Friday, 15 April 2011

Letting everyone eat cake

I watched this video on the Private Eye website, and nearly screamed. Going into a sweet shop is as far removed from the democratic system as you can get, because voting is not about you, as an individual, getting a favourite chocolate bar to eat all by yourself. The only system which allows that is a dictatorship, if you're lucky enough to be the dictator.

Democracy is more like trying to settle on a set menu for a large group, to make sure that most people get a lot of what they like or what is good for them, and nobody has to go hungry. I tried to think through if AV is a better way of doing this, and realised that it's not really the system of voting that's the problem:

Thursday, 14 April 2011

What I would like to hear in a speech on (im)migration

No-one can compare Britain's communities today with the communities of the past and not see a decline in cohesion. Time was when people had roots in the place where they lived, and a useful role to play in society. People understood each other, took an interest in each others' business, took care of their common areas, and respected one another. Individuals sacrificed their time and resources for the good of the group, and outsiders had to work hard to prove their worth and justify their presence.

Then a great plague came to Europe from the East, ripping the heart out of this age-old system. It was called the Black Death. As the death-toll grew and the feudal lords' workforce was decimated, those peasants who survived suddenly increased in value. They no longer needed to be as grateful for the mere fact that they were allowed to exist and to scrape out a living on the planet they had been born onto. They got it into their heads that maybe it wasn't just the very rich who could move to a different area, try new ventures, and improve their lot, but maybe everyone had the right to take some control over their lives. Quite often the question was not one of advancement, but of continuing survival.

By the seventeenth century, however, most people were still staying where they had been put by Almighty God. Whether urban or rural, communities were stable, self-regulating entities, largely free from disruptive influxes of outsiders (who mostly just died by the roadside). But once again a change came to turn this peaceful, ordered world upside-down. Tens of thousands of people were forcibly evicted from their homes, and whole communities wiped off the map, as land was enclosed by those who were presumed to own it. Suddenly survival depended on the value an employer would place on your labour, and being valuable meant being in a city.

The developments of the following four centuries; the growth of industries, better travel and communication, global imperialism, lower mortality rates; have meant that those same migration patterns, and the disruption they cause, are now happening on a massive scale. The same problems with integration which were once caused and faced by, say, families from rural Cheshire moving to slums in Stockport, is now caused and faced by groups of ex-pats working in Irish pubs for English tourists in Prague.

Communities can be destroyed, conflict caused, people displaced and isolated for all kinds of reasons. Every time a residential area is bulldozed to make way for new business development, every time a large employer ups sticks to somewhere cheaper, every time a housing estate is built with no public buildings where people can congregate, every time a library or a community centre closes due to lack of funding, every time a village becomes the latest trendy target for holiday-home buyers or part of a city is owned almost entirely by student letting agents; each of these things prevents integration and stunts the growth of healthy, supportive communities.

The only way to counteract the negative effects of migration both within and between national borders - apart from the reestablishment of the feudal system - is through government spending. It is local councils, charities and organisations which provide spaces where people can interact, and interaction is the only path to integration. If there's no museum or library to learn about local history, no town club day to bring people together, no drop-in centres for people to come to for help, then of course society will fragment as people have only their own families and friends to turn to.

It would be wrong for a member of this government to blame immigrants from abroad for the damage done by market forces and crippling cuts to local services. It would be utterly perverse for them to demand integration while denying people the means to do so. It should be acknowledged that every individual has the right to earn a living, and that no-one should be punished for seeking work elsewhere, when the place of their birth cannot adequately support them due to forces beyond their control.

This fact should certainly be acknowledged by those in power, who benefit from the very mechanisms which make migration from one's home and community a necessity for so many people.