Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Layer 154 Dartmoor and New Directions in Westminster.

Rumbling over the cattle grid and out on to the moor I never fail to get a thrill from entering into a different world where there are no trees, no hedgerows, no fences, no fields and no houses. The very few people who are up on the moor are either driving along the ribbon of road or hiking. There’s an immediate feeling of freedom and limitless horizons up on Dartmoor, on top of what is essentially a mountain covering a very large area on which stand a series of rocky peaks known tors.

The more I go there the more I love what the moor has to offer. The essential thing is the feeling of timeless space and freedom from all the clutter and nonsense down below. The road up from the rolling hills of South Hams is steep and narrow, and runs through a dense canopy of trees that shuts out the light. Tall banks beside the road and tall hedges make the narrow track of the road feel even more restricted. And then there’s that glorious moment of bursting into the clear and into the wide open spaces.

Down in Ashburton the owner of the bar had suggested going to a part of the moor where very few people ever get to. Not that it’s particularly remote. Heading towards Widecombe you veer off towards Hound Tor and then almost immediately go left down an unmarked road which eventually makes its way to the village, way down in the sheltered valley.

Having parked the car in a spot high above Widecombe I hiked up through a scattering of wild ponies that were calmly feeding, a number of young foals among them, and made my way up to Bell Tor, Chinkwell Tor and Honeybag Tor, from where the views all around were fantastic.

It’s just under 1500 feet, and you can see clear across to the west where the TV mast stands on its peak above the prison and Princeton. You can see beyond the moor to the north, south and east. I can’t think of anywhere else in Britain I’d rather go to walk and to enjoy landscapes and huge vistas of hills and skies.


“Ordinary party members, you valiant few, get up and tell your MPs that Gordon Brown must go.”

So concludes Polly Toynbee in her Guardian column yesterday. Coming from someone who’s opinion is so respected in centre-left circles, and someone who supported Brown’s ascendancy to the party leadership, that’s really telling it like it is. Doomsday for our Prime Minister.

“It’s all over for Brown and Labour. The abyss awaits. As long as he remains leader, there is nothing that wretched Labour candidates can plausibly say on the doorstep at next month's European elections. They are struck dumb. Why should people vote for them? The horse manure bought on expenses is garnish for a decomposing government. The heart of the matter is the economy, and Brown's responsibility for the bubble years. He personally is to blame for Labour's failure to ensure that ordinary people on median incomes and poor people at the bottom received a bigger share in national growth: it turns out that they fell back and only the wealthy prospered. Labour made the rich richer and the poor poorer: growth for the few, not the many.

That is a failure so fundamental to Labour's purpose that the party can't go into the next election led by the man responsible. His other failings as leader pale beside this one monumental fact. While he is there, Labour cannot claim "fairness" or "social justice", so what is left to say? What is Labour's offer?

Gordon Brown has been tested and found in want of almost every attribute a leader needs . . . That he was no great public orator or warm telegenic talker would never have mattered had he gained a reputation as a gruff, unspun man of honour, vision and purpose. I thought it an asset after Blair's glibness and Cameron's suavity. It wasn't the medium that did for him, but the message. There wasn't one. What was Labour for?

“An essentially neo-liberal ideology coupled with timidity prevents him taking this once-only chance to reform the City, demand more of bankers and separate high street from casino banking. Despite the crash, he harbours the same old reverence for, or fear of, the money-men who wrought this global mayhem.

The morning after the 4 June ­election a majority deputation from the ­cabinet, bearing a long list of MPs' names, should knock on the door of No 10 to tell him his number's up. Plot it now, do it fast. The Tories are lethal with their failed leaders: Labour MPs facing annihilation must find the bottle. There is nothing to lose.”


The great pity is that there is currently no-one available with the profile and the stature that Labour needs in order to put in place a proper programme for progressive government. I agree that Brown has to go, but so do all his cronies and the whole damn right wing of the party leadership that hijacked the party and turned it into a neo-conservative machine that was programmed to follow the nostrums and ideologies of the money men, the markets, and the majority of the media.

Polly Toynbee favours Alan Johnson to take over, but he’s never impressed me as a thinker or as a potential leader. If it has to be someone from the current cabinet then I’d probably pick Harriet Harman, who at least made some left of centre noises in the Deputy leadership contest, and who spoke to the hustings with far more conviction than Johnson and the others. In the same way that Thatch was underestimated prior to her leadership bid, Harman could turn out to be unexpectedly radical should she ever get the top job.

Logically she should be supported in the Cabinet by the Compass group, which also happens to have some very thoughtful left of centre thinkers as members. These people must now seize the time, and lay out a bold programme for progressive reform of the entire system of governance, including constitutional changes, proportional representation and much tighter regulation of finance and the economy.

They have to make it clear that excessive profit-taking by the banks will not be tolerated, and that sectors of the economy that properly belong in the public realm, like the railways, will be returned there. Hospitals and schools, and in fact the entire health and education sectors, will be put back into the hands of the professionals, who will be told to make both those services work effectively for the benefit of their users. No more political interference from half-baked politicians and their ‘advisers’ and think-tankers.

Furthermore, the Alexander review must be used as the basis for a complete revamp of the Primary sector, and a new review put in place to research what’s needed to create a Secondary sector that’s fit for the 21st Century.

There’s no point in fiddling about now with the current system. Labour simply has to admit where it went wrong under Blair and Brown, make its apologies, and say very clearly what now needs to be done to create a society that most people in Britain actually want to see. It’s what we wanted in 1997, and it’s what we want now.

It’s a sane vision for a society where poverty has been eradicated, where there’s greater equality and social justice, where quality of life matters and not just size of income, where crime and drugs are minimised, where there are excellent public services, where there’s a thriving mixed economy with strict regulation of finance and the banks, and where children can go to school to have their developmental needs properly met and learn how to become creative, imaginative citizens who feel proud to belong to a society in which liberty, equality, justice and fraternity are the key words of active citizens.

There now. That’s not too difficult.

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