I'm actually a perfect example of this; as we hurtle towards Christmas and 2012, I am bringing such an insignificant contribution to my household that we are facing the distinct possibility of losing everything we've worked the last 25 years to achieve. I don't mean we'll lose our house, but I do mean that if there aren't jobs out there for me to do that bring in enough money to keep our heads just bobbing on the surface, we might have to consider some drastic actions. The problem is there are very few drastic actions we can take and that applies to so many people in 2011 Europe.
For the first time in my life and interest in politics, I look at all the parties and there's nothing there that installs even the barest hint of optimism. The Coalition is running to stand still - largely. Gideon Osborne's austerity drive seems to be floundering and the Tories, once considered the best people to handle Britain's economy, seem to be all at sea. They blame Labour for everything when they should be sorting out the mess. Labour could do with standing up as a united front and saying, 'Yes, we borrowed too much money, but look at the work we did and the fact that while the country is in debt, your kids have new schools, new hospitals and new homes to live in.' Surely the happiness of the many outweighs the elation of the few?
Labour should say mea culpa and like the long Conservative administration before Labour came into power, they lost the plot around the end of their second term. People have lost faith in politicians; they don't believe they have the interests of the many and evidence suggests that not only doesn't the government (any of them) have your interests at heart, but they believe that keeping the people with economic interest in this country sweet, even if the poorest get poorer and become even more alienated against politics and worse, society. If the Coalition has proved one thing, it's that we need a new kind of political system in this country.
Recently, I had all kinds of hassle trying to sign on the dole. It was like a 2 hour visit to Dr Mengele, the dentist. I was so incensed by the pfaffing about I had to go through I wrote to my local MP - Michael Ellis (Con, Northampton North). It is the second time in my adult life I have written to my local MP and both have done excellent jobs in helping me and both were Conservatives. It sort of created an interesting dichotomy for me - I have no liking for Tories, but as constituent MPs I have no evidence they're anything more than superb. Yes, it's just sugar coated vote catching, but that applies to any party. I have heard stories of local MPs going the extra mile for constituents and causes, and it's amazing that these imbeciles who run the country can do such excellent work on their own patches. I'm not suggesting that either Michael Ellis or Peter Fry who helped me in 1992 are imbeciles, but one wonders how they can do so much good at a local level and yet support policies designed to cause the maximum hurt to people who don't deserve it?
Two years ago I was so up for running for the local council that I declared my intention to my employer; I went public with my intentions and even sort council with local councillors to discuss strategies and what I needed to do to ensure I got your vote. Then I changed, almost over night. The General Election of 2010 obliterated my ideals. If I'm honest, a Coalition government was what I was really hoping for. Labour had been in for too long and I don't believe that Gordon Brown would have taken this country into new fertile pastures; he would have been bogged down by all the things bogging down the current administration and people may have grown so hateful of him and his party's policies that Labour might have faced a worse wilderness than it did during the 80s and most of the 90s. But, I expected a Labour/Liberal coalition, with the Liberals there to stop stupid decisions being made and to come up with policies that were fare to the poor and less so to those who have it all anyhow. We live in a classless society according to former PM John Major; no wonder he is gradually becoming the forgotten prime minister; he didn't have a clue and his party allowed him to continue without said clue.
George Monbiot, who it seems is the voice of reason in the country and doesn't appear to have any political affiliation apart from being fair, writes columns for The Guardian that provoke thought and sometimes anger. A recent column, which can be seen at www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/03/bins-roads-wars-osborne explains where our money is and isn't going - it is depressing reading and isn't rubbish, it's completely true, properly researched and not some socialist propaganda. Even the hardest nosed Tory would have to (reluctantly) agree that the way our government is distributing money it claims it hasn't got, is a little more than disturbing. But the Liberals are stage struck and the Tories have never invested in the future when they can make money NOW!
A new politics? Yes, a new system designed to have the country's best interests at heart. We have grown accustomed to our elected representatives doing all manner of things we have no wish for them to do. I'd propose that governments are only allowed two terms in office; I'd even propose that MPs are only allowed two terms in office. There would still be elections at the midway point, but that would act as a referendum on whether the party in power were actually doing a good job. At the end of the two terms, every MP has to stand down and be replaced by someone new; who then has to go to his constituents and make his case for why they should elect him as the former's successor. That would mean new cabinets every 8 years (at the most), new people running the country, injecting new ideas and not being allowed to change things so much and so detrimentally that it takes the next administration four years to sort out just the beginnings. MPs and governments should be held accountable for the position they leave the country in. If the people don't like a policy and it has been a failure to the majority of them, then that party is penalised by not being allowed to have a candidate in a safe seat for a minimum of four years.
Drastic action? Yes, but these people are elected to serve us, not serve banks, corporate businesses and the aristocracy. MPs should be doing what they can for the people who elected them and also for the greater good. MPs should either relinquish associations with business or take a maximum of an 8 year sabbatical away from their interests. MPs should be MPs and not have any associations with anything that could compromise their position - even if that means someone is involved with a charity or voluntary organisation. MPs should concentrate on being MPs 24/7. There should be longer parliaments; more time spent with constituencies and less time swanning off around the world on jollies that are paid for by us but we get no benefit from. MPs should be given four weeks holiday a year and bank holidays; they should be taking an active role in local government, either in an advisory capacity or as a kind of House of Lords overlord, deciding if a major council decision is in the best interests of his constituents. In other words, MPs should be made to work; that way those thinking it'll be a jolly jape or a wheeze to be an MP might think twice about it, or better still be ousted from their role if they fail to do what is on the job description.
There should be a balance between helping those who are struggling and allowing the rich to get richer. I'm not saying the rich shouldn't get richer, I'm just saying they shouldn't be allowed to if it is making a disproportionate amount of poor people poorer. The plebs make the country run and if you continually take the piss out of them you'll get to the point where people give up on politics because they feel they will get nothing out of whoever is in power. And perhaps that's what all parties want; a population that is so disillusioned with their politicians that they can get elected with a turnout of less than 50% - not really a mandate in any one's eyes, but it could happen, especially if our young people continue to be bemused by the entire business.
We should look at our position in the world and realise that it isn't 1850 any longer and we're just a bit part player and not much else. We shouldn't be the USA or NATO's deputy sheriff; we shouldn't be spending our money and risking our soldiers lives for countries that mean nothing to most of us. We should have armed forces, but they should act as an apprenticeship for people who want to learn trades, find discipline or need it. Our armed services should be grooming the grunts for real life, not training them to get killed. The amount of money we could save by just becoming a country like Germany would ensure growth in all the right places. What is it about PMs - from Thatcher to Cameron and all in between - that means they feel that getting involved in a war or a conflict is going to endear them to the masses or possibly secure a place in the history books?
This country has always been resourceful; how else would a piddly little island control most of the world for as long as they did? If taxing the big banks and corporations heavily means they bugger off to a country that is more receptive to their greed, then so be it. Something else will step in and fill the void. I can't understand the reticence of not taxing the people who got us in this mess in the first place; the arguments is that without their money we'd struggle - most of us don't see that money any how. It lines the pockets of the already wealthy and it does not trickle down the way it is claimed it does.
A friend of mine, a Labour activist called Mike Sivier had a great idea. The couple who live in Cambridgeshire who won the £101million on the Euro lottery; if he had won it, he would have made half of the money available to local and small businesses - cut out the banks - and charge them a ridiculously low interest rate, mainly because if he lived to be 200 he probably couldn't spend all that money. I suppose the problem with winning big on the lottery is that human nature dictates that we suddenly change our core values; we're all right Jack - the ethos created by Thatcher - takes precedent and only the most altruistic and philanthropic would even consider using a big chunk of a windfall to help others make money. The thing is, even if the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street is injecting billions into the economy, banks still refuse to lend money to anything that might have the slightest risk attached - surely starting your own business is fraught with risks, that's the gamble you have to take. That's the gamble the banks have to take.
Briefly touching on the Liam Fox issue; if a minister or a bog standard MP is seen to be in breach of his regulations then they have to be punished. Claiming you didn't know it was a problem or claiming ignorance is not an issue. If my wife - a civil servant - was found to be discussing her job with an outsider, she would be sacked; surely MPs who involve independent people in their public lives should fall under the same jurisdiction? The same way every MP should be held accountable if they screw up. We have to have impeachable people running this country; I'm not suggesting they have to be whiter than white - six years of working with young criminals taught me that sometimes the best people to work with the disenfranchised is someone who has been in the same boat. As an ex-bankrupt, I feel that I learned more from the pariah years I suffered than I probably could have learned had I not gone bankrupt. As a former retailer, I feel I'm better placed to advise small retail outlets than others. Yes, you can argue that the most successful people are best placed to do this role, but temper this with the fact that economies rise and fall and you have to be prepared for the rough as well as the smooth. As a failed businessman, I give a perspective that successful people don't experience. Therefore, if someone is available to give even-handed and sensible advise and guidance, then they shouldn't be excluded from it.
I don't think any of my ideas would even be treated as more than rantings of a borderline communist; but I don't think sensible ideas by far more qualified people than me are going to be considered either. Politicians now have their ideas; are tied down by their own dogma and are pretty much isolated from the real world. It is a form of megalomania - another human trait we're never going to stop.
My gut feeling is that everyone is walking around believing that the western world is not going to crash and burn in a full scale depression - after all, whenever that happens, we have wars - but the harsh reality is that in the next few years we might see the collapse of economies, governments and even countries. We look at 3rd World countries and wince at the pain and suffering they contend with; but we console ourselves with the fact that we're Europeans and we're not going to suffer the same fates as these poor unfortunate souls. But what if Greece collapses? Does another country take them over - Soviet style - and force the population to work for peanuts and slip into such extreme poverty that children will die of starvation? How would we react if the scenes we have seen in Africa suddenly happen on the streets of places we once called holiday destinations? How would you feel about going to Corfu or Crete and being accosted in every town or village by beggars and children with bloated bellies from malnutrition? What if it happened in Spain or Portugal? What about Ireland?
I am a pessimistic bastard, but I think dystopia could be the next great social adventure the human race embark on. The riots of the late summer might have been instigated and mainly involved people with criminal records, but in Greece, people like you and me are campaigning every day because they are getting poorer and poorer and there doesn't seem to be any good news on the horizon. Germany and the EU can try and aid Greece by ploughing money into it, but my mum always said 'you shouldn't throw good money after bad'. What happens when Greece can't pay its debts and the people are expected to bail out a country that can't find its arse with a map and a torch? Even a peoples revolution in Athens and across a country that gave us democracy won't solve the problem. Greece will still be in debt and have no way of repaying it unless the people literally work for nothing. You can lead a horse to water; you can beat a donkey with a stick; you can impose all manner of punitive measures, but ultimately its the people who will sort out the problem and when they lose hope, there is no hope any longer...
We're all going to die, but instead of the way we'd hope, it will wallowing in filth, scraping the insides of the haves bins for leftovers. That's me being optimistic...