Fringe Box



Opinion: Guildford, Like Everywhere Else, Is Living Through ‘Interesting Times’

Published on: 22 Nov, 2016
Updated on: 10 Dec, 2016

Time For ChangeBy Martin Giles

We appear to be living in the kind of “interesting times” that the Chinese are often said to wish on others as a curse*.

World population is ballooning, we face uncertain climate change, and all its possibly planet-threatening consequences, the world’s trouble spots remain troubled, including the tinder-box Middle-East, the whole Western economy based on debt, seems dangerously fragile, and millions struggle for a crust while the US president elect poses in front of gold-plated front doors.

Is it any wonder that there is a restlessness in the air?

Is it any wonder that workers in the North East of England who have seen their wage packets undercut, or even disappear, felt they had nothing to lose in voting for Brexit, or those in the “rust-belt” of the United States, given the choice of Trump or Clinton, decided to go with someone who at least promised some change?

Opinion Logo 2Interestingly, the second choice for many Trump voters was Bernie Saunders, far to the left on the US political spectrum. Either the simplistic “left” and “right” labels are no longer useful or voters were so desperate for change they were not fussy about what kind.

The other day someone showed me a cartoon map of the USA which showed all those living in the areas other than the west or north-east coast regions as dumb (that’s not precisely how it described them, as you might imagine).

I have heard similar descriptions used of Brexit voters.

To my mind it is a lazy and insulting generalisation by those who sometimes smugly claim some sort of intellectual superiority.

The same group label views, with which they disagree, as populist, ignoring the fact that democracy is based on popular votes.

Others seem to hold equally prejudiced views of anyone better off than they are as undeserving, selfish and uncaring.

David Brooks, an American journalist to me sums it up well when he says: “Populism and elitism are the same thing. They are class prejudices, crude class prejudices that so-and-so, because they are uneducated, is less worthy, or so-and-so, because they are richer or more educated, is unworthy.”

But why I am I writing about all this in a Guildford online newspaper? Will the restlessness affecting much of the Western world be felt here?

Perhaps not. Most of us in generally prosperous Guildford might have good cause to be quite happy with our lot and the way things are, or at least were before June 23. Only a minority of us here voted for leaving the EU, albeit a larger minority than some, including our MP Anne Milton, expected.

There is undoubtedly some disquiet within certain parts of the borough about the Local Plan, particularly those most affected by the proposals to earmark large strategic sites within the green belt for development.

But will that be enough to significantly change the outcome of future elections?

Despite the limited success of the Guildford Greenbelt Group and truly remarkable election results in Lovelace, where the Lib Dem candidate won, and held, what had been the safest Tory seat in the borough, the likelihood is that if an election was called tomorrow the Conservatives would still be returned with a working majority.

Why is this?

It could be that most of us are content with the way the borough is being run and the Local Plan is shaping up. Perhaps we feel that growth and development is inevitable and there is little point resisting it, or that given the national housing shortage and the need for our younger folk to get on the housing ladder, we should have more development, even if it does cost us a bit of green belt land.

Or perhaps most of us, in our busy lives, are relatively unaware of local politics and planning proposals and simply vote, if we vote at all, depending on our current attitudes towards political parties at a national level. Certainly the correlation of national and local election results indicates that is the case.

In any case, with our first past the post system, even quite sizeable swings of opinion may not be reflected in the number of seats that change hands.

So, if the Conservative government is gambling that there will not be enough discontent in constituencies like Guildford to threaten electoral success, in their heartlands, they could be right.

But it is a bit of a gamble. Most GGG voters would previously have voted Conservative. If GGG steals enough votes and the Lib Dems recover some ground, it just could change the balance of power at Millmead.

And the Tories must think that their voters are concerned about the green belt. Why else make election promises about it, however hollow, as they did last year, in the lead up to the 2015 election?

Chinese curse

Anyway, whether it is a curse or not, we certainly are in “interesting times” and Guildford is not isolated from the rest of the country or the world. Perhaps Guildford voters will yet change their political allegiances, whether influenced by local issues, national issues or by major political changes that are still to come, changes that might even transform our own local political landscape.

*The provenance of this saying, sometimes attributed to Confucius, without any apparent accuracy, is uncertain. The earliest strong match appears to come from a March 1936 newspaper report in the Yorkshire Post of West Yorkshire, England. The expression was used in a speech by an influential British statesman Sir Austen Chamberlain (half-brother of PM Neville Chamberlain). He said: “It is not so long ago that a member of the Diplomatic Body in London, who had spent some years of his service in China, told me that there was a Chinese curse which took the form of saying, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us.”

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Responses to Opinion: Guildford, Like Everywhere Else, Is Living Through ‘Interesting Times’

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    November 22, 2016 at 8:36 am

    As usual The Dragon is breathing the cleansing fire of common sense. We must also consider the campaign groups of all colours who walk along the cliff edge of honesty in their public acclamations when dealing with certain matters and the politicians who walk the tightrope of legislation trying to prevent the populace actually knowing how dire things really aren’t!

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    November 22, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    I think Guildford will follow other areas such as Epsom and Farnham and start voting in Independent candidates for their wards.

    To be honest, I haven’t seen much of our local MPs lately but that’s because there’s not an election on the horizon.

    • C Williams Reply

      November 24, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      Farnham is merely a town/parish council. Independants are quite common at that level.

      However, it is an interesting point that Epsom and Ewell borough council and Elmbridge borough council are majority controlled by their residents associations and have been for many years.

      However my understanding is that residents’ associations have a tendancy for not agreeing amongst themselves and so never really achieve much.

  3. Bernard Parke Reply

    November 22, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    If only we could elect independent candidates as we did in the 1930s.

    Unfortunately now, unlike then, it is virtually impossible for just one well meaning person to stand against the might of the party machines with their considerable resources.

    The result is that now people vote traditionally for the party labels and so it is not always possible to find whether they have elected the right person, with the right ability to represent them and express their will.

    When I was active in politics we believed that the voting reflected two thirds support for the party and possibly one third for the candidate.

    Bernard Parke is an Hon Alderman and former Mayor of Guildford.

  4. Paul Bishop Reply

    November 24, 2016 at 7:41 am

    A new, Guildford focused, party in Millmead would be a breathe of fresh air, no doubt. However, I don’t think any of the current offerings are up to the job.

    The Lib Dems are unfortunately tied to a national party which are frankly now irrelevant, and despite the local Brexit vote results, their blatant disregard for the referendum result just makes them more irrelevant.

    And whilst the GGG seem to have some strong supporters on their main policy of not building on green belt, they don’t really have much substance below that. There’s no real plan from them, when their manifesto is a two-page document with things as wishy washy as solving congestion by ‘work(ing) to minimise through-traffic’ and ‘encourage rail travel’. They can’t really be taken seriously as anything more than a single issue party.

    Whilst there is this very limited opposition I don’t see the Conservative majority going anywhere, any time soon.

  5. Mike Murphy Reply

    November 24, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    Few predicted Brexit and even fewer predicted “The Donald”.

    Maybe the people are at last seeing through the ruling parties and might yet provide some more surprises those who have shown such complacency?

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