Politics sets out to reclaim the people!

Why are people so suspicious of politics? Not only politicians, but politics too. Political debate is at the heart of democracy. Even our limited democracy, for most confined to an occasional vote, is better than none at all – that way lies the resurgence of slavery and totalitarianism, which are both evident in more of the world than we may imagine.

The idea of politics as a fundamental element of our society has to become strongly rooted again, and this is why Plaid Cymru had a stall at Llandovery’s busy Sheep Festival last weekend (Saturday and Sunday September 29 and 30, 2012). Over the two days of this popular festival in east Carmarthenshire, hundreds of people made circuits of the stands in the big striped marquee, in what was just as much a social as a commercial occasion – bumping into friends and neighbours, exchanging news. Our stand was between two enticing ones, selling hand-made wool-topped footstools and woollen clothing hand-spun from sheep with fleeces of many shades.

Lots of passers-by looked at our stand, and on the Saturday – fine and sunny – several children were attracted to the sheep-and-farmyard colouring competition. It was different on Sunday, when the rain was horizontal, the wind tore at the sides of the tent, and the temperature was many degrees lower. Most of the smaller children, swathed in waterproof clothing, looked as though they would rather be at home. The adults seemed readier, on the whole, to talk about the aims of the Transition Town movement than about Plaid’s policies (we had Transition Town Llandeilo information sheets on the stand). Is this because Transition Towns are seen as non-political?

The Green agendas of Transition Towns and Plaid Cymru overlap. For both, sustainability into a resource-poor, climate-challenged future is a top priority. Transition Town members work up small-scale practical solutions such as new allotments, community orchards, local currencies, barter systems, and volunteer-led enterprises like village shops that could not survive if left to face supermarket competition on their own.

The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2012 tells us (p.44) that “If everyone lived like an average resident of the USA, a total of four earths would be required to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on nature”. The UK is not quite as profligate, but is still depleting our planet two and a half times faster than it can regenerate, an overshoot that led the Welsh Assembly Government to release One Wales One Planet in 2009, representing “Our new vision of a sustainable Wales, based on using only our fair share of the earth’s resources.”

Even worse now: this graphic from the World Wildlife Fund, using 2003 data, hints at the scale of  our over-exploitation of Earth. The USA is using up our planet’s resources four times faster than they can be regenerated, the UK two-and-a-half times. Since 2003 countries then further down the over-use scale, such as Brazil, China and Thailand, have become much more exploitative.

As yet unspoken is the detail of how we attain this necessary objective. Many of the people who came to the Sheep Festival were ready to do their bit, by growing their vegetables, recycling more, cutting back on fossil fuel use, but there is still a gap between these individual efforts and the national good intentions.

Different parties, different gaps: Labour at their annual conference this week appear to have ditched green policy in favour of spend, spend, spend and build, build, build. The Conservatives can be green-tongued but their tongues are somewhat severed from their Gradgrind policies. LibDems cast some green splodges on Conservative agendas, but softening the hard Tory edges has become their defining feature, rather than distinctive ideas of their own. That’s how it seems from where I sit, at least.  No wonder why so many of us look on politics as a disreputable game of trading insults – but as Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” (House of Commons, November 11 1947).

If we don’t plan a rapid reduction in our consumption of resources that are not renewable, the alternative is likely to be a much more uncomfortable rationing by ability to pay, or even by ability to defend your local resources from raiding by others, in ferocious Viking fashion perhaps. We can’t create a radically different, more sustainable society without participating in political discussion and planning. So thank you, Sheep Festival, for the opportunity to be there, and here’s to next year’s event!

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