this would be a tipping point. I am unsure whether I should have been there, or whether I was wise to stay away.

The truth is that this had nothing to do with Charlottesville – and everything to do with it. From one perspective, our small, sleepy university town near the Blue Ridge Mountains was the victim of a showdown between out-of-towners. The fighting was largely not between local neo-Nazis and African Americans, or their white neighbours, for that matter. It was between neo-Nazis from far afield – James Alex Fields, Jr, accused of being the driver of the lethal Dodge Challenger, was born in Kentucky and lives in Ohio – and outside groups such as “Antifa” (anti-fascist). It was a foreign culture that was foisted upon the city.

Charlottesville is to the American east coast what Berkeley is to the west: a bastion of liberalism and political correctness, supportive of the kind of social change that the alt-right despises. Just off camera in the national newsfeeds was a banner hung from the public  library at the entrance of Emancipation Park, reading: “Proud of diversity”.

I heard more snippets of information as events unfolded. The counter-protesters began the day by drawing on the strength of the black church. A 6am prayer meeting at our local church, First Baptist on Main (the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together before the Civil War), set the tone for the non-violent opposition.

The preacher told the congregation: “We can’t hate these brothers. They have a twisted ideology and they are deeply mistaken in their claim to follow Christ, but they are still our brothers.” Then he introduced the hymns. “The resistance of black people to oppression has only been kept alive through music.”

The congregation exited on to Main Street, opposite my old butcher JM Stock Provisions, and walked down to the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – the early 19th-century Bear Grylls types who explored the west. They went past Feast! – the delicacy market where we used to spend our Saturday mornings – and on to the dreamy downtown mall where my wife and I strolled on summer evenings and ate southern-fried chicken at the Whiskey Jar.

The permit for the “protest” was noon to 5pm but violence erupted earlier. Between 10.30am and 12pm, the white supremacists, protected by a paramilitary guard, attacked their opponents. As the skirmishes intensified, police were forced to encircle the clashing groups and created, in effect, a bizarre zone of “acceptable” violence. Until the governor declared a state of emergency, grown men threw bottles of piss at each other.

At noon, the crowd was dispersed and the protesters spilled out into the side streets. This was when the riot climaxed with the horrific death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, the far-right groups marauded the suburbs while residents locked their doors and closed their blinds.

I sat in London late into the night as information and prayer requests trickled through. “There are roughly 1,000 Nazis/KKK/alt-right/southern nationalists still around – in a city of 50,000 residents. If you’re the praying type, keep it up.”

No one in Charlottesville is in any doubt as to how this atrocity became possible. Donald Trump has brought these sects to group consciousness. They have risen above their infighting to articulate a common ground, transcending the bickering that mercifully held them back in the past.

In the immediate aftermath, there is clarity as well as fury. My colleague Charles Mathewes, a theologian and historian, remarked: “I still cannot believe we have to fight Nazis – real, actual, swastika-flag-waving, be-uniformed, gun-toting Nazis, along with armed, explicit racists, white supremacists and KKK members. I mean, was the 20th century simply forgotten?”

There is also a sense of foreboding, because the overwhelming feeling with which the enemy left was not triumph but bitterness. Their permit had been to protest from noon to 5pm. They terrorised a town with their chants of “Blood and soil!” but their free speech was apparently not heard. Their safe space, they claim, was not protected.

The next day, the organiser of the march, Jason Kessler, held a press conference to air his grievances. The fear is that the indignant white supremacists will be back in greater force to press their rights.

If that happens, there is one certainty. At one point during the dawn service at First Baptist, a black woman took the stand. “Our people have been oppressed for 400 years,” she said. “What we have learned is that the only weapon which wins the war is love.”

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear