Thursday, 18 February 2016

The cabinet office pays for calf skin, whilst council cuts continue

No, Mr Reees Mogg, what tells us 'our laws are serious', is when they actively consider the people, rather than the parchment they are written on 

So we live under a political establishment which will pay for calf skin over local councils? This comes in light of recent news which has drawn attention to MPs efforts to save the centuries-old practice of printing Britain’s laws on vellum – usually goat or calf skin – with the cabinet office even offering to foot the £80,000 additional cost[1]. Tradition rather than transformation seems to be the sad state of much of Britain's politics. The events seem to confirm this is the case, as David Cameron praised the preservation of parliament writing laws on vellum – which had been due to end in April -  as playing an ‘important part’ in the House of  Commons and that it is a tradition which should be upheld ‘wherever possible’ (according to his official spokesperson). It’s a shame he didn’t have this apparent urgency for upholding institutions loved by the people; such as the great traditions of libraries and community centres, which he seems to deem as unimportant enough to fall under his austerity cuts.

 A government which prioritizes the appearance of its record, over the real lives of people – is the raw reality. It is still a segregated field, with a different system enjoyed by the elite than those they claim to represent. They could not bear the prospect of laws recorded on paper or computers, yet can stomach a series of strict council cuts.

Whilst the government seems content to go forwards with its austerity measures (with over £6 billion expected to be cut, considerably affecting local councils by 2019[2]) it still managed to have the time and money to come with agreement with the cabinet office and pay £80,000 annually for the calf skin. As supported by Cabinet Office Minster Matthew Hancock, writing laws on vellum is a great ‘tradition’ which needs to be preserved. This comes at the same time as the much more personal ‘tradition’ of community libraries falls victim to the axe of cuts, traditional children’s centres scrapped, support centres closed. Here in Manchester, the council is planning to increase council tax by up to 4%, whilst facing cuts of up to £13.8m from its budget, for instance[3].  I am not saying that the costs are comparable; obviously there’s a difference between £80,000 and the millions. But what I am saying is that this is a government with a seriously skewed perspective – willing to cut the services which mean something to a majority (i.e. libraries have the capacity to be loved by generations, children centres will always be needed), whilst preserving pomp and circumstances of a minority.

The material they are written on should not matter

Even a small amount of money can give community facilities the boost they need to come alive again; all some libraries were crying out for was an extent of refurbishment to encourage in a wider audience.  People weren’t even given a say over how the cuts were to be coordinated, as many have since come forward expressing their willingness to work voluntarily to keep local facilities living, but to no avail. Vellum is never going to come alive either; instead, it’s sickly appropriate that it is the product of awful exploitation itself – a dead calf. This says enough in itself.  Whilst some may argue ‘ah yes, but it is the laws that are written on the vellum which do come alive/into force’ -  and I am not disputing that -  it is not the material they are written on that should matter. It is the material gain/good they bring about which should be the priority; and right now, there has been little so far given to the social situations of Britain.

Some people may shout me down for lacking nostalgia and even offending history; after all, vellum is capable of keeping records and lasting for as long as 500 years. It is certainly durable and long-lasting; two terms I would not use to describe Britain’s ‘law makers’ at the moment. This is a government feathering its own privileged nest whilst seemingly content to let those of its people freeze over as ‘arbitrary’. Over the years and again in recent discussion, there has been apparent ‘outcry’ from MPs against the introduction of... shock horror... paper, instead of vellum. This ‘outcry’ has been instrumental to keeping the tradition going; so it would have been nice for such a level of passionate force to be placed behind complaints to Cameron’s cuts from inside government. Any respite from  austerity measures has seemed centred on the political nesting ground of Tory-led councils, especially in the South of England, some which have been given a significant amount of £300 million to help support them at a time of the spending cuts[4]; whilst Northern countries not as closely tied with the current political elite receive no entitlement whatsoever. Is this a case of old-school network, old-school values, topped off with vellum?

Furthermore, it’s hard not to get the perception that the current political elite still have different rules for themselves (again feathering the nest) than they do for the general public. Vellum, a high-price product, is a material for the  privileged few – and although it is capable of lasting a long time, yes – modern-day digital records are capable of preserving data for the long-term too, as well as being the network across which many people connect now. It would be much more cost-effective for the government to turn its hand to keeping itself and laws updated on computers – as well providing them with the capacity to connect more actively with constituents, which would be very welcome.

Embracing technology is not a bad thing. Yet recent events have confirmed to me that high politics still seems to turn its nose up at the ‘modern’ public domain; shunning social media, denying internet interaction, especially when it came to people’s argument against the cuts. I am of the view that a variety of media – involving press, print and digital – can get people involved and interested in current events, politics. The government crucially needs to use this, especially in terms of MP’s keeping up-to-date with their constituents, across the board. Vellum is a medium which will only ever be available to the select few.

The government goes for calf, whilst the NHS remains a cattle market

This is a government willing to pledge a lump sum to write on the skin of an animal, whilst funding worries for public services under excessive strain – such as the NHS – go under-discussed. Where is the cabinet office clamour over the sheer frequency of hospital bed crises, as well as figures revealed as part of Mental Health Week; that cuts dating back from 2010 have resulted in 8% fewer mental health beds and 5,000 fewer nurses for mental health.[5]

 This is a system where funds still seem to favour ideological aspects rather than actual incidents. The Guardian has been conducting a month-long investigation into the NHS, revealing that some trusts have been falling into debt by as much £60 million,  and yet the government seems to give more attention to cow skin than the complication. Hospitals such as Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, has been losing an estimated £1.2 million per week[6].  Yet overturning what was an attempt to remove velum and replace it with paper seems like a bigger priority than addressing the removal of crucial funds from the NHS – where was the cabinet office and MP ‘outcry’ for situations like this?

It’s just another confirmation of cruelty. This is a political system prepared to deal death in order to keep its ‘traditions’ for the few alive; the process of writing on vellum won’t be the pleasure of many, I’m sure. Some may react and argue – well what about history? Vellum has its abilities, after all, to be incredibly long-lasting and has documented some important histories over time; think the Magna Carta, the Slavery Abolition Act. I have studied history myself and value historical records –and the most valuable records of all are of course those of the people. The current political state seems to be splitting apart its people rather than creating something worth recording. Some MPs turn their noses up at the thoughts of laws on paper or a computer and spend time agonising over that, whilst people’s local facilities and libraries can’t even afford to keep any such resources. There is a serious imbalance here.

We’re recording in the wrong way. Right now even, politicians don’t seem to be putting down the crucial points on how they’ll  keep the NHS moving forward, instead they are quietly letting headcount reductions go on, in order for the NHS to cut staff and save money; areas are judged in, budgets, savings. They’d rather make the record look fancy than think about the people themselves; announcing £1 billion investment for mental health for example[7], which rather than  proof governments greatness, is a  long overdue investment which  will largely go on propping-up currently crumbling systems. Waiting times for talking treatment as long as 20 weeks, missed referrals, and the rest....

Grandeur with the goodness scraped away – this government?
It’s easy to feel attracted by big numbers and assumed greatness, as it seems much of political establishment falls into. Its arguments for upholding vellum include that it looks impressive and has a life over 500, and yet here is the irony that we are faced with institutions like the NHS which in their current state will struggle to reach 100.  It’s a sad time when the government would prefer to pay to write on the back of a dead cow, than to put the equivalent into any area which requires funds as a public service; healthcare and councils as just some examples.

Finally, vellum is a vile thing in itself and this is what my point boils down to. I am against any living creature being used as means to an end, and vellum is an example of exactly that – the skin of an innocent baby creature used for no other reason than building up government grandeur. Grandeur with the goodness scraped away from underneath; which just seems like what this political situation is summarising.  When will they see the importance of addressing the people rather than keeping up appearances? When will they get into the people instead of hiding behind a butchered skin?