Monthly Archives: September 2014


As I get older and, given the circumstances of my early life, I am very conscious of what might have been. Perhaps that is why my favourite poem is one by Robert Frost. It’s called “The Road not Taken” and, for those of you not familiar with it, I include it here:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry that I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth.


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having, perhaps, the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though, as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day.

Yet, knowing how way leads onto way,

I doubted that I should ever come back.


“I shall be telling this with a sigh,

Somewhere ages and ages hence.

Two roads diverged in a wood and

I took the one less travelled by

And that has made all the difference.


The reason I quote this is because, by force of circumstance. I took that path and have found that, in my case, the paths have again become one. Moreover, with the experience I have gained, am now doing what I should have done when I was 20. That is, writing. Yet I am very aware that there could be another world and other paths which brings me, in my usual round about way, to my subject for today’s blog, which is the world as it might be.


Now, I don’t suppose there are many of you that thing that the way this country functions (or may correctly, doesn’t function) these day is much to your liking. In fact, the recent referendum in Scotland showed that nearly half the population voted for independence. In my opinion, largely because that reject the extreme market driven politics practiced south of the border. Greed and avarice seem to be its driving forces and the lowest common factor its goal. Unfortunately for me and those like me, I want caring and sharing and the highest common factor. And, no, it need not be a pipe dream. Look at what Norway has done with the money from its oil reserves oil and compare that with what we have done with ours. Then consider that this was, probably, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Oh, dear, we’ve blown it again.


If you should still believe that these are just wonderful dreams, I would like to welcome you to Goodland.  Goodland is where:

The President refuses to live  his state mansion and gives away 90 % of his salary living on the national average wage

There is a constitution written by its citizens

When financial sector fell apart, speculators bore their own losses and guilty were taken to court not bailed out

The banking system is mutually owned

Small  businesses are helped

Wellbeing is more important than economic growth

There is national plan for free health and education

There is subsidised childcare

There is support for elderly people

Where cities are greener

Where fossil fuels will be phased out by 2017

Where the business sector has well organised and productive co-operatives

Where there is a shorter working week available by choice


Not fantasy, it exists albeit with each of these spread throughout the globe


Jose Mujica of Uruguay is the president driving 1987 Beetle, he is guarded by two  policemen and a dog

Iceland is the country with a new citizen drafted constitution ready to be accepted

It also also allowed the banks to fail and imposed temporary controls on the movement of capital to provide wiggle room

Port Alegre in Brazil is where, since 1990, citizens have met every week to decide how much of the city’s budget should be spent

Interestingly, in 7 years it has led to a doubling of access to proper sanitation in poor neighbourhoods

Germany is the country with Mittelrand where its banks have to be  useful as well as profitable

The Mondragon region of Spain has co-operatives employing 80,000 people generating 14bn Euros

Holland is the country with the shorter working week

Bhutan is where success is not measure by GDP but GD happiness including 151 variables from good governance to education, living standards, cultural diversity and ecological resilience

Nicaragua is phasing out fossil fuels by 2017 and Germany is planning for 100% renewables by 2050

Ecuador has a National Plan for Good Living with the aim of reasserting the country’s authority by putting its own social and economic objectives above those of the market

While we tie ourselves in knots trying to devise methods to pay for our healthcare, Denmark has a tax system which pays for free health and education, home help for elderly people and nearly 75% of childcare

Far from harming the economy, higher taxes stimulate investment in infrastructure, R & D and education


This country could, indeed, be different as can be demonstrated by the examples above.  It is, merely,  the will and imagination that is the problem. Are we so lacking that we cannot create our own Goodland, our Big Society? I’m sorry but I think the people of this country of ours deserve better.



Reasons to Believe

My wife had a message from an old friend In Edinburgh on Saturday morning expressing her disappointment over the fact that too many Scots had been “feart” when they voted last Thursday. Well, that may, or may not, be so. What is certain is the fact that 84% of those eligible to vote actually did so with 55.3% voting for the continuation of the Union and 44.7% voting for independence. Now that 10.6% margin may seem like a great deal, especially in the light of the panic among the political parties in Westminster over the opinion polls during the preceding days. However, I would ask you to think again. What it actually means if that nearly half those who could vote, wanted their independence. If you add to that a statistic quoted by Alex Salmond that over 140 countries have attained their independence since 1945 and not one has ever asked to be taken back again, you start to get a different picture. What was ironic was hearing from heads of countries which either had fought for their independence, (the USA) or were leaders of political parties, most of whose MP’s want to break free from unions which they are currently part of (David Cameron), trying to persuade the Scots that they should not do so. Truly what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.


I would like to add a few more facts to the exercise in painting pictures. Among these is the fact that Britain is a very rich country with the 6th largest economy in the world. Yet, according to an article in today’s Guardian, during the longest economic crisis since the 19th century, the wealth of the richest 1,000 people has more than doubled. Moreover, that increase, of about £261bn, is about two and a half times Britain’s annual deficit. Add up their wealth and you reach a sum of £519bn or approximately one third of the GDP of the whole country. This at a time when nearly one million people have had to resort to food banks to feed themselves and their families. And, for the first time since WW2, the Red Cross has distributed food packages to British families.


You can see why the Scots, who seem to have a more vibrant social democracy than we have, might actually think that they would be better off running their country in their own way. And who can blame them. Yet, the English have a proud history of social activism and democracy going back nearly 400 years. We just need to rekindle what Bill Bragg describes in his beautiful song, “Between the Wars” as “sweet moderation, heart of this nation”. It will take a long while but last Thursday’s result, as I explained to my wife’s friend, should be seen as the beginning and not the end. After all, it is not only people north of the border who feel passionate about the values that their culture represents to them. Many of us feel it too. We also feel that our own government and those who run our major institutions, despite their flag waving, feel none of it in the way that the rest of us do.

It Doesn’t Have to be This Way

I remember reading somewhere, many years ago, something along the lines that “the bigger the lie, the more that it will be believed”. It’s something that I have come to believe myself more as I have grown older and which was emphasised when my wife and I went to the cinema on Saturday evening. The film which sets the tone for my blog today is “Pride”. Based on actual events, it is the story of how a group of gays and lesbians in London formed a support group to help the miners during the strike during 1984/5. They chose a mining community in Wales and travelled to deliver the money repeating the performance again and again, breaking down barriers and forging deep bonds. It may be slightly dramatised but it is a funny and heart warming reminder us of days when to contradict Mrs Thatcher, there was “such a thing as society”. Which brings me to what I wanted to say.

There is a myth that needs to be addressed, an elephant in the room that needs to be talked about. Indeed, many of us do just that. Even, I suspect, at the upper levels of government. Yet, promoted by most of the press, the message is that our current economic woes are the result of government overspending and that a small group of, largely white, middle aged men with a fairly common background have special talents that uniquely equip them to run the country either directly or via control of our press and financial institutions. Moreover, they attained these positions by virtue of such talents and sheer hard work above and beyond similar qualities in the rest of the population. On this basis, they seem to justify remuneration on a scale that beggars belief. It is, of course, self serving nonsense.

Research would seem to show that talent is spread fairly evenly throughout society whereas, unfortunately, the resources to develop it are not. This, it needs to be said, is not just an academic matter. Surely, the country would be more able to operate on a global scale if it made the best use of the skills and abilities of the whole population. After all, if this lot is the best we can come up with, we are in serious trouble. Oh no, I forgot, we already are!

If you should think that this is all just a pipe dream and that there appears to be little alternative, I suggest a thorough reading of our history; especially that part which demonstrates how working people have, over the past 400 years at least, played an active role in creating a civic society based more on communal effort than individual greed. I refer, of course, to E P Thompson’s classic book, “The Making of the English Working Class”. If you should not want to plough through this magnum opus, I would refer you to my own, more modest, contribution, “The Real Big Society.  This latter, as well as providing a brief history also contains a number of recent, practical example; including my personal favourite, Hedgehog Self Build where a group of people who were homeless and unemployed built their own homes. 13 years later they are still there, in work, in a wonderful community.

Finally, I did some research recently on the first Labour MP’s. Many of them came from among the manual trades and, seemingly, could hardly believe where they were when they walked into parliament. They finished up in government, some in the highest offices in the land; which brings me full circle. The film I mentioned is, obviously, a dramatisation, however, those portrayed in it weren’t (at least, not all of them). Sian James, a housewife wonderfully played by Jessica Gunning, went on to study and become the first woman MP for the Swansea East constituency. Truly, things don’t need to be the way they are.

After a long break

With a new website that enables me to blog directly as one of its functions, I have decided, after a long break, to start blogging again. As any of you who care to look at previous missives, these were largely concerned with changing things for the better with some very practical examples of how this might be done. Crucially using the latent talent of those on the receiving end in our society, enabling them to tackle their own problems. Potential that I personally seen realised again and again in my 35 years in the voluntary sector and described in my first book, “The Real Big Society and my part in it”, the back cover blurb of which is reproduced below:


Is there untapped talent in our society?

Can it be nurtured and harnessed for the benefit of all?

What does history teach us?

Are there good examples today?

Finally, can we create a real big society?


The Big Society was a flagship of the Conservative Party manifesto at the last election and included in the Coalition Agreement. Yet, according to Sir Stephen Bubb, the Head of the Chief Executive of Voluntary Organisations, it is “effectively dead”. This book argues that it need not be and that there is good historical precedent for such a society. It is based on many years experience and a great deal of enjoyment in the voluntary sector helping people to help themselves. The results have been described as demonstrating the “extraordinary talents of ordinary people”.


For those who want to see one of the best examples I know of these untapped talents, I  would recommend that that you watch  “Grand Designs” on television. Something I no longer do as I have become weary of watching some of the participants. Notably those who have made money and give the impression that, because of that, have little need to take advice from others. They set out to build a mansion, most of which they don’t need, go over budget and time and seem to think that they have done a good job! Some of those featured do, indeed, discover their latent talent which, unfortunately for them, doesn’t seem to extend to financial management. Still, family and friends (or an amenable bank manager) bail them out and they seem to sail on somewhat oblivious to the fact that, with a bit more thought and/or advice, it could all have been done better and without so much hassle. Still, it used to give me a good reason to shout at the television!


The reason I say this is because I feel that’s it represents a microcosm of the country today. However, for a view of a world that could be, I recommend that you go back to “Grand Designs” and watch one of the “Revisited” episodes; in this case, the one featuring Hedgehog Self Build Group in Brighton.


This is a group of people, who were unemployed and homeless, and who built their own sustainable homes. One managed to do it while still bringing up his daughter as a single parent. They used a simple timber framed method of building which did as little damage to the landscape as possible and enabled the builders to extend or alter the houses as their individual circumstances changed. It took them nearly two years to build, during which time they became a small community, something they still are twelve years later. They are also all now in employment in the social sector of the economy where they feel they can “put something back”. Just watch and have your spirits lifted!


More next week.