A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Snog, marry, avoid election?

Just when you thought no-one could do any more damage to politics than politicians themselves, up steps the press. We are just days away from a general election in arguably the most critical decade in human history. So, what towering issue has the forensic scrutiny of the press homed in on? "Well, Mr Clegg, if push came to shove, who would you get into bed with?" I understand that there are over 30 permutations of what a (well) hung parliament might look like. Every press conference is dominated by questions about which position, in this political Kama Sutra, Nick Clegg is most drawn to for his next conquest. Does he prefer the cuddly self-inflatable Cameron or a bit of grumpy Brown bondage? I can't decide whether to weep, laugh or scream. We have passed the point at which serious climate damage can be avoided. What we do in the next five years will determine whether we manage our way through climate crises or slide inexorably towards climate chaos. To avoid global temperature rises of more than 2°C, annual carbon emissions have to peak by 2013 and reduce by at least 3 per cent a year thereafter. Britain's current reduction rate is 1 per cent. Even for climate sceptics, the alarm bells are ringing. Shell's 2009 annual report quietly states: "By 2015, growth in the production of easily accessible oil and gas will not match the projected rate of demand growth." Whether we face a single-dip or double-dip recession, there is an energy price spiral waiting at the end of it.

Peak oil will kick in at the same time that peak phosphate, peak soil and peak water do too. Energy security, food security, water and population migration will dominate the big picture politics of the next five years. Yet the press cannot get beyond asking Brown/Cameron/Clegg whose bum looks biggest in this picture. In all the kerfuffle about the volcanic disruption of air travel, the most important point was the least remarked on - Britain has become dependent on food imports to an extent that is as ludicrous as it is insecure. We store food in the air. Sixty-five per cent of the apples that we eat are flown in, along with 80 per cent of our apple juice, and all because we were stupid enough to tell British farmers to rip up their orchards because food was cheaper elsewhere. The volcano also brought about a mini-crisis in carnations (and roses and green beans) which could not be flown out of warehouses in Nairobi to adorn Britain's tables. No-one pointed out that this huge act of water sequestration from South to North goes on throughout a drought that leaves Kenyan tribes killing each other in pursuit of a trickle of water ... "but Mr Clegg, surely you must fancy one of them more than the other?" As each party finally gets round to unveiling their ecological agendas it is clear that the public choice is not one of change, but of small change.

Ed Miliband has brought the first fresh thinking Labour has had for years. Yet his best ideas have been scuppered or undermined by the infantile economics of the Treasury. On the occasions he escaped their clutches, the armlock of big energy and the drive of visionless officials turned any dash into a renewable energy future into little more than a shuffle. An energy crisis will hit us within five years. All the big transformations are being deferred until the decade after. Cameron seems to take the climate change issue more seriously than he is credited for. The hard question is whether the rest of his party gives a stuff. Radical decentralisation could turn Britain's towns and cities into the engine rooms of a new energy revolution, matching the leap into renewables you can already find in towns and cities across Europe. The trouble is that unless localities have the same duty as the country as a whole - ie meeting at least 15 per cent of their total energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 - none of this inventiveness will be unleashed. Devolution without duty is just hand-washing. And where is Clegg? Well, with Simon Hughes the Lib Dems have set off at a rare pace on energy and environmental transformation. He, and others, were willing to join Labour rebels and "boldly go" into seismic shifts that Downing Street recoiled from. The trouble was always in knowing whether their numbers would turn up to vote, making parliamentary votes a serious stand rather than a scouts and guides evening.

All parties talk about banking reform, but none will tell the financial sector that took Britain into the economic crisis, to pay the costs of bringing us out. Not one of the leaders promises that all future City bonuses must be matched by the same amount of bonds bought from the government's Green Infrastructure Bank. This would deliver at least £6bn a year as the City's contribution to direct ecological transformation. None of the leaders promise to end the scam of "trading" British carbon emissions, rather than reducing them ourselves. None are being challenged to do so. None will dump the delusion that Britain can offset its pollution by paying others to live a little more virtuously. None will change the rules of carbon accounting which claim that every transfer of production - and jobs - overseas pretends that Britain treads more lightly on the future. None will break the World Trade Organisation rules to prioritise British food security and more localised production. We live in a time where the central pillars in our economic system have become dysfunctional. They need to be broken and replaced, not because the British body politic needs a younger lover, but because we need a more meaningful and sustainable relationship with the future. Without this, the general election will resolve nothing. It will produce a parliament that is grumpy, fractious, introspective and short-lived. The dating game of leadership trysts will end in tears and recriminations. And the caravan of gossip columnists who used to be political correspondents will go off in search of a new romantic figure to take Britain out of the crises they currently choose to ignore. Without more fundamental change, the years ahead will spin Britain's economy round in a scarier way than any playground ride. No-one will have any doubt on which side the party leaders dress. They will all be pinned against the spinning wall of a ride that each remains wedded to. Britain's problems will not be addressed by a TV Snog, Marry, Avoid decision on May 6. If the press will not lift the debate onto a different level then the public - or ultimately the planet - will have to do so.

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