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FANTASY ISLAND

26-11-2008

Fantasy Island

A new book highlighting the failures of the Blair legacy prompts Barbara Panvel to assess where we’ve gone wrong – and how we can put it right.

A hard-hitting account of the damage done by government decisions over the last fifty years has been given by journalists, Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson in their books The Gods That Failed Us and Fantasy Island: In 2007 they wrote "The UK economy is based on shifting sand, the ludicrous price of housing and money shuffling in the City, and not based on solid rock!"

Many advisers who influenced government are emissaries of the McKinsey consultancy, of whom Simon Jenkins wrote '"they once boasted in a documentary that its staff were “masters of the universe”, even if none had ever run a whelk stall. [McKinsey] seeks to locate key alumni everywhere that has money to burn."

Three courses of action would begin to pull us out of the mire:

1. POLITICAL

Free the Westminster 600!

Close the revolving door to lucrative corporate appointments. MPs' loyalties and time should be given solely to their constituents who offer MPs all the work they could handle - and more. Abolish the coercive Party Whip system to allow MPs to vote as they think fit.

2. ECONOMIC

Strengthen the region's economy through the Green New Deal. Colin Hines, convenor of the New Economics Foundation's Green New Deal group writes for The Stirrer:

A "carbon army" must be created and trained to fill hundreds of thousands of green-collar jobs, ranging from energy finance and analysis, through large-scale engineering, to installing renewables, draft stripping and loft-lagging. hardware and piping.These measures would compensate for the job losses and deflation in the wake of the credit crunch, as well as help tackle climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels.

World leaders agree that part of solution to getting out of the present economic crisis is to increase public expenditure - the question arises public expenditure for what? President Elect Obama speaks of spending billions of dollars in saving energy and using renewables and in the process generating million of ‘green collar’ jobs. This is the direction that should be taken by Birmingham to compensate for its already obsolete, pre credit crunch dependence on an economy built on shopping, buy to let and office properties.

There is nothing to stop Birmingham City Council following the example of Transport for London, which raised £600 million in bonds, by launching a "Brummie bond". This could attract pension money to fund the "carbon army" of local employees to make its entire housing stock energy tight, warmer and cheaper to heat. Renewables such as solar electricity and water heating and larger scale combined heat and power systems would all provide business opportunities in the area.

No doubt the hardware needed for hardware and piping could be made here. When I showed a diagram of wind turbine components to a Birmingham engineer working in the metal industry, he said that firms in the area already had the skills & equipment to make them.

3. SOCIAL/EDUCATIONAL

Carl Chinn understands the links between economic activity and social harmony. In 2003, he wrote about plans to remove Digbeth’s local ‘metal-bashing’ workshops, revealed at a meeting of the Sustainability Eastside Forum: “What about the social cost from a generation of young men who are alienated and marginalised?

Improved homes, retraining and increased opportunities will help to rebuild morale but more is needed to create a bond between people living far from their natural kinship or geographical roots. The late Nicholas Gillett, who used to train teachers in the West Midlands, warned that a lack of local roots needs to be addressed by schools if anomie and alienation are to be avoided: "Johan Galtung rates this danger as being as serious a threat as nuclear war . . . every school needs one or two teachers who had grown up in the locality and so have something very important to share with the children. Already schools are using grandparents' memories to make social history seem more real".

Carl adds: "We have to be openly aware of that which binds us together - our living in this country, our backgrounds, our hopes and dreams". To this end, as a Planning & Regeneration officer writes: "Carl proposes a programme of heritage education initially for the local population [in Sparkbrook], but aspiring to City wide."

Jonathon Porritt of the government's Sustainable Development Commission wonders if we will "plan, campaign and hustle our way through to a much fairer, more sustainable future". Will the 'Gods That Failed Us' move from fantasy to reality, enabling the Green New Deal to strengthen regional economies and educators like Chinn and Gillett to enrich and stabilise neighbourhoods?

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