The Compass and the Pit
Most people know what a compass is for and could find north. Fewer are those who know how to navigate using a compass. Fewer still can confidently find their way when reference points are obscured.
Elections are supposed to return those individuals to public office who we believe are best able to guide us through unknown challenges ahead. It’s imperfect but as Winston Churchill once noted, it’s better than the alternatives. In retrospect, we imagine that politicians in the UK emerge from the ranks of local council elections, trade unions or private business, blinking into the glare of public scrutiny but able to cogently if not coherently and consistently answer simple questions.
The UK Government, particularly current cabinet ministers, give a complete lie to this ideal. In the wake of the revelation that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s wife was avoiding paying a fare share of tax, there were whispers that as many as twenty ministers were either registered as domiciled for tax purposes overseas or were using other arrangements to avoid the full proportion of tax due. Many of them are millionaires, wealthy before they took office. Though camels never have fit through the eyes of needles, being wealthy is not a crime and should be no bar to serving in public office but many hard-working families, struggling to pay for both groceries and warmth, must be wondering what motivation there is for someone independently wealthy to be taking a ministerial salary and still finding it necessary to fail to fulfil the minimum standards required of a British citizen. Ever since the UK Government allowed Tory party donors to buy their passports, paying a fair share of tax has become a much better indicator of who truly qualifies for citizenship here.
It doesn’t seem unreasonable then to say a full declaration of income and taxes paid should be the minimum required of any candidate for national election, let alone the most senior members of government but they’re so busy firefighting the breakout of flaming scrutiny, ideas for restoring trust with the electorate must be far down the list.
That we have yet to see the three-hundred-plus photographs of the various drunken parties held at No.10 Downing Street is only by accident of police procedure. Unofficial leak to the red tops or not, we will all one day see those images, and the question will remain why police officers had the power to decide whether we saw those photographs or not in advance of an election because surely, if seeing the people captured in criminal action can influence an election, voters should see those pictures now and not after casting their ballot.
Issues of trust in national, (UK)Government, matter at a time of local elections because how else are members of an electorate to express their disapproval except by voting against the representatives of that government at community level? It should not be this way but because the moral compass in London hasn’t just been lost but was so resolutely smashed by these Russian-sponsored orcs, we’ve all seen on social media voters being told to vote Tory if they want their local authorities to be at the head of the queue for funding. Bribery remains against the law but complaints appear few.
Issues of trust in UK Government matter to us in Scotland because we have a party of devolved government who continue to repeat the discredited line about seeking permission for a Section 30 Order from Westminster, rather than using the principal device made available in the Scotland Act 2016: the use of a plebiscite or super-majority. This would have been the quickest, easiest way to bring Scotland out of harm’s way and crucially, a method which would have avoided any legal challenge in the courts. It would also, in the wake of independence, give voters in England and Wales a vital opportunity to finally demand a written constitution that would protect their rights and ensure that future PMs could not break the law and continue bumbling on as before.
But issues of trust in the UK Government matter even more internationally. Just one Tory MP, David Wolfson, has questioned how a government under Boris Johnson can, “credibly defend democratic norms abroad, especially at a time of war in Europe, if we are not seen to be resolutely committed both to the observance of the law and also to the rule of law..” when he resigned as a justice minister. Sending munitions to Ukraine to replace those lost in defence of a sovereign nation is very laudable, perhaps the only worthwhile thing that the UK Government has done in Europe since Boris became PM but no-one should have forgotten that if it were not for the Tory cuts that stripped-out the UK’s Armed Forces in the first place, we’d have been able to send much more equipment.
The war in Ukraine is not going to be over quickly. Even with a lack of the main battle tanks that Germany’s Chancellor is too beholden to Gazprom to send, those defending their sovereign nation have committed to destroying Russian lines of supply and smaller units wherever they’re found. The war in Ukraine will not be over quickly because it will in the months and years ahead, press into Moldova and Georgia and from there, into Poland and the Baltic States. The assumption has been that once Putin has achieved his objectives, the invasion will stop. Only, it’s not an invasion: it’s an exercise in global destabilisation. Again, I would implore anyone with the ears of a government minister to get a copy of Aleksandr Dugin’s ‘Foundations of Geopolitics’ because the only thing that hasn’t changed in over two decades of Putin’s rule, are the long-term goals set-out in that extremely disturbing text.
The racist aims of the government in Moscow are to destroy Ukrainian culture, language and the pro-EU ambitions of the people along Russia’s border. This is being achieved because we’re still using of terms of reference for the conflict from the same era as Russia’s T72 tanks. The actual aims of Putin and others who share his medieval blood-and-soil nationalism are simply to destabilise democracy, and the simplest way to do this is to disrupt the inter-dependence of global supply.
The limitations on how much sunflower oil you can buy in UK supermarkets announced yesterday were not unpredictable but from a Russian Nationalist’s point-of-view, quite deliberate. The impact on global wheat prices will not just affect how much your loaf of bread costs but your take-away burger, your pasta, any food with a sauce in it, breakfast cereal, animal feed and so on. Consider also that the Donbas is the largest untapped source of lithium in Europe, a fact that Europe’s media and governments are still to discuss with citizens, and you’re starting to see why Putin calculated he can invade a sovereign country and get away with it. While we were keen as voters to get on with saving the future for our children and grandchildren, pressing our governments to finally stop taking calls from oil-and-gas lobbyists, Moscow saw it’s chance to influence global politics begin to diminish in parallel with a decline in living standards, life expectancy and population growth.
While commentators are busy this morning complaining that the Fail on Sunday is misogynistically targeting Angela Raynor, we’re not asking why the orcs have kidnapped more than half-a-million civilians from eastern Ukraine and relocated them as slave labour to Siberia and Russia’s interior.
Russia has a collapsing rural population with fewer workers capable of working in the fields and in mines. Russia’s wealth is built on the export of raw materials. It has no technology, no service industry, no trade-able skills of any sort except genocide. In the very short term, Russia has so few young men to sustain a volunteer army of any size, it has had to draw 20,000 mercenaries from across north Africa, Syria and Chechnya to fill the gap in losses sustained so far.
Five million civilians have left Ukraine in a westward direction but many evacuated forcibly to the east (forcible because obviously, people wouldn’t have had to leave areas of bombardment if Ukraine hadn’t been invaded), relocated to areas where a labour force is needed but at such a distance, people with no money will not be able to return without outside help which is perhaps why these people are having their mobile phones taken from them. It’s not just mass graves we need to be looking for as the more conscientious among us worry about unlearned lessons from history.
Morality matters. A moral compass matters. Like it or not, we’ve been engaged in the slow-burn of a new world war since at least 2014. Failing to hold our governments to account in previous elections and failing to insist that they maintain even a minimum of probity has left us in a position where the needs of our economy and general well-being are so intertwined with the diktat of a war criminal that we wrongly believe our options are limited.
By not asking questions about our politics beyond what our newspapers and TV insist is the political conversation of the UK, we’ve dug ourselves a deep hole. Even those of us able to follow the stories linking the way our financial services acts as a link between money stolen overseas, MPs more concerned about delivering what lobbyists demand, what newspapers are printing, the holllowing-out of national utilities and other resources, the decline in our living standards and perceptions of collapse in national prestige, have become so distracted, we can’t see the wider view because we’re in a pit. There are so few points of reference down here that even if we had a compass, we’d never find our way.
We must all learn to look up, to agree what we expect as a minimum from our politicians even as we demand the maximum, and this project begins with a written constitution. It’s absolutely outrageous that the only person with the power to remove a criminal Prime Minister is the same PM. Lawbreakers cannot also be lawmakers. Not here, and certainly not in projecting the rule of law overseas.
Morality matters. It matters at the UK Government level; it matters at the Scottish Government level and it will matter at local council level. Perhaps because what goes on in our communities is the most visible sign of what ails our society, the presence of foodbanks and children going to school cold and hungry will in the future be seen as the sign we needed to rediscover our bearings but for now, we need to select councillors with a solid understanding of how a moral compass works. We can and will attend to the criminals in national government after the local elections.