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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue