Author Archives: David Brunnen

You Said, What?

A regular complaint about politics is the lack of plain speaking.

Even when truths are unavoidably uncomfortable, a lack of ambiguity (removing any excuse for convenient misunderstanding) will annoy some people. No matter how gently explained, the tone of the varnish can be criticised as, of course, are expletives deployed for emphasis.

Just recently there was much media anguish over whether to describe Russian atrocities in Ukraine as genocide. Now we are all becoming familiar with those invaders being described as terrorists – a term previously reserved for extremists, revolutionaries or liberators depending on your attitude towards incumbent authorities, or their opponents, or any of the ‘others’ imagined for the purpose of blame avoidance.

Only a small linguistic step is needed to reclassify free-market fundamentalists as engaged in global terrorism. But then many would find the invented term ‘toryism’ in that implied context as shockingly offensive – not least because so many of us are complicit in the evolution of unmoderated capitalist systems that are now wrecking our planet. Avoidance of offence is impossible, especially when discussing belief systems like economics.

Posted in Op-eds | 14 Comments

“Democracy Made in England – Where next for English Local Government?”

In less frenetic times, this report would have grabbed headlines – but attention has already been cornered by outrageous events in Ukraine. Those distractions are, no doubt, mightily convenient for the current cabal who pretend to power in Whitehall.

The report should be required reading for all Liberal Democrat candidates for local Elections next May. There is only one name on the report’s cover – lead author, Michela Palese, Research and Policy Officer, Electoral Reform Society. At first glance you will see this is not the outpourings of some single tortured soul, but the collective views garnered from a cast of hundreds drawn from across the political spectrum.

Posted in Books and Local government | Tagged | 10 Comments

Trashing trust with a false prospectus

Theranos Inc. and Elizabeth Holmes: two names a million miles away from UK politics, and yet…

The post-trial soul-searching analysis of the failed $9.6bn Californian company and its now convicted founder/CEO, holds timely lessons not only for Westminster, but all political parties and the entire UK electorate.

The epic 10-year Theranos saga was prime example of the ‘rush for riches’ ethos epitomised by the “Fake it ‘til you make it” school of start-up innovators. The saga is not yet over. The CEO will not be sentenced for her fraud until next September, after the trial of her company’s president.

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Blessed are the Place-makers

Whose place is it anyway?

I’ve long puzzled over the phrase, ‘knowing your place’ – most frequently deployed to (uh oh, here’s another) ‘put someone in their place’.

Both express a need to assume some authority over those who should be ‘put back in their box’ whilst those in command carry on being commanding despite inconvenient ‘un-called for’ reports.

Having long retired from what was then a deeply hierarchical organisation modelled on the military (and one that struggled with innovation), I now much prefer the delight of locally talented pools of people who really do know their places and appreciate their habitats in fine detail.  Between them, they also know a thing or three about almost any specialist topic you’d care to mention.  This Community Capacity – the resident energy source that sustains the places we inhabit – can be seen as a great asset or an annoyance, but either way it cannot be ignored.  Community Capacity plays a significant role in explaining why some places thrive whilst others decline.

There is no doubt that Council Officers are a dedicated bunch, loyally devoted to their chosen areas of expertise.  Nursing a community can be as much a vocation as, well, nursing.  There’s also no doubt that they labour under the constraints of dwindling resources and edicts handed down by higher command – moderated or amplified by the local governors, elected Councillors.  But the central high command sees only averages with little contextual awareness of the real place-makers or the expertise and wisdom embedded in each community.

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DON’T PANIC: Responding to our Climate Emergency – The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty

Just when we reach for it, we realise The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy can only be found on the Fiction shelves. F – not SF – with barely a hint of science warped to suggest credibility. But, oh, how we chuckled at the patently preposterous existential crisis for a planet Earth where no-one had bothered to read the planning notices.

But today our self-inflicted existential crisis is no comedic platform. Novelists prefer the dystopian where borders blurred by reality are fading into climatic irrelevance. COP26 (or COPout26 as some insist) reduced COP President, Alok ‘down, but not out’ Sharma, to tears and moved manipulative mindsets to imagine novel ways of avoiding reality. But, as Jason Hickel writes, “If we accept the facts of climate change, we also have to accept the radical changes necessary to address it.”

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Kicking up yet another stink

What, if anything, do we learn, or reaffirm, from the 2021 double rerun of The Great Stink of 1885? The events are not, of course, directly comparable. The Victorian version directly offended the nostrils of Parliamentarians. The 2021 versions offend the nostrums of the governing Party.

The 1885 stink led to great reforms – the creation (eventually) of the Public Works Loans Board to fund long-term infrastructure investment and Joseph Bazalgette’s designs for the Embankment.

This year’s more-political stinks were first triggered by the Tories refusal to oblige privatised water companies to stop dumping raw sewage – as intended by a Lord’s amendment to a long-awaited Environment Bill. The stink set Downing Street on a voyage around the u-bend – to find some way of cleaning up the mess. But that was merely a pre-cursor to the next stink – a 3-line whip to wreck the Parliamentary Standards regulation. That stink was belatedly recognised as unwise – not least because Tory MPs felt they’d been dumped upon.

But both stinks directly affect Fareham for two reasons.

Firstly, our Hill Head residents are campaigning for better beach signage to warn bathers and sailors of the untreated effluent dumped by Southern Water. This pollution stink coincided with COP26 – further damaging the government’s ‘green’ credentials. Their much delayed ‘Environment Bill’ is still being bounced around Parliament – with common sense being championed from the Lords only to be rejected by those concerned more to protect profits.

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Democracy – now on the Risk Register

An appreciation of Lord Puttnam’s recent address – The Shirley William’s Memorial Lecture: POWER AND FEAR – THE TWO TYRANNIES.

Was anybody listening?

If so, what did they hear?

If they heard, then what, exactly, did they understand?

Timing is everything.

In the heat of intense political clamour, unleashed as one of their own was murdered, the calm authoritative voice may have been lost in that moment.

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MOVE – Shuffling Humanity

It is just possible to read Parag Khanna’s latest work and take comfort in our prospects here in Europe’s troubled offshore island – but that optimism (as learned when coding in the late 60’s) – is a Multiple IF statement.  The likelihood of a positive outcome is dependent on passing a series of successively dependent tests, each with its own probability of success.  IF this, IF that, and IF something else, THEN this may be.  Optimists may rejoice that the ELSE, and the timeframe, remains unstated.  Even the far-seeing Parag Khanna can only divine a favourable outcome for Britain ‘despite itself’.

As we all edge ever closer to COP26 in Glasgow, and media outlets and governments turn their talents towards analysing climatic challenges, Parag’s focus is humanity – how mass migration will reshape the entire world.  Those of us who were captivated by Bronowski’s ‘Ascent of Man’ back in 1973 may still vividly recall the migrating Lapps and their reindeer herds.  Their nomadic wanderings across the arctic in search of grazing and shelter may have only recently faded but will be as nothing to the emergent mass migrations in search of climatic sufficiency, sustainability, and survival.

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Local Rights and Responsibilities

Robyn Vinter is a journalist based in Leeds, and, no surprise, writes about the UK’s over-centralisation, the need for devolution and stronger local governance. Her observations from Yorkshire are not, however, uniquely Northern. Here, in Robyn’s piece published by ‘New Local’, local voices reflect widespread concerns for Local Authorities lacking authority:

… when you really dig down to the specific local issues, among the well-informed and carefully considered responses, more often than not people will talk about things that councils have little control over or are just simply not responsible for. They talk about council tax bandings, the number of jobs available for young people locally and poor public transport networks.

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Climate Crisis – the challenge is to confront reality

As COP26 – December’s international convention in Glasgow – becomes a major media focus, the scrutiny of environmental plans and policies will be intensified.

Parties across the political spectra are now preparing proposals that will sound good but not offend their core supporters.  They’ve had plenty of practice.  References to fine words buttering no parsnips date back to at least 1634.

To identify the underlying causes of ecological distress one must first strip away mis-characterisations (it’s just a natural cycle) and finger pointing or ‘othering’ (it’s all their fault) and vested interests that stand in the way of progress.  It’s time then to critically review where leaders think they are leading.

Under Ed Davey the Libdems don’t just have a plan – we have a Green Recovery Plan but is that enough to get to the heart of the issues?  Given the scale of the challenge, are the plan’s elements sufficient?  Will many millions of small initiatives be practical and effective, or are major policy reforms required?

  • Save British Countryside
  • Green Every Home
  • Clean Air for Kids
  • Transport revolution
  • Energy Switch

Looking at the details behind these headlines there is much to applaud – and nothing to cause offence.  But will these elements be enough to arrest the current levels of our planet abuse?

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Ecocidal thoughts

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Ecocide, unlike Geocide, has yet to be embedded in international law.

Ecocide, as envisaged, would perhaps be reserved for extreme forms of our everyday Planet Abuse and directed at corporates and government leaders whose policies wreak so much damage.  Even so, the chances of such condemnation becoming law are minimal – and the chances of it acting as any deterrent, even less.  Like so much else in the hot air of climate debating circles, the notion of Ecocide is as purely symbolic as national flag waving or political greenwashing.

On the other hand, everyday Planet Abuse is more easily understood by individual citizens and communities.  For sure, there are challenges in tracking useful metrics: many places and people will see different priorities, and we are still a very long way from the general taboos that progressive societies try to muster for, say, Domestic or Racial Abuse.

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Pupil Premium at risk

The Pupil Premium is a system designed to invest more in areas where there is greatest need.  At a time when Covid has exposed the growing extent of child poverty, the logic of Pupil Premium means that greater investment in teaching must be made to support their needs – unless, apparently, the Department for Education changes the rules.

Just when the eligibility for free school meals (the metric used to calculate the Pupil Premium) is increasing (up by more than 100,000), the Department for Learning to Save Money has decided to calculate the schools budget from data before the recent upsurge.

Naturally, the Department for Depriving the Deprived, objects to this dismal characterisation.  The Children’s Minister, Vicky Ford, says the change “won’t make a huge difference” – which begs the question – why have they done it?  The Department for Hiding their Homework were asked to show their working, but refused to release it, claiming it “could harm the department’s reputation in regard to the accuracy and credibility of the statistical information it produces”.

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Climate Change: We must not discourage young people

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When the Southampton Daily Echo ran a story recently featuring the likely sea-rise impact on Southampton, it unleashed a torrent of outraged climate change denial. Climate Central’s data was viewed as preposterous, extremely unlikely and unwarranted fearmongering. Barely 20% of respondents agreed with the report.

That reaction – the refusal to countenance the full impact of the way we live now – is perfectly understandable. There are not many things these days as trusted as bricks and mortar…as safe as houses. Unfortunately, that trust flies in the face of science. While countries are firmly in the grip of an addiction to never-ending growth, it is difficult to face up to the consequences of damage to our planet.

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