“Our ill-functioning democracy made a decision and now we must strenuously make a go of it”

by John Bird, Founder and editor-in-chief of THE BIG ISSUE

History is a great place to spend your time in if you want to get some balance about what is happening in the here-and-now

As the effects of Brexit reach down into the economy, I take a flight away from our islands to France to attend a writing group. It does feel different being in a country that for the last 43 years has been annexed to us; or us to them.

Forty-three years is a long time to be together; and then suddenly sundered apart. I look around at the green fields and the little cafes and do feel different from when I was here last.

The writing group is great. I come away feeling that I am on top of my ambition to finish my book about a fairy who is created to change history but who only manages it once over 410 years. Nippit-in-the-bud is a serious anti-idealist fairy, determined to stop human cock-ups but falls down constantly, aghast at the self-inflicted
sufferings that humans fashion for themselves.

I might have to add a chapter with Nippit-in-the-bud trying to talk Boris Johnson and his cohort of Brexiters out of it and, of course, failing in the process.

History is a great place to spend your time in if you want to get some balance about what is happening in the here-and-nowHistory is a great place to spend your time in if you want to get some balance about what is happening in the here-and-now. Unfortunately, as I suggested last week, Brexit is unprecedented in our history. So this is a first.

But first or not, we really need to make sense of this new world for us.

This week I have my first motion in the House of Lords, in which I ask the government to shift its emphasis to dismantling poverty, rather than maintaining people in it. I am a bit of a one-question man at the moment, and have tailored all my interventions to dismantling poverty.

The unfortunate thing is that government departments and their budgets are not geared to help mass dismantlement. They are often geared to keeping people in it, or even extending poverty. Which is unfortunate because all administrations that come and go leave a legacy of unfinished business around poverty.

Which allows the next lot to point out the foibles of the previous lot. That might be a bit of a waste of ‘poverty-ending energy’, you might say. I certainly say that on countless occasions.

Point-scoring on poverty is the way that much of the debate goes, with the poor caught in between. Neither invested in nor supported to rid themselves of the cancer of poverty.

They are left in the waiting room of poverty, where democracy does not get a look in. For if you live in poverty you are outside of society, unable to choose because choice is narrowed down to nothing.

Will our political separation from Europe bring us any nearer to the Valhalla of a poverty-free world? Will we always have the poor with us? Will Brexit deepen poverty or will it help end it for enough people to make it seem that it was a smart move?

A process of vigorous acceptance of Brexit is what I would advocate, largely because of the spilt-milk metaphor. We cannot look behind. Our ill-functioning democracy made a decision and now we must strenuously make a go of it. Else we will lose even the economic elastic in our economy to pay the amounts we do pay for people in need.

Not only are government departments not very good at ending poverty, our much-stretched NHS is no good at stopping people getting ill. They must put up with the illnesses that we have that could easily be phased out by ending sugar’s domination, and cigarettes’ and super-strength lager’s rule, to name but a few.

If the NHS could teach us all to get up in the morning and do tai chi and have a healthy food regime, then we might see a fall in obesity and other largely diet-related illnesses. But that would take a revolution in our thinking and doing.

But hang on! We’ve just separated ourselves from the continent! Maybe we could have a revolution! We could become an island of healthy eaters and healthy doers! We could totally reform the NHS so that it has less people to cater for! We could reform the prison system so that people went in bad and came out good! We could address the appalling situation where we fail 30 per cent of our children at school so as you’d never believe they had been to one! We could use that precious thing called the social security system to produce social opportunity and real security!

Let’s make the best of what almost half of the 72 per cent who voted call a bad job! Let’s revolutionise our thinking so that government gets it right, communities get it right and we get it right!

Yes! An intellectual, social revolution where, instead of us imitating the outside world’s continuation of poverty, our island demolishes it completely!

Then Nippit-in-the-bud might have a final chapter where he does redirect history! And we do take the magical step to dismantling poverty at last!

(Forgive the surfeit of exclamation marks. I promise to be back next week to my normal ration).


John Bird is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Email him: john.bird@bigissue.com or tweet: @johnbirdswords

Reprinted from THE BIG ISSUE 11th July

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