Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Energy and the Election

Riding on the bus this morning, taking full advantage of the free WiFi now available on most public transport in Greater Manchester, I happened to glance at the time. 6:57am.  What the heck, I wondered to myself, I'll tune in to the Today Programme and catch the so-called "headlines".

Top of the hour was the news of the Conservative Party's manifesto launch, coinciding with the official launch of Labour's election campaign (whatever official means - Jeremy Corbyn doesn't seem to have taken five minutes to himself since the date was announced). Attention was drawn (thanks to bullet-pointed press releases, I expect, more than to journalistic scrutiny) to the Conservative pledge to take action to "cap" energy bills; which, as reportedly explained in an article by Theresa May in today's Sun (can't wait to read that) would save "the average British household" £100 a year. God bless the BBC: our friends at Today hastened to add that similar pledges were to be made by Labour in due course. Discussion turned immediately to the tactical significance of this, to the idea of a Conservative proposal ​to intervene in the market (how very dare they?!) and the policy's resemblance to a Labour proposal in 2015 under"Red Ed" to do exactly that themselves. All very interesting. Just who should I vote for now?* 

Let's not go here. Let's not go down the road where the average Tory voter (probably?) spends £100 a day on breakfast, while the average Labour voter (who?) spends £100 a year on food for her 14 shoeless offspring (and that's if they're lucky).  It's worth considering that for many an affluent middle Englander (a who?) £100 is too petty a sum to even register as a "saving", while for as many others in the working class (the what?) that sort of money is the difference between destitution and, um, slightly less destitution over the course of 52 weeks - but the narrative of "class" politics and "traditional" party loyalties, still so heavily implied in any public discussion of elections, while so lightly associated with verifiable reality, really does not concern me here. Put another way, I'm neither affluent nor working class, which I think makes me "middle", which I thought we all were anyway; and which means nothing, when it comes down to the shitty nitty gritty, really concerns me at all. 

What concerns me is just how tiredly one-dimensional this kind of spectacular politics is. Party A promises to save you this much. Party B promises to save you that much.  Who do you trust? 

Nowhere to be found in discussion of prospective government action to saving people money on their essential expenses is any consideration in saving people consumption.  Where, for instance, are any initiatives that might bypass the issue of cost by looking instead at the issue of use? How might governments exercise their power to support a population not to save money doing what they do already, but to save energy by changing what they do? How might a government have a tangible effect on mitigating the effects of overconsumption by encouraging us all to stop consuming so much? Whatever one's views on the freedom or otherwise of "the market" (the what?) we tend not to ask these questions, and neither do those with the power to answer them. Calling us greedy, wasteful and generally detached from the imminent implications of potentially catastrophic climate change (which we all are, and we all know it) does not win votes.  The prospect that we might have to change our lifestyles radically if we are to hold such things as civil society and liberal democracy together simply doesn’t cross the radar of mainstream political discourse.  How could it? 

Changing buses in Manchester city centre, weaving my way through the sleeping bags that cocoon the ever more prevalent rough sleepers not quite out of sight of the rest us, the happy worker drones, I pass a man pulling himself up by the blanket he may well have slept under, and which he’s hoisted to a piece of scaffolding, apparently making a suicidal gesture to any pedestrian who dares (or cares) to look up from their phone, and to his horrified girlfriend who screams "what yer doin? what yer doin?!" hysterically until he climbs back down.  Like every other passer-by, I do nothing to intervene, relieved that action is apparently unnecessary.  An appropriate metaphor, it occurs to me.  Of course, by the time this post is published, he may have tried again, and succeeded this time.  About which so much more could be said. 


*As a disclaimer, if that’s the right word: Please don’t interpret this post as anti-political polemic of the “don’t vote, it only encourages them” stripe.  On June 8th, please vote for whichever candidate in your area is best placed to beat the Conservatives.  Conservative governments cause nothing but misery for people who most need the support of the state in a liberal democracy. I will be voting Labour.

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