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Mahatma Gandhi once said:

"A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Democracy for the Poor?

Un oeuf is un oeuf!

No more jovial sarcasm. Whilst I'm happy to neck it in copious quantities, I steadfastly refuse to become...bitter. I'm just swopping my espadrilles for those sandals and tuning in to my love-force. Ah! That's better.

What's happened whilst I've been away Polly? Clarity of mind (not claret) and total confidence in my government, has reassured me that whilst Fred the Shred was distractedly searching for his well-hidden conscience, the powers that be will have wrestled that £670, 000,000,000,000,000, 000 (what's a few zeros between bankers) from his bulging wallet and redistributed them amongst the poor! NO?

Well, I know you accuse me of being naive, but I really thought Gordon had a heart. Don't tell me he can't do anything because it's legally irretrievable. Our government is made up of our brightest legal minds in Britain? Lawyers and Politicians versus The Bankers....lay your bets! It's a traversty. We all know that. If Gordon Brown can flex some legal muscle in public interest it's a monumental coup for Labour. If our PM does not have the authority to right this wrong then the whole notion of credible governance is blown wide open. What exactly is Gordon's job remit and accountability? Is there a job description for PM? In other words....who exactly is in charge?

The real issue is power. Who runs the country? Lord Hailsham once said that the UK is an 'elective dictatorship'. Can you believe that, for the 'core executive', there is NO written constitution outlining clearly in law it's responsibilities and limits? My sandals are now lying in a heap at the bottom of the garden under my jangling chakras. I think you should pour yourself another black coffee and read 'Power and Participation' in Modern Britain' . Whilst lengthy....I learnt quite a lot about the interplay between political forces....and ultimately what barriers exist to democracy.

It seems we are at a watershed moment with our government. The Convention for Modern Liberty led a timely debate at the weekend. One of it's topics centred on 'Democracy and Liberty', exploring how 'true' democracy can be incorporated in our existing institutions. Is it possible to drain the bath and keep the baby we already have?

In my tree dwelling days I would never have believed I would find myself nodding to Tony Benn's address....but then I wouldn't have believed he'd be on 'YouTube' either! Still...he talks sense. He is not into soundbites and political 'tit for tat'...and frankly I agree with with the words that wisdom has bestowed upon him. Civil Liberty is a moral question. When rights are taken from the people and retained by the politically powerful, then democracy is at risk. There must always be a right to campaign. If we are denied a right to be heard then politicians do not have to listen. This is especially true for the poor as freedom only comes with economic security.

Egalitarians seeking greater social justice must commit to the notion that we must win the battle against poverty. Electoral reform must reduce the major inequalities in income and wealth, and a 'true' democracy must listen to the voices of the poor.

I stood behind a lady at the bank today who was crying. She was withdrawing her children's savings of £300 to cover her bills. She felt she was acting immorally because this had been put aside for her son's future benefit. Morals sorely missing in the bonus-culture of the rich. This whole farce is about entrusting our morality into the hands of the politically powerful. Power should be cherished and used wisely for the common good.

So how do we distribute income fairly in a nation that ranks fourth most unequal society across the EU (Dennis and Guio, Monetary Poverty)? Assuming that Fred the Shred donates his pension or we raise taxes on the rich....what then? How exactly do we abolish poverty and so empower the unheard?

In 2006 the Queen said in her October speech:

''My government will take forward legislation to reform the welfare system and to reduce poverty'. A Citizens' Income would make it easier for many familiies to earn their way out of poverty.''

So what exactly is The Citizens' Income? Malcolm Torry directs the Citizen's Income Trust and presents a thinkpiece for change that does away with means testing by introducing a right for individuals to share in the nation's inherent wealth. The government would distribute an equal amount of money to everyone on a monthly basis.
Clive Lord demonstrates it's affordability in his book A Citizens Income. It does however assume that our bankers have not already completely squandered away the wealth created from generations of industrialists, farmers, scientists and entrepreneurs who worked hard to put the coffers in there in the first place.

James Bruges provides absolute clarity on how to make poverty history with A Citizen's Income in his book The Big Earth Book. There are always other sources of funding other than printing a few more notes! The government could tax environmentally damaging activities, The Bank of England NOT PRIVATE BANKS could issue the country's currency. The bureaucracy of benefits and tax returns would save a packet too. Then there's always bankers' bonuses to share out equally. I cannot bring myself to eek out exact figures for just how many individuals own what proportion of our nations wealth. I suspect Fred the Shred is only one diversion from the bigger picture.

In the words of James Bruges:
''Soon, if business continues as usual, much of the planet, all humanity's inheritance built up over millenia, will become the property of a few individuals. The rest of the population live in fear of losing their jobs, of being unable to pay a mortgage, of falling ill, of penury in old age.''

I take my hat off to The Convention on Modern Liberty and hope with all my heart that this is the 'rumble in the jungle' that brings us all as free thinking individuals to our feet. There is a unity of spirit in Britain that is desperate to repair our democracy. Pullman pays homage to courage, virtue and modesty. They are disproportionately represented in the common public...I fear it is the politically powerful that are poor in morality and courage. We have much intellectual curiousity and harmonising of voices but how do we harness this people power and deliver a true working democracy for all, rich and POOR!

Ivor X