Bring on the trees – Government by chaos!

So, the Government is backtracking on the sale of the forests – there’s a surprise! There’s something ineffably and attractively English about the fact that it was this issue more than most others that have caused us to get up on our hind legs – this is the real Big Society, not that ridiculous confection that Government have come up with. This has happened because people are already involved in things that matter to them, and have been so involved for years. They’ve been involved for so long and so effectively that it has become absorbed within the consciousness even of those of us who are not directly involved – I bet there are many people, like me, who love the forestlands of the UK, occasionally visit them and unconsciously regard them as an indissoluble part of our UK heritage, yet who had never even thought of being actively involved in supporting and nurturing them – but, when the call came recently, we were there on the front line, insisting our voice be heard in this fight!

The trouble is, I think the Government knew this would happen. I watched Question Time the other night and the Conservative Minister made a truly feeble attempt to defend the decision and had a wry, almost wistful ( ‘I wish I could tell them….’) look on his face as the rest of the panel took him apart. So what is going on here? Is it that Cameron has decided to completely reverse Maggie’s ‘The lady’s not for turning’ by positively welcoming U-turns – how many U-turns does Gove have to make before he gets the sack? But he’s obviously not going to be dismissed so one must assume that Cameron thinks he’s doing okay – and yet there have never been so many changes of decision in a single department in a similar period of time. And the decisions that are still standing have been made without apparent thought for the consequences. Local Authorities, Health Trusts, RDAs all over the country are rushing around wondering how on earth they move forward – and no one is telling them. (Mind you, the new LEPs soon learnt the hard way when they got it wrong!) You have to wonder if the Independent had it right a few weeks ago when they suggested that this is Government by chaos. The Government are like a tribe of ‘youths’ running through a market upsetting all the stalls and only helping to set them straight when the stall holder has the courage to protest. If people don’t protest, then evidently they don’t care enough – and if they don’t care enough, then force them to care by forcing them to redesign process and practice. And THAT is the Big Society the Government want – the community in all its forms, institutions and societies forced to redesign the way we live now. And anything that doesn’t get reinstated through protest, or redesigned through desperation, is clearly not essential for 21st century UK. I really wish I could believe that they were that brave…………..

But it does make interesting reading to see what we protest about and what we don’t – we care about trees but we don’t care about social care; we care about sport but we don’t care about intellectual life; how is it that the Sports Great and Good managed to get their cut reversed when the Arts can apparently do nothing about the cuts to Arts and Museums, to Libraries, to the learning priorities for Education, (i.e. the dismal focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects with no A for Arts to provide the creative inspiration) – even the scientists themselves have shouted louder than the arts world has. Europe for the first time recognises the absolute necessity of a strong creative sector to catalyse and lead innovation but the UK dispenses with that – the creative sector is one of the few areas in which the UK is an acknowledged world leader, and our Government decides creativity is superfluous to requirement! In the latest European Innovation rankings, the UK is no leader: officially, it is now merely a follower – you cant help wondering just how complicit we all are in this – certainly for the last nine months or so, we’ve been receiving warnings through emails, meetings, PR and gossip that the arts would be cut, would be marginalised – almost warmed up for disaster so that when it came (and the full ramifications through the new design of Portfolio funding are yet to be fully realised) we were asleep.

Charles Handy used to tell the tale of the frog – if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly bring the water to the boil, the frog will allow itself to be boiled to death because it won’t notice its environment changing – that’s us, guys – frogs!