“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”
Brexit and Climate Change - two seemingly wholly disconnected issues, both challenged by time. Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite accusation of Theresa May is that she is ‘running down the clock’, only for him to learn today that seven of his parliamentary colleagues have run out of patience with him, on both Brexit and anti-semitism. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of young people marched last Friday in protest at the world’s lethargic response to climate change.
Time is of the essence in most things: there is a right time to take action and, in most cases, delay frustrates the purpose. So it is with both Brexit and Climate Change.
So this week we look at these two challenges of our time, and consider why we must hold our nerve.
The European Commission is much better at negotiations than it is with generating economic growth, and takes an inordinate amount of time in achieving both. In BBC’s ‘Question Time’ last Thursday, Jacob Rees-Mogg extolled UK growth compared with the Eurozone, just as Head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, warned that stagnation in the southern Eurozone nations threatens to undermine faith in the European project as prosperity is failing to spread across from the richer north and west of the continent.
Another point raised from the BBC audience was that none of the EU bureaucrats have ever taken part in public forums such as Question Time: but it is important to remember that these are not democrats nor politicians - the EU is one of the least democratic organisations outside dictatorships. Millions of EU citizens living long term in countries other than their home country have no vote in their host country general elections, and revisiting referenda until electorates give the right answer is one of the EU Commission’s favourite ways of overturning popular votes.
So the EU would be delighted if we applied for an extension to article 50. Such prevarication would play directly into their style of negotiation. If Theresa May is ‘running down the clock’, all power to her elbow: it is only by taking the deal to the wire that the absurd insistence on the Irish backstop will be removed, because ‘no deal’ with the EU would result in exactly the opposite of what they claim they are trying to achieve. Like anti-semitism in the Labour Party, this is not a can that should be kicked down the road any further.
And likewise with Climate Change. Warnings are coming at us thick and fast, and the time for substantial change is now.
In this area more than any other, young people are entitled to make their voice heard. It will not be the baby boomers who suffer the consequences of global warming and mass extinctions: it will be those currently at school and younger. So whereas age and experience has a role to play in assessing Eurozone dysfunctionality, it is an indulgence for older folk to think that they know best on Climate Change.
During the Coalition Government there was a serious attempt to reform the rules for electing the second chamber, the House of Lords. Unfortunately the initiative got bogged down in the mire of politics, but for a brief time it offered a change to think strategically about governance.
One of the problems with our general election system is that the five-year term encourages short-term policies and thinking, which is bad news for addressing subjects such as Climate Change. So I wrote in requesting that election to the second chamber should be on the basis of long-term policies: how people wish to see the world in 50 years’ time - a challenge for loving our neighbour of tomorrow. Perhaps I should have placed more emphasis on the need to represent the generations who will be experiencing that world, especially after hearing some of the eloquent contributions to the debate last Friday.
Time sits alongside gravity and light as one of the three key gifts of creation, the laws of nature themselves. In the material world, its structure is unbending and gives us the framework within which actions can and should be taken. So far as we know, all other living beings accept the cycles of time, live and die within them, and typically enjoy millions of years’ existence as species.
Our species has lasted 200,000 years so far: perhaps we should think twice before concluding that we know better.
And finally, while we’re speaking of ‘running down the clock’, I’m reminded of my annual grumble with the ‘Clocks Forward’ date. On the principle of equi-distance from the winter solstice, the clocks ought to have gone forward into ‘summer time’ yesterday: but I regret to have to inform you that we have to put up with another seven weeks of dark evenings! Why?