by Danfox Davies 4.10.2015 / Southampton, UK and Bucharest, Romania
Transparency is a word we hear flung around so much in politics and advocacy that it has lost its edge, some of its meaning and is becoming ironically unclear. What exactly do campaigners want when they ask for transparency? Why is a Freedom of Information request such a difficult thing to get right? And who the hell let those idiots demolish that pub in Westminster? Who is at the top, lobbying (in any country)? When will we ever feel satisfied with what the government and various large organisations can tell us about their activities that affect us?
TORIES WITHER EQUALITY
Concerningly, the UK is currently heading away from transparency, with new charges to be levied for FOI requests ensuring that only those who probably already know what the answers will be can afford to file the requests. Whither equality? Tories wither equality. With a First Past The Post electoral system and an unelected House of Lords, the paper that was pasted over the cracks in the 1700s and 1800s reforms to deal with 'Rotten Boroughs' was never quite wide enough to wrap around the whole situation. We never went far enough. The trouble with this is that the commons, so much more than but also including physical common land spaces, continue to be inclosed on the quiet. The rich rely on the secrecy of their actions as they do various taxational acrobatics to prevent the public spotting their crimes and closing their big, saggy loopholes. From the ostensibly Green Party supporting chap I met who nonetheless admits to having Old Money origins and to knowing all the tax avoiding tricks, but who lives in a modest-sized house on a council estate and gets derided by his neighbours for OWNING his home, to the Lord Sugars and Jeff Bezoses of this world, every person with any money will feel like their private affairs are theirs alone, like the government hasn't done enough for them so why should they pay it, and like they are more than entitled to keep their wealth by whatever means necessary. It's not so much greed as self-preservation. When one equates wealth to the preservation of one's life and livelihood, suddenly transparent accounting and the external effects of the actions one takes with this wealth, huge or not, seem to pale into insignificance at best, or worse, the time and money spent considering them is seen as a drain of valuable resources. Instead, those same resources are spent looking for ever more ingenious ways to hide and to manipulate the system, as a parasite manipulates the brain of its host without feeling it has any choice. This is not to say the people themselves are parasites, but that the money has a parasitic effect on the psyche when gathered in significant quantity and that from this comes the subsequent collection of actions which are illogical for the survival of the many and only geared to the survival of the money.
IT'S A SIGN!
You would be forgiven for thinking that all this sounds rather communist, or hippy at least. But it is possible to have the people awaken and hold their government and large companies more to account. Transparency is not dead. In mid-September, I visited Bucharest, the capital of Romania. Now there is a country that knows a thing or two about corrupt people in charge; indeed it still has some of them. A lot of the public infrastructure has been neglected since it was installed in the communist era, when it was ironically installed without much input from the people in the first place. That infrastructure which is now being renewed since they got a decent person in charge, seems to be largely from sycophantic foreign companies trying to woo the Romanian government into paying them to fix up the rest of the country's street lights, roads, utilities and so forth. So far, so mediocre. Yet according to the free city tour guide, a young lady in her 20s studying architecture at the university there in Bucharest and wearing a permanent smile, the young adult demographic has found itself with immense new optimism since the election of their new president. This optimism she described seemed to be in stark contrast to the weary depression worn by my friend I was visiting there, who felt very skeptical that anything could be done to fix his country and told me it was full of corruption (I told him he should see the UK!).
But then, as I was considering how all this ostensible new-found optimism among Romania's young adults was still facing a long uphill struggle, my friend and I stumbled across a very interesting sign at a building site a few blocks' walk out of the city centre. The photo of it I took is at the top. Here were development and consultancy firms, architects and planners, utility companies and suppliers, all being mandated to supply their contact details and means to get further information on their involvement in a big building project, right there on a big sign board facing a busy boulevard. I have never seen anything so clear and simple as this in the UK. Someone, somewhere, is making waves in ensuring transparency in planning and construction. I daresay in Bucharest of all places, they don't want to see a repeat of the trampling of heritage seen in the communist era, one which is clearly also possible in capitalist society when companies from other countries decide to just outright ignore the rules and demolish a popular pub one night.
The interesting conclusion from this is, that the UK has a lot to learn from Eastern Europe. Perhaps we should stop seeing them as a source of job stealing immigrants and start seeing them as a source of inspiration and of lessons to learn, lest we end up down a similar path to the ones they already travelled. In the interest of avoiding such a fate, may I make a start by defiantly pipetting my drops into the ocean: I will tell you now that I have a vested interest in the success of a company I am the founder of: Vulpine Designs Unlimited. It is a biodesign firm and will bias me in favour of certain kinds of genetic modification. I care more about the success of this firm than I do about my position as a member of the Pirate Party, and I care about that a lot as it is. I am a flawed person and may misjudge based on the influence of my career on my political mindset. I am not stupid enough to say that I do not allow it to affect my opinions. Of course it does. I don't want to be elected. I have far too much to do to have the time to lead any office of government, local or national. But I want you to vote for people who are prepared to be this honest about their biases. You owe your country that much.
NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN, NEVER TOO YOUNG TO TEACH
In the UK we tend to regard our society as 'developed'. What an arrogant, presumptive and cynical pile of nonsense. Who are we to pontificate? Every country in the world is developing. There is no such thing as developed, as that would imply a pinnacle, an absolute top above which one cannot progress. If the UK is the top of what this world can achieve, I don't want to live on this planet any more. I agree that we do not want to keep expanding our population endlessly, and that we do have a mature system of infrastructure and services, bureaucracy and finance. But that does not a development make. You can have all the skyscrapers, money and home comforts you want, but if they are at the expense of the people's freedoms and knowledge and ability to be involved, you can throw them all away.
The UK needs to take a good long hard look at itself, as does the US and a few other countries, whilst we should see that although it lacks the physical and organisational appearance of being well 'developed', Romania right now shows the most potential for improvement I have seen. We should be watching that very closely, encouraging it int he right ways, and taking notes for our own countries to take heed of. We need to inform our people too. Preferably without a series of bloody revolutions and despotic crooks, though we may be a little late to avoid the latter. We can if nothing else heed the warnings about how not to handle such people, by learning the lessons of the past elsewhere as well as at home. We can drop that stupid arrogant act while we're at it too. We need to hold our rich, new money and old, to account, no matter how much they claim it will cost us. We need to realise that it's not about how long ago your clod of rocks and soil on this globe got its name and its immigrant inhabitants found some semblance of law, and cultural identity. It's not about your religion or your ability to wave the phalli known as GDP, business and military prowess. It's not about how many entrepreneurs you can plant in some lucky, chosen areas and it's neither about how much oil you have nor about how green you claim to be. Developmental time is relative to many more factors than social scientists will measure and more individual minds than think tanks dare contemplate. Once we realise that everyone, deep inside, hasn't a clue what they are doing, be they a prime minister or a cleaner, we all feel the same fears and nerves inside and wing it; then maybe we'll be worthy to call ourselves 'developing', once we understand as a nation what true development is.
P.S. Don't get me started on the in-your-face-ness of the Duty Free shops at Stansted, by comparison those at Otopeni were outright pleasant!