Brick walls at the end of every street that’s supposed to lead to ‘democracy’ …That’s what brings people to activism; the lack of other ways to be heard and to have our say.
I reached my own personal enough-is-enough moment in 2011 and took a tent to St Pauls for Occupy London. I didn’t want to engage with the system – I wanted to make it stop. Years of aggressive wars, the bank bailout that coincided with cuts to disability allowances, the state of our healthcare and sneaky attempts to privatise it bit by precious bit – all this and so much more had finally brought me to a halt. The system had to change, even if I had no idea or plan for what next.
After Occupy London I returned North to find the urgency of the fight to keep our country frack-free; an immediate danger that could not be ignored and represented the recklessness of the government’s pursuit of industry without adequate concern for the people and our wellbeing. Over the years in that movement with the Lancashire Nanas and our many allies, I have witnessed the immense power, honour, passion and determination of the most diverse range of people I could ever have hoped to meet. We don’t all see eye-to-eye, but we stand shoulder-to-shoulder facing the same target. For six years, the frackers have done everything to get a production site going and failed… there is no shale gas production in the UK and fracking has only taken place in April 2011 in Lancashire. Test sites are as far as they’ve got but things are changing rapidly
In 2015 I dipped into the world of politics, running for the Green Party against George Osborne in Tatton. It was a safe Conservative seat and the independent Martin Bell was the only non-Tory who had ever won there - but running was a chance to challenge and learn. I wanted to understand the process and to challenge George. Much was eye-opening and much pretty soul-destroying (I blogged about it at the time).
Mostly I realised just how rigged the system is, keeping certain types of politicians and ways of business safe and excluding much that seeks to question it. Our votes are not equal, our voting system is illogical and the outcomes unsatisfactory for the majority. Even if you get the Party you chose, they cand and do renege on their promises and get away with it. We try to remember what they did next time the little box waits for our mark – but we get overwhelmed, distracted, fatalistic, dismayed by the options… and the cycle repeats.
I was reminded of that run against George when he took his fourth job as Editor of the London Evening Standard a couple of weeks ago. He was barely able to make the public meetings for the election due to his hectic schedule, he rarely sets foot in the Tatton area as it is… and now all the lovely Tatton voters I got to meet are getting their MP on an extreme part-time basis.
He made promises to them and I heard him. I watched him act the part, and I watched the audiences hope he just might deliver on this phony sincerity. He hasn’t and it’s clear, he won’t. It’s such a blatant thing too isn’t it? Right out in the open and declaring he can be all things to all people in all places… a Northern Powerhouse master, Champion of the people of Tatton, London Editorial Guru and debonaire after-dinner speaker on the world circuit – “What a man!” –but he’s not. He’s really not.
Since the news of his new job, I have been talking with others who feel the same rage at this clearly wrong situation and the way the people of his constituency are disregarded in all this. Over 190,000 people signed a petition in no time, calling for George to ‘Pick a Job’ and a poll in Tatton showed 57% of his constituents felt the same way.
I think the people I met deserve better - so I am working with others to challenge George to step down as an MP. We’ve started a campaign to get information to Tatton voters as well as events and media, to make sure that even if he does only pop by for a moment – that George knows that he can’t pretend it’s all ok in Tatton. It’s not. He needs to step aside and let the voters of Tatton have an MP that will serve them with honour and dedication.
There is a bigger picture here. Our system of government does not resemble any definition of democracy I know – it’s as if ‘government’ is a façade painted to look like something for the people but in reality, step inside, look at the lobbyists and the revolving door between industry roles and ministerial positions. Logic says that the vast majority of people would aim for a system that strives toward enabling us to lead happy, healthy lives and not do harm to others… ours appears to aim for the opposites. The system is good at serving industry – easing the burden of regulations, manipulating laws, bargaining trade deals and showing favour to big money – whilst tightening the belts around ordinary people and cutting services we depend on.
This is too obvious, too intrusive and too unfair to continue. We were forced to bail out banks yet what we need is an energy bailout, a people bailout, a healthcare bailout, an education bailout… The system severely cuts funding and causes the good stuff to break – then along comes some commercial enterprise to pick it up at a rock-bottom price.
Today in Lancashire, a vast fracking site is under construction despite the local Council saying NO to planning and huge, vocal public opposition. Westminster saw fit to take the decision away from our county and over-ruled us. Every day since 4th January 2017, the people have stalled work, slowed deliveries and stood in defiant protest to stop this… and they will not go home. Across the country, communities feel the same and yet our government chooses to ignore us, ignore peer-reviewed warnings from reputable scientists and ignore the growing wave of bans in France, New York, Victoria and countless other places.
The fight to stop shale gas production is urgent; our health and that of our children is at stake, along with the safety of our water and air. I wish this wasn’t the way I spend my life. But there is no exit door from protecting our children, and so we go on. The fight doesn’t end till it stops. The lessons and gifts of this are that you realise how many feel the same and how much they are willing to put into standing their ground. Activists have endured so much and put ourselves through hugely demanding situations and endured unfair hardship as a result of having to do this… because our government doesn’t value our community’s health or our children’s futures as we do. There is no agency helping us, it is ONLY the power of us. People power actually exists and that’s a reason to hope.