Below is a 16 point personal action plan that I wrote shortly before Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. Given what’s currently happening in the UK it seemed appropriate to revisit the action plan to see what I’d now change. The answer is – only two things. 2½ years ago I thought it was enough to get ready to resist the forces of regression. Now I think the time has come to start to take action. And 2½ years ago this post was called “In These Troubling Times”. It’s now called “The Gathering Storm”.
Over the past 2½ years I’ve watched the UK’s politicians posture, bicker and utterly fail to resolve the most pressing issue of our age. Not “Brexit” – but the continued inequality, exclusion and poverty that is the real division in our society. Recent reports from the UN Special Rapporteur https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48354692 and the Social Mobility Commission https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/social-mobility-in-great-britain-state-of-the-nation-2018-to-2019 – along with the launch of the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ review into inequalities in the UK in the 21st century https://www.ifs.org.uk/inequality/ – demonstrate how little our leaders have cared and done to tackle the “burning injustices” in the UK.
When Trump was elected I thought at the time that resistance to the values (or absence of them) that he personifies was vital in the face of the inequality and division that led to his rise and to other backward steps such as the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU and the rise of authoritarianism and extremism in other countries in Europe, India, China, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Since then, I’ve watched Trump and other “leaders” continue to undermine the institutions (a free and diverse press, a balanced judiciary, independent academia, law enforcement organisations, etc) that would hold them to account for the graft, the nepotism, the laziness, the ignorance they demonstrate and promote. While he and his enablers begin the process of rolling back decades of social progress. While “leaders” in a similar mode start to gain ground in other countries. While an international order which has preserved peace to a huge extent for two generations starts to unravel.
We’re living in what used to be called the “post-war international order”. It’s now feeling much more like a “pre-war international order” as the UK looks like following suit – with one or other “cut price Trump” about to be appointed to lead the country without the mere formality of facing the electorate – including one egotistical, narcissistic, amoral candidate who imagines himself a new Churchill. If he becomes prime minister it won’t take long for his transparent superiority complex to engineer or find a crisis from which only he can save the nation. In fact, it looks much more like a Napoleon Complex masquerading as a Churchill Complex.
So I’m trying to find and focus on things to feel optimistic about. To feel that I can control something during this period. Instead, I find I’m remembering things – like the fact that some of our current politicians voted for Section 28 or against its repeal or against an equal age of consent. That some of those politicians voted against retaining the EU Charter of Human Rights or for repealing the Human Rights Act. That most of them voted for an immigration framework intended to create a “hostile environment”. And the current party in power – irrespective of who leads it – has been running down public institutions for the past 10 years (most obviously the NHS – with a current shortage of 40,000 nurses in England alone) because it fundamentally believes that the only public institutions that should exist are those that protect their assets (the army and police). Anything and everything else should be provided by the market to those that can afford it. Its political appointees – like the Chair of the Charity Commission – are part of that agenda as she has demonstrated by constantly criticising registered charities with the apparent intention that her ideological vision of the institution (which appears to be the “little batallions” of WIs and scout groups) becomes the “trusted” face of charity and everything else (especially that which she deems political, challenging of the status quo or just too big) is illegitimate and to be distrusted (presumably as a prelude to its being regulated out of existence).
The voluntary sector – and civil society more widely – needs to lead the re-making of the UK’s political system because at present the system does not serve the majority of the population. But to do so, the voluntary sector needs to better define its values and publicly live them – and start to behave in a more coherent, co-ordinated way. We need to focus on ending the causes of inequity and inequality, on creating and promoting new ways for democracy to function and on articulating what a just, fair and inclusive society would look like. Civil Society Futures has started this process – https://civilsocietyfutures.org/ – but it now requires the voluntary sector to respond collectively.
If we don’t, then what actually are we for?
So, to resist what some of our political “leaders” personify I recognise I need to be clearer about my own values – and better at thinking about how to enact them – and a lot better at monitoring how consistently I do so.
In These Troubling Times – May 2019:
In these troubling times people of good heart need to read and heed the words of the thoughtful, the compassionate and the wise – like Hannah Arendt https://medium.com/@T_Coombes/6-vital-lessons-for-our-time-people-are-missing-from-hannah-arendt-482fb3081c4d Mohandas Gandhi http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/war/against/nonviolence.shtml and Desmond Tutu http://www.tutufoundationusa.org/tag/archbishop-desmond-tutu/. And then act.
My own plan (a work in progress):
- Keep in mind – these times are a test of you.
- Subscribe to a good news outlet (like theguardian.com). You don’t have to read it but it’s your insurance policy – you must invest in it now because you may very well need the protection it provides later.
- Read this: un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights Then keep using it as a checklist to assess what the powerful are doing or failing to do.
- Save your outrage and don’t allow yourself to be provoked – but do harness your concern and your anger.
- Find out how to harness and direct your concern and anger. Follow and support organisations that are helping people to create progressive social change – such as https://smk.org.uk/ @SMKcampaigners
- Protest – but protesting isn’t enough. Join or donate to at least one organisation that will challenge the powerful and support the powerless (like amnesty.org.uk or www.icrc.org).
- Read everything critically – even the views of people you agree with.
- Read and listen to things you don’t agree with. It’s important to know rather than presume.
- Notice the conjuring tricks: when your attention is being directed to the outrageous, look around to find the really bad thing they don’t want you to see.
- Don’t assume everything will be fine. Don’t assume someone else will stop the wrong. Do good things because you can and you should.
- Find solidarity with people “on the other side” – because confrontation isn’t enough.
- Remember – there’s no such thing as ‘far away’ anymore.
- And also remember that progress (justice and freedom for everyone equally) is neither inevitable nor necessarily linear. It happens because people make it happen.
- Prevention is better than cure: reacting isn’t enough. Ask your representatives what they are doing to make everyone’s lives better in order to remove the space for extremism to grow (in England parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps)
- Think about what you value – act to preserve and extend it.
- When your test gets marked – what score would you like to deserve?