2023: time for anger to be channelled and truth to triumph

It would be easy to feel pretty despairing right now. After all, things have got steadily worse. We thought the NHS was at the brink in 2021. We had no idea how much further this callous government was prepared to push it, how much death and misery it would wilfully ignore, while pumping out propaganda against the very people it clapped – for PR purposes, of course. The cost of living crisis is deepening, with news of parents and grandparents fearing for the loss of their children to ‘care’ as they struggle to feed and clothe them. Asylum seekers have been demonised as illegals and the cause of all our woes. The compassionate and inclusive have been vilified as ‘woke’. Desperate strikers, whose pay has been steadily eroded whilst the executive tier and shareholders have become ever richer, are smeared and maligned.

Meanwhile, the getting away with it persists. Where is the Sue Gray report? Where is the information on Johnson’s Russian connections? How about the prosecution of Michelle Mone? When will that happen? There are a number of Conservative MPs under investigation over sexual misconduct. When will justice be served for the victims? Why does lying and mismanagement go unpunished? Why are there no consequences for corruption, for breaches of the ministerial code, for misleading Parliament? Lindsay Hoyle talks a good talk, but as Speaker he has facilitated some of the worst insults to parliamentary democracy we’ve yet to see, whilst clamping down on those who draw his attention to the behaviour. How does that help build faith in the democratic process?

As for plots to bring Johnson back…

And where the hell did all the money go? The money that could have been invested in our infrastructure – in hospitals and their staff and in education, in renewables?

And then there are all the changes to legislation, rammed through parliament with valid amendments from the Lords and opposition ignored. Voter suppression, threats to judicial review, human rights removal, the relaxed targets for cleaning up the rivers, all of which run brown with sewage dumped by the privatised water companies. Licensing coal mines in the teeth of climate emergency. The list goes on and on. The upcoming ‘Brexit freedoms’ and bonfire of retained EU law, with its attendant slashing of employment and equality rights, protections for people and the environment and the licence for this government and their cronies to exploit people and the planet like never before.

We face quite some challenge because most people are either happily or unhappily in the dark about these assaults on our values and rights, or feel confident that changes won’t affect them. There is still a residual trust in government to look after its people, even now when the evidence is overwhelming that this government does not only not care, but actively seeks to worsen our lives and cull the vulnerable, the ‘non-productive’ and to put itself beyond the reach of scrutiny, accountability and the rule of law.

How do we wake people up to what is happening? How do we take the abstract and make it personal, emotional? Because that is what we have to do. As Marcin Matczak said in a recent European Movement Scotland webinar on the rule of law:

“You don’t care [or understand] about the laws of physics until you hit a tree in your car.”

He explained that for Poles, the change to abortion law was the tree – the moment that made people realise that the law had entered their lives.

Somehow we need to alert people to the veritable forest we are headed for as our rights and freedoms are taken from us. The trees are many. Once we crash into them, it will be too late.

There is a growing recognition that Brexit has been a disaster for the country. However, there is not the same awareness that Brexit was the Trojan horse that enabled so many aspects of our lives to be downgraded and rights and freedoms removed whilst allowing the rich and powerful to grow their wealth and influence.

We are not talking the politics of envy. This is about fairness. This is about decency. This is about investment in people, rather than exploitation. How much more of this corruption and profiteering are we prepared to take?

But it can’t be all about what we don’t want or like. We also need to offer some hope. A vision of a different world. Positive action that we can take as individuals and collectively to mitigate the impact of this government.

So here’s what we do:

We look out for each other. Critical friends, yes. ‘Friendly fire’, no. Rant therapy helps!

We join or support organisations that are fighting our corner: Liberty, Best for Britain, Good Law Project, Led by Donkeys, We Own It, Care4Calais, Make Votes Matter, Keep Our NHS Public, the 99% Org… there are many deserving bodies. Choose those that chime most closely with your values and spread the word.

We talk to friends and family. We don’t judge. We listen. We empathise. We explain, calmly and clearly. We demonstrate. Communicate. Interact. DO good! An act of kindness every day!

We take pleasure in being in the company of like-minded people and we try to shine a light. What else can we do?

The pendulum will swing back, but we must keep up the pressure on opposition politicians lest they opt to accept the version of democracy and the legislative landscape that they inherit at the next election. The Overton window has been stretched very far to the right by the Tories (as a consequence of their membership profile, the expulsion of so many moderates – people like Dominic Grieve, Rory Stewart and David Gauke, for example and Johnson’s insistence on MPs signing up fully to Brexit back in 2019), but that does not mean that the centre ground at the level of the electorate is now in right wing territory and that we embed a sort of ‘fascist lite’ as the new acceptable norm. The centre might be judged to lie in right wing territory for political parties who have been towed over there by a polarised and extremist media, but we, as a nation, need to reclaim ground that is genuinely in the centre. And that means talking to each other at grassroots’ level and realising that there is far more that unites us than divides us.

And we must, must, MUST have electoral reform.

We need a national conversation about our values. Who are we? What do we stand for? How do we want to be seen? What matters to us? What can we point to with pride and pleasure and say ‘we did that! That is our legacy!’

Finally, we’ll do what we can at West Country Voices. We give our time and energy voluntarily because we want to make a difference. Our range of content depends on you, to a degree! If you don’t tell us, we can’t amp your voice! So, get in touch: editor@westcountryvoices.co.uk.

Happy New Year. Let’s try to make 2023 better than 2022!