Who are We to Be?

Who are We to Be?

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Abraham Lincoln

In May 2016, a ‘government inspector’ came to Cornwall to pass his view on our Local Plan; the document that is meant to guide the development of the Duchy over the next twenty years. The trouble is that this plan is neither derived from a long-term vision for Cornwall, nor from a carefully prepared strategy that will take us toward where we want to go. Instead, it is a collection of targets that reflect the desires of Westminster and enterprises such as property developers, waste disposal companies etc. The Local Plan is therefore not an expression of local will, but of national concerns and commercial interests that have not taken account of the actual needs of we who live here, nor of our specific environment, nor even our true economic concerns.

Yesterday

Our past is populated by brave warriors, tough fishing folk, long-suffering miners and hardscrabble farmers. It is defined by the geography of a remote and separate land that has never been conquered in warfare. In the tenth century, Athelstan – the first king of England – accepted that the Cornish must persist beyond the Tamar. However, an insidious influence weakened the strong local grip on a distinctive language and culture, as can be seen by English language marginal notes in the Bodmin bible of the same period.

Much later, the assurance of John Wesley and Methodism inspired those who had least, with a promise of salvation to all, irrespective of their wealth. Cornwall learnt then, that neither its history nor the opinions of outsiders should determine its future. It also renewed the confidence of the many ordinary people that a good and meaningful life on earth can prosper in the simplest of surroundings.

Today

The 21st century doesn’t offer any such comforts. In our modern consumer society, riches are wrongly equated directly with wisdom and goodness. Those who succeed in accumulating money are praised and courted by governments and the bigger the corporation, the greater is the obedience of the politicians. The fact that just one per cent of the population own 46 percept of the world’s wealth has not gone unnoticed. Global companies have such direct influence through lobbying and indirect effect through their avoidance of tax, that they can barely be said to have an invisible hand in running things. This is critically important for Cornwall, as business depends on the exploitation of natural commodities as well as human resources. This means that both the environment and communities are raw material for companies and, if their approach is solely based on ‘shareholder value’ (assuming that the shareholders are not the native population) the results are very likely to be harmful to both the land and the people that live there.

Modern Cornwall comprises of a population of 550,000 visited by over five million tourists, who come to enjoy a couple of weeks of holiday in a beautiful landscape. Views of green fields are fast disappearing beneath industrial scale wind turbines, solar farms, concrete business parks and tens of thousands of houses requiring new roads for tens of thousands of extra cars. A quarter of all households are on the edge of poverty and yet we have coastal properties that house some of the most prosperous people in Britain. Between these two poles of wealth are huge numbers of immigrants from across the Tamar, many of whom have chosen the Duchy for retirement. Essential infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, doctors surgeries and sewage plants are placed under tremendous strain and will not keep up with increased demands.

Our ancient and unreformed parliament is highly centralized and we live by its proclamations as though in a hypnotic stupor. The current system of governance, by which Westminster delegates orders from London to Cornwall Council, allows for no practical local intervention despite the best efforts of local councillors. ‘Consultation’ is a mere box-ticking process that is designed to sidestep awkward criticism, complaints or offers of co-creation by those who must suffer the consequences of decisions. The very data on which the Local Plan depends is not generated from Cornwall, but from London. The decision on the fitness of the Local Plan is made not by a wise judge aided by a dispassionate jury of those who must live by it, but by a single civil servant acting for Westminster. If governance is the necessary evil agreed on by the people to act on behalf of the people, this determination of the Local Plan represents a gross breach of that agreement.

This is a critical moment for us all, as we have about £1.2 billion pounds of debt and pension fund deficit in the Council. Understand, that although this has been incurred by our representatives, the burden is on our back and not theirs. On the upside, there is about £1.2 billion pounds due to Cornwall via Europe and other sources.

Tomorrow

We have a stark choice. Either we decide to organize Cornwall around our beliefs and our will, or we must be controlled by big money up-country, or even out of the country. We can suffer the whims of strangers, or be our own proud rulers. We can face life’s challenges with a smile, or whine beneath the yoke of servitude.

If we are to determine a happy future for our children, we are going to need to commit ourselves to the task of local self-government within a federal Britain. Central government has its place, but it has no business trying to control the parishes of Cornwall. This transition will not happen without our striving, without our perseverance and without a refusal to give up. Even more, we must learn to love this process; the well-being of those who live here will become the purpose of our lives and thus require significant attention, energy and other resources.

Finally it must be admitted, that unless we decide to take control of our own destiny and do so with joy, we will have no choice at all in the matter. The status quo of ‘business first’ will continue to thrive as it is doing worldwide, unless we actively disarm it. Of course we want economic success and must work in partnership with others, but it has to work for our benefit as a society and as an environment.

Who are we to be? If we remain indifferent to the challenges we face, we will lose our moral right to complain. Even worse, it would show a total lack of the courage and determination that our forefathers demonstrated with their readiness to sacrifice their lives in two world wars. Whether we succeed in creating the Cornwall we love within our lifetime is largely irrelevant, because the true quality of our lives depends entirely on our ability to create what we want in harmony with one another.

If we give up, we give in to the beast; and the beast dreams in concrete.

ends

© Orlando Kimber 2016

Image: Portrait of a Cornish fisherman by Frederick James McNamara Evans, before 1929.