The People's Republic of Brighton & Hove
LOST IN A POLITICAL WASTELAND
I have probably become too sceptical about politics over the last two decades or so. I voted for progressive parties only to see them sell their political soul. They allowed themselves to be pressured by patriotic drumbeating and voted to drop more bombs in the Middle East to solve the problems we started by dropping bombs there. Parties which did not attack conservative foes on their generally abysmal financial record but invested in defending themselves against the charges they’d be bad bookkeepers and who then had their arms twisted in supporting policies which go against the grain of their very raison d'être. Not much I could achieve there, was my general impression. Though the slogans reduce political complexity to newt level I much liked ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ and ‘Yes We Can’ which drifted over the Atlantic. You would have thought the traditional progressive parties in the Old World would have taken the lessons of those slogans to heart. Don’t spar with the opponent so much. Let them sling mud, focus on your own goals, don’t become a string puppet dancing to their directions. Don’t aspire to become ‘them’, it lends you an air of untrustworthiness.
The best thing about politics became the cynical memes which I could laugh at and share if I chose to. It showed some political affinity, I suppose. A big difference is, I had a job then as did my ex-partner and though we had to be careful we could make ends meet. Having since plummeted from the pedestal of suburbia, living in a neighbourhood where gunshots ring out at night and encountering those who were already worst off before Austerity began to impact their lives – well, it’s opened my eye to politics again. The progressive lot may be disappointing but when you let that other mob in and they start rampaging about in the nation’s bookkeeping, bleating about the dire need to save money whilst handing containers of the stuff to their wealthy mates and owners…pfff.
There is a big problem with having a proper rant and rave about this. Most people are essentially ‘good’ and tend to believe that about others. So when you go on about how plain evil some people are they often assume such a thing is not possible which immediately identifies you as a political opponent who is sort of obliged to shout a few slogans every now and then. It doesn’t matter how many examples of utter corporate corruption you identify. Fat Cats sticking money intended for children, pensioners, war veterans, orphaned kittens and the handicapped into their own pockets without so much as batting an eyelid. There are plenty of examples around but the only folks who’ll lap them up are people who already agree with you.
So where to turn to in order to give voice to my renewed political awareness? With a deep sigh I turned to Brighton in Sussex for solace, having already decided I loved the creative buzz in the city (see my hubs Déjà vu in Brighton) and harbouring a strong desire to go live in the city I wrote a book about. Yes, you knew I’d sneak that in, didn’t you. Here’s a picture of the cover, it’s a great story, it really is. Please purchase at once using the handy links to amazon etcetera.
Some bright spark in Brighton had solved the hangover of the most recent UK parliamentary election by noting how one red and one green constituency formed a solitary island of reprieve from the sea of Austerity Blue around it and launched the People’s Republic of Brighton & Hove. THE WHAT?
PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF BRIGHTON & HOVE
From what I have been able to find out it was really intended as a post-election joke but it was one that gained considerable momentum, with over ten thousand people registering their support and some eight thousand joining the digital social media group. A flag was created symbolising that red and green union in a sea of Tory blue and the instigators of this digital revolution saw enough potential to raise funds to help the victims of austerity through the sale of buttons, t-shirts and passport covers. The neighbouring constituency which had turned blue (Kemptown) was the source of many applications for political asylum and as far as Lewes there were requests for immediate liberation of local communities.
A council was set up to oversee things. They are called Their Insignificancies the Officers of the Occasional Table and consist of the Honorary Figurehead, Minister of Miscommunication, Cultural Attaché Case, Minister for Style & Class, Minister for Flags & Bunting, Minister of Nagging and the Minister Without A Clue & Undersecretary Who Can’t Be Arsed.
The long list of ministry titles reveals just how seriously the Republic aspires complete independence for the Pythonesque content is very high: Minister For Unsolicited Opinions And Conspiracy Theories, The Ministry Of Nutrition, Smoothies And Cocktails, Under-Secretary For Optimism, Minister For Throwing Pebbles At The Sea AND the Minister For Chucking Pebbles At The Sea (an important Brighton past time), Minister Of Beach Huts, Secretary Of Stating The Obvious, Consul For The Free Democratic Republic Of Brighton And Hove In The Netherlands , Emissary To Territories North Of Hadrians Wall, Ambassador To Kent, Minister For Jaunty Hats, Minister In Charge Of Putting The Kettle On, Joint Chief Of Staff For The Ministry Of Naked Bike Rides, Head Of The Kemptown Resistance Movement, Head Of The Muesli Belt and the Cultural Attaché For Writing To People Overseas To Develop Cultural Links And Correspondence On Matters Of Mutual Interest With A View To Tentative Twinning, to name but a few.
None-the-less, there is a serious undercurrent which is not so much the dissatisfaction of losing the election but a genuine abhorrence of austerity measures and a concern for those who will bear the brunt of those measures. The government seems to have convinced the minority of people who voted them in (the UK representation system is…Pythonesque as well) that the UK is filled with workshy scroungers milking the social security system. Cutting these funds off, is the suggestion, will lead to a better and brighter Britain. The argument is flimsy, to say the least. Benefit fraud is about 3% of the whole, dwarfed in comparison to the tax fraud that is committed by big firms who appear to be abetted in this by elements of the government which has such a great deal of ‘concern’ for wasted tax pennies. The majority of benefit claimants are in genuine need of the support in order to house and feed their children. The rate at which their ability to pay for the housing has already diminished has seen what is basically ‘class cleansing’ with some 50,000 unwanted inhabitants already exiled from the nation’s capital. With the new cuts the numbers of those who stand to lose their homes will swell untold times. At the same time some councils in the UK have been experimenting with what is essentially the criminalisation of the homeless. Sleeping rough and other offences are fined on the spot. The fine is something those begging for spare change are unlikely to have on them, in which case the fine is increased to a staggering 1,000 pounds. If that can’t be paid by the homeless unemployed person sleeping on the streets out of pure desperation then jail time is the solution. This is nothing more than a hypocritical measure to clear the streets of those who are a visible reminder of the state’s failure to care for its weak and vulnerable citizens.
A GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT?
It is these situations and potential scenarios which are often discussed in the PRHB as the group, both the digital one and the RT alliances which appear to be emerging from that. Folk are starting to think what the ‘joke’ could mean and actually be used for. A safe haven to rant, rave, chat, laugh, cry and commiserate to begin with, regardless of political affiliation for it has been made clear the PRHB is not to become a political party. A place to have a laugh about some light-comedy (if appropriate to the PRHB) or engage in constructive debate. A place where reds, greens, anarchists, eco-warriors, gin-soaked-rogues, revolutionaries, cynics, artists or plain sane people can climb on a digital soap box and have their say without their brand of belief becoming dominant or in any way official PRHB policy.
Already though, RT applications are in place. The sale of PRHB buttons proceeds with impressive results, the PRHB is alive and well in Hove, Brighton and the Occupied Territories (Kemptown). Charitable causes have been selected and citizens have been looking around, thinking about and exploring the concept of ‘community’. Soup-kitchens and foodbanks spring to mind but slowly and surely other areas where the utter lack of Tory concern and care have left a deficit are being identified. The future of the PRHB is hard to predict, but that kind of concern for the community and resultant community care that springs up has always been the hallmark of grassroots movements which manage to mount an effective challenge to the powers that be. The list of such movements is long and shows just how much social resistance plays a traditional part in the history of Albion. The very reason, of course, that they tend not to teach it at schools.
No central committees to dictate who does what but individuals deciding that today is a good day to devote some spare time to something that will benefit those living in his or her immediate surroundings. That might be something as simple as having a cuppa at Mrs Twyner’s flat, for the poor old dear never receives visitors anymore and is delighted when someone does come, or organising coach-loads of citizens to attend demonstrations and rallies in London and other foreign places. In my case it would be throwing what support I can behind initiatives like the excellent City Reads programmes - which makes reading accessible to all - or the community publisher QueenSparks Books. There is no reason to devote your life to the PRHB but if every citizen adds just that little drop, whatever they can, then the People’s Republic of Brighton & Hove will not be an isolated enclave in a sea of blue but a bright exemplary beacon of how it is possible to act contrary to the bankrupt morals of a government run by greed.
Should the dogmatic power seekers who always lurk in the wings of any dynamic popular movement claw their way in, then I shant be too disappointed (well a little bit). In that case, my appointment as Minister of Mandatory Reading In & Out of Twittens (and Cat Creeps) will be dead useful as I will simply decree that every citizen needs to own a copy of my books, thereby reviving my flagging career as a writer.
I am not sure if I have mentioned those books yet? You really ought to read them. Apart from Will’s War in Brighton there’s a good two-book series as well. Magical Realism in the Sussex Weald but filled with contemporary themes such as rampant road-building and abuse of power in Care Homes. Add a few Pooks, and presto, a new Sussex literary tradition is not born at all but blatantly stolen from Rudyard Kipling.