Letters to the press by Fanny Mills

Published in the North Devon Journal, October 2023

The Government’s recent announcement on Net Zero took me back to a small but significant incident in the classroom many years ago.

It was not long after I had started my new school, clad in my new uniform of brown cords and a cream shirt and finding my feet. Two girls said to me in unison, full of a sense of their own rightness and worldly wisdom: “We know people only vote out of self-interest”.

I stood my ground and argued heatedly that I did not agree with them. Did they really think that the only thing that mattered to each individual was the advancement of their own material circumstances regardless of what was going on around them? What sort of world would that create, I asked myself. Not one that I would like to live in.

It often seems to me that the rhetoric employed by this government is no improvement on the views expressed by those two girls in the classroom.  Being in government is surely a privilege and a deep moral duty. It has the power to encourage us all to realise that we depend upon each other – our species– and all the other species we share the planet with.

Instead, this government seems to provoke everyone to elbow others out of their way – from the cruel rhetoric around asylum seekers whom they seem incapable of treating as human beings, to the encouragement of polarising culture wars. Our species has more pressing matters to deal with. Top of the list is the threat of climate change which has been all around us this year, in the form of searing heat, and, here in North Devon – continuous rain and flooding. And what is government rhetoric (and action) in the face of it? It rows back from its climate targets and encourages us to think only about our narrow self-interest. Where do the recent announcements leave all of us who are so earnestly trying to do what we can to help, however inconvenient? The businesses who are trying to plan? Confused and adrift..

I am encouraged, though, by the evidence that I am starting to see around me of concerned and thoughtful citizens who are joining together to try and change things. Political parties, cross party groups and single issue campaigners  are starting to see what a lot they have in common. Groups who feel that goodness is a desirable attribute in those in government, that equality makes people healthier and happier, that people need to be better represented by their voting system, and that looking after our planet is a necessity, not a hobby. And they can see that taking this wider, deeper view is ironically the best chance we have of improving our own individual material and spiritual wellbeing. Our government may be ignoring these things, but from the ground up, citizens are starting to talk to each other again, and a delicate flickering of optimism seems to be getting stronger.

Yes, I very much hope that the views expressed by those two girls in the classroom, and seemingly espoused by this government, will soon be defeated by something much more compassionate, far sighted and intelligent.  

Fanny Mills

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