talking to ‘our own’ politics

I spent Monday afternoon and early evening watching news and social media, and doing a bit of ranting. Then I stepped away from the screens and read my book. But the family, going to beds, didn’t turn off the TV, the news came on… Cue lots of fuming and little sleeping.

We’re having a ‘crisis’. The astonishing chaos, unwillingness to take responsibilty and arrogance at the heart of our political system was laid bare before Christmas. I was agog as I watched our First Minister react appalingly to claims about incompetence made by her former friend and colleague. A ‘car crash TV’ / ‘fetch the popcorn’ current affairs programme.

Arlene Foster was the Minister who oversaw the introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive. Largely copied from England, the key difference was that there was no upper limit to the amount to be paid out. Since people are being encouraged to use renewable fuel by being reimbursed £1.60 for every £1 spent, the more they spend, the more they will earn. Heating empty sheds can make for a great income, costing the UK approx £1 BILLION over the next 20 years. Ah, sure never mind, £600 million of that is coming from GB, NI only has to spend £400million. Cash for ash indeed.

A series of unconnected facts:

The First Minister is from Co Fermanagh.

The largest supplier of renewable wood pellets is from Co Fermanagh.

No member of the First Minister’s immediate family is benefiting from this scheme.

There was a fire in a shed in Fermanagh this week. It contained 8 of the biomass boilers.

The green area on this spoof map from@LADFLEG equates to Co Fermanagh.

lad-snow

It was suggested that Arlene step aside for a while so there could be an inquiry. No. No. And, again no. People concerned about competence and possible corruption were accused of misogyny. By a political party known to ‘Moo’ at women politicians. One of the party said, in support, that the First Minister was doing a good job, considering her domestic responsibilites. There is plenty of misogyny in local politics, most of it from the First Minister’s own party. The public are not aware of any attempts she’s ever made to challenge it.

Due to the complexities of our political system, the First Minister holds position along with the the leader of the second largest party. It’s a cross community post. Two people. Equal authority. One can’t act without the other. When Arlene tried to speak to the Assembly as First Minister without the support of the ‘deputy’, on the RHI scheme, all the MLAs of every other party left the chamber. She was speaking without authority and up with it they would not put.

Nothing calmed down during the holiday recess, and local politics hit the fan on Monday when the deputy First Minister resigned, citing the RHI mess, other areas of disagreement and ‘deep seated arrogance’ of the largest party.. His party refused to nominate a successor. Unless a whole lot gets resolved in the next few days, we’re heading for another election. Joy untold.

arlene-firepla

Countering claims of arrogance and incompetence, Arlene released a video in the style of the Queen’s speech, talking to her subjects the voters in front of a large fireplace. Cash for ash being flaunted. This was not a mis-step from a PR junior, but a clear statement of what she feels to be important. Arlene. Arlene’s mates. Everybody else can go and jump. She also said that any election would be ‘brutal’, setting exactly that tone. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t care what anybody thinks if they’re not a natural DUP voter. She speaks only to those she thinks she knows. The rest of us are irrelevant or a block to the return of majority unionist rule in the region. There is no desire to explore commonalities, or to consider notions of good governance, leadership or equality to be desirable.

I read an article recently, which I now can’t find to re read/ consider/ credit, about the suggestion that we replace all our politicians by other members of the public. No parties, no elections, but selected members of the public, a bit like jury duty. A decent salary (but no expenses) for 5 years while you develop policies which benefit the public of the area governed. In this muddle, I could be convinced.

I want politics to be about community building, society, working together for the good of us all. Why does that make me feel like a naive fool?

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the 46.9%

So maybe I’m naive. Maybe I don’t know enough about US politics.

I went to bed in a huff during the election count. Things were shifting in Florida, and reality began to dawn. A few hours later and it was over. Brexit +++ indeed.

I was shocked, and deeply shaken. Of course, it was always a possibility. My head knew it could happen, that it was more likely than I wanted to believe, but my spirit wasn’t ready for it. The fibre of my being refused to accept that misogyny, racism, xenophopia & ableism, so clearly expressed, could win. That people would choose to ally themselves with a vulgar bully. That that’s who they’d want to be their representative in chief.

trump-sheep

As the day went on, breakdowns of the vote became available. My mind was boggled by the majority of white women who voted for Trump. Do they not believe they deserve better? Are they happy to be seen as objects for male pleasure only?

There was an interesting discussion on TV last night- the summary being that US voters didn’t take Trump literally (nobody believed he’d do what he said) but they did take him seriously (he speaks to us). Outside the US, observers took him literally (he thinks he’s going to build a blimmin wall) but not seriously (he’s a buffoon).

So perhaps if people didn’t believe he was going to deport Muslims, they thought it didn’t matter that he said he would… That’s a remarkable failure of empathy. An incredible thoughtlessness towards all the ‘others’.

Maybe that’s why 46.9% of those who could vote, didn’t. Maybe they thought that Trump was all mouth and not that dangerous because he wasn’t serious. Maybe they dislike Clinton so much for being still married to Bill/ open about her taxes/ good at her job/ whatever (I simplify of course, but most of the criticism of her I saw seemed to be because she’s good at being a politican rather than legitimate objections to her actual policies) that they just thought, “Nah, I can’t be bothered.”

Some people will have been sick, or unable to get to a polling station. But not nearly half the eligible population. Most of those will have decided not to vote, not even for the 3rd party candidates. It’s not like they didn’t know the election was on. There’s been at least 2 years to get ready, think about it, listen to the candidiates, mark the diary with *vote*.

Is it because they think their vote doesn’t matter? Is it that they don’t care about the world they live in? Before, Trump was supposed to be speaking to the disposessed (which I never understood), but it was the educated middle and upper classes who, predictably, voted for him in droves.

Are there 46.9% of the population so disconnected from the world that they didn’t see this election as important? That they didn’t know or care that a reality TV billionaire bully was going to terrify women, children, people of colour, LGBT people, those with disabilities and non Christians? And god help those at the intersections.

Trump isn’t one for hiding his light under a bushel. Since he entered the race, this election has been all about him. Every day, in every way, he affirmed the adage about there being no such thing as bad publicity. He said and did previously unacceptable things, and not enough people cared that these were unacceptable. They supported him or they did not oppose him. They may have been good people, but they did nothing.

And so, it’s all ok now. It’s ok to be a sexual predator. It’s ok to mock the disabled. It’s grand to talk about nasty women and bad hombres. No problem with threatening your opponents with violence or jail. It’s Trump world and the bully has won.

But, no.

No.

There is such a thing as society. There is love and goodness and support for others. We have to hold on tight to it, to nuture it and let it grow. I have surprised myself by using biblical language- fighting the good fight, being a light in the darkness, whatever you do to the least of my brothers etc- but that’s the power of poetry, oral tradition, and primary school. Others will have different touchstones they had thought long forgotten.

I struggled yesterday to find a way out of the fug. I wanted to have moved past disbelief and rage by the time Girl1 and Girl2 came home from school. I wanted to be able to articulate a way forward for us. I wasn’t quite there, but I was trying. Then we watched Clinton’s concession speech, and it was just what we needed. Grace, dignity, truth, hurt, power & resolution. She spoke to us all, even when defaulting to the bible. She spoke to us all, wearing suffragette colours. She spoke to us all, to comfort, support and motivate, while dealing with what must be personal devastation.

hill-bill

Hillary went high. We must too. We must reach out. We must engage. We must remember that politics is about people, because without people there is no chance of change or progress. We have to make a difference. We must participate.

Don’t pretend it has nothing to do with you. Don’t believe that your opinion doesn’t matter.Don’t believe that you are not worthy.

Don’t be the 46.9%. Believe in yourself.

 

 

a painful truth

My children are laughing at me, and not for the first or last time. It’s some years since Girl2 told her teacher not to bring me along should their class win a national competition and be rewarded with a trip to Downing St, ‘My mum won’t shake Mr Cameron’s hand’… She was right of course, and I’m sure the teacher was entertained.

My feelings towards the Westminster Government haven’t changed. I avoid much of the news because there is only so much outrage my blood pressure and my family can take. My mind does not use polite words when I consider the damage done to health, welfare and education, the jobless, homeless and the disabled.  The use of foodbanks soars and the wealthy become even more so. There is no sense that a more equal society is something that should even be aspired to. There is no commonality of purpose. There is no value given to those lives that are not a particular sort of English- generally, healthy, wealthy and white.

I live in that part of Ireland that is part of the United Kingdom. Our politics is more British than Irish. The First Minister of our local assembly likes to wear a crown brooch in case anyone should doubt where her loyalties (and those of a majority of voters) lie.  For reasons that escape me, she and her party have come out in favour of voting for a UK exit from the European union, the so called ‘Brexit’. A century of unionist politics in Ireland has been about the border; creating it, defending it- literally, with many people giving their lives.

Arlene Our Arlene

And now, well, this is one of the things I don’t get. NI is part of the UK. It shares a land border with a member country of the EU (the Republic of Ireland, which is not considering leaving the EU). Either that border will be used to limit migration to the UK, or it won’t, and there will be no limit on migration to the UK. Limiting immigration appears to be a key purpose of the ‘Brexit’ campaign. But how? I read a suggestion that travel between the island of Ireland and GB (the land mass of England, Wales and Scotland) would be somehow limited. What would that do to NI position within the UK? Is it possible that our First Minister and her party, by supporting ‘Brexit’ could actually weaken the union? Surely that’s not possible? (Unintentionally hilarious, true, but damnably inconvenient.) Where will the lines be redrawn?

the-united-kingdom-explained

There are many and various ways of thinking about the position of the UK in Europe. Europe has been good to Northern Ireland- peacebuilding, infrastructure, research, training, employment, education, social policy. For the same reasons, the European Union is itself a worthwhile project. Partnerships, collaboration, learning together, supporting each other as both individuals and governments.

‘Brexit’ has no precedent. Nobody knows what will happen if the majority of UK voters vote ‘leave’. I just can’t see how it could be a good thing to leave any and all decisions to Westminster, and not only when it’s run by a wealthy, self serving crowd like Dave and his mates.

And the sting? The really painful thing is that Dave and, god help us, George, want to remain in the EU. The Conservative party are fighting amongst themselves, using Europe as the topic. I have to side with Dave, because the alternative is Brexit, and that makes no sense to me. I want to be part of something bigger and better. I want to be part of something that can hold governments to right. I want to be part of something that can influence and support. I want to be part of something that values my humanity, and the humanity of all others.

Bizarrely, I’ll be voting with Dave, and my head might explode.

 

other views do exist:

Money Saving Expert (blog post) 

The Guardian (many articles) 

Daily Telegraph (many articles)

Jamie Mutton (blog post found on social media)

Genetic Alliance (policy)

 

our health system- in whose interest?

I got very irate last week about our health system. This may not seem like news to the regular reader, but it sort of is. I was annoyed by whole new things I’d not noticed before. There’s always more to discover, new ways to be dumbfounded and annoyed.

I spent Wednesday morning at a conference of the Very Important. With few exceptions, they were also the Very Whiney. The region (approx. 1.8 million people) has an unnecessarily complex system- a government Department, a Health Committee that holds the Department to account, a Health and Social Care Board that commissions services, 6 Health and Social Care Trusts that deliver services (including buying in), a Public Health Agency, several other arms length bodies, and a Patient Client Council  which exists to make sure the system remembers about the patients. We’ve had all sorts of reviews, and recommendations, but really, it’s madness and nobody has the will to change it. I tried to make sense of it once, but didn’t get it right

this is not gospel!

So there I was, intent on finding out how the findings of the latest review were to be implemented. But no. That would be too straightforward. Due to the vagaries of local politics, we don’t have a health minister at the minute. That meant the Chair of the Health Committee got to criticise the Department without comeback. Then a professor questioned the value of the commissioning system. I’m not arguing with that. Then it all disintegrated.

Why wasn’t my profession asked to speak?

What is being done to protect my profession?

Why is nobody doing…?

The level of disengagement from ‘the system’ by the people who work in it was remarkable. The very real issues were somebody else’s fault, so somebody else could fix them. And before anything will actually be implemented, it needs to be approved by the politicians. Great. Even if they were attempting to run this tiny region, it’s clear they’ll never support anything that may result in a change of services in their local area. Nobody in the room full of Very Important staff in health and social care was considering taking responsibility. There was an awful lot of bickering.

I may have been at the wrong event. Perhaps this was meant to be a ‘letting off steam’ session. I’m glad I had a free place. If a charity had paid the full rate £250 for me to be there, it would have been unjustifiable. The organisers made money and 200 people who could have been problem solving in the health service got a morning out to grumble at each other. That’s a good use of resources, don’t you think?

However, that wasn’t my excitement for the day done. I headed off with Ditzy, I’monlyslightly, Chair, Awesome Academic and her mum to a meeting of the Health Committee. Awesome Academic was presenting on our behalf and the rest of us were the support crew. The committee was running late (members delayed by lunch at the conference?) so we had to hang about for over an hour waiting on them to get round to us.

committee

It was possibly even more tortuous than the event in the morning. Awesome Academic and others made presentations and were then questioned. By which I mean that members read out written questions prepared in advance, regardless of whether the question had already been asked, or the information clearly provided in the presentation. One speaker was asked the same question three times. By the third time, I could have answered for him. It was incredibly frustrating- these were the people we’d chosen to oversee our government?

We keep hearing that there is no money to provide services, to support staff. Doctors are flowing out of the NHS, taking early retirement or heading to Australia. There are not enough nurses. Waiting times for urgent neurology appointments can be 11 months. There aren’t the resources to discharge people safely from hospital, which means there are difficulties admitting people. And our so called leaders whine, waste time and pass the buck.

By the end of the afternoon I was considering taking up politics myself. Easy money, and I’d have minions to write the questions for me. I’d be able to doze during committee sessions and nobody would notice.

Surely I’ve already proved my whining credentials?