Is Britain Broken?
Inside my head rest a few phrases which seem important and which pop up now and again for me to think about when the time is right.
While dealing with my sadness and anger about Brexit, up popped a much-quoted David Cameron phrase ‘Britain is Broken’ which he used to describe the widespread riots in the UK in 2011.
In these dark days of Brexit, climate change and the rest it would be easy to believe that perhaps he was right, but, on thinking about it, I’ve come to see that there’s much more to this idea of ‘Broken Britain’ than meets the eye:
Perhaps the best illustration of a broken Britain is the breakdown of the ‘social contract’. Now, what’s that all about? I could get stuck down in philosophy here but I’ve come to see that in order for society to function we must all agree to certain rights and responsibilities. The social contract includes the right to mutual protection and welfare for everyone. If I look at the number of people sleeping on the streets, the closure of so many of our community facilities and the breakdown of law and order in many city centres because so many people feel excluded and our Police force is being drastically reduced, it looks very much as if ‘Britain is Broken’.
The ‘Social Contract’ depends on us all playing by the rules and although we often hear of the benefit cheats who are sitting at home watching TV instead of going out to work, we hear very little about the Executives of huge multinational corporations who pay minimal tax and who live in luxury while workers are paid a pittance with no work security.
(Stay with me, I’ll get to the good stuff soon!)
For more examples of Britain being broken I only have to see how our democracy has been undermined. New evidence appears daily supporting the suggestion that in the Trump and Brexit campaigns computer wizards worked hard to point the result in a certain direction. And pretty successful they were! So, if we think of democracy as central to what Britain stands for then it’s true to say that ‘Britain is Broken’.
NOW WE COME TO SEE THE GOOD NEWS
From all my reading and searching I’ve found that although the local church and meeting people while walking along the street are no longer the foundation of a local community – most of us don’t go to Church and we walk rarely along our street – at the grass roots people are getting together on a grand scale.
Looking for the good news, first up came the idea of ‘co-operation.’ Although we are often encouraged to believe that if we all look after ourselves all will be well, many writers believe that Man’s success as a species has depended on us co-operating.
I think it’s worth quoting what George Monbiot says on the subject:
We are, among mammals, the supreme co-operators. We survived the rigours of the African savannahs, despite being weaker and slower than our predators and most of our prey, by developing a remarkable capacity for mutual aid. This urge to co-operate has been hard-wired into our brains through natural selection. Our tendencies towards altruisim and co-operation are the central, crucial facts about humankind. But something has gone horribly wrong.
Almost uncommented upon by mainstream media, co-operation has been taking off all over the world. I’ve found that I have to revisit my idea of the ‘Co-op’ as limited to my local supermarket and the idea that I could keep my money in the Co-op Bank and arrange a funeral or holiday through the Co-op.
Little did I know that the co-operative movement is not only growing big but it is thinking big. Whether it is a football club, a large retailer, your local co-op pub or shop or a group of farmers or workers taking over a failing business, co-operatives are successful businesses where profits remain with the workers, members, customers and stakeholders. There are nearly 7,000 independent co-operatives across the UK with 17.5m members and more than 200,000 employees. Under a purely capitalist system, human relationships centre on making money but the co-ops work towards meeting the needs of their members and other customers.
• Community Pubs – Co-operatively-run pubs are increasingly becoming part of local life. According to the Plunkett Foundation which helps communities overcome challenges through co-operative models there were 85 known community pubs in the UK at the end of 2017 with 153 groups actively exploring setting up a community pub. They also report that no community pubs have ceased trading, maintaining an impressive 100% survival rate. (plunkett.co.uk/new-research-confirms-that-the-community-pub-sector-is-thriving)
• Community Shops – There were 348 community shops trading in the UK at the end of 2017. They created 1,114 paid jobs and 9,605 volunteer positions. It’s rare for a community shop to close down, there being a 95% long-term survival rate. Now that makes comforting reading doesn’t it? And not something which often hits the headlines.
Moving beyond the ‘co-operative’ movement there’s yet more activity going on at a local level. ‘Localisation’, which many see as the antidote to ‘globalisation’, is breathing new life into local communities … people are getting together to share joint interests and to help each other:
• Community Choirs – If, like me, you are often being asked by friends to come to their latest concert, you’ll know that singing communally has taken off big time! In Essex alone there are over a hundred community choirs listed on http://www.choirs.org.uk/
• The Transition Movement – This is a worldwide movement where communities come together to reimagine and rebuild our world. There are around 1,500 Transition Towns in 30 countries and we’re lucky that our local group, Southend in Transition is thriving.
• Then there are Men’s Sheds (menssheds.org.uk), Repair Cafes (repaircafe.org/en/about) and Community Gardens (https://knowhow.ncvo.org.uk/how-to/how-to-set-up-a-community-garden)
• The U3A (University of the Third Age), (https://www.u3a.org.uk/) popular among many of my friends, is a UK-wide movement which brings together people in their ‘third age’ to develop their interests and continue their learning in a friendly and informal environment. Formed over 30 years ago, there are now over 1,000 U3As across the UK, with more than 424,000 members and thousands of interest groups.
• And there’s so much more …
I reckon this all shows that Britain is far from broken. At grass roots we are taking back control of our lives and doing our own thing with our friends and neighbours.
But, for those of us who aren’t ‘group’ people, there’s lots we can do individually to find fulfilment in a different way of living which helps the natural environment and makes our world’s future look far rosier. I’ll think about that next …