You may guess from the title that I am in Brazil again at the moment!? And you would be correct!
As I may have said already in a recent blog post, we had booked to come for a seasonal visit to Fatima`s homeland before the General Election date was decided, so we actually missed the election itself. Probably something of a relief, given the nature of the result – however we were not able to gather with friends to commiserate.
Anyway, facebook chats fairly quickly subsided after the election so it seems as though everyone has, to some extent at least, put the election behind them and hidden away with family and friends concentrating on Christmas.
So, to the thoughts in that hammock…
Our “summer” place in Brazil is in the small seaside town of Jacone, near Saquarema in the Lake District of Rio State. And the hammock is between two wooden pillars on our terrace, overlooking the Lagoa de Saquarema. This lake features in Darwin`s record of his journey to the Galapagos islands (I have certainly mentioned this story before but I hope it is worth retelling now, for readers new to my blogging.)
On his travels to the Galapagos Islands back in the early 1830s, The Beagle stopped off in Rio de Janeiro for a little R&R and re-stocking and the young Darwin, just turned 23, had organised a horseback excursion from Rio which brought him along the coast to the region lagoa. He is very critical of the general level of hospitality they met with on this and other journeys through the Brazilian hinterland but on the 9th April 1832, the day ended better than it had started and they happened to stay in a better quality Vanda – or Inn – if it may be described thus. Let me quote his own words as he describes the visit:-
April 9th, 1832.-We left our miserable sleeping-place before sunrise. The road passed through a narrow sandy plain, lying between the sea and the interior salt lagoons. The number of beautiful fishing birds, such as egrets and cranes, and the succulent plants assuming most fantastical forms, gave to the scene an interest which it would not otherwise have possessed. The few stunted trees were loaded with parasitical plants, among which the beauty and delicious fragrance of some of the orchid were most to be admired. As the sun rose, the day became extremely hot, and the reflection of the light and heat from the white sand was very distressing.
We dined at Mandetiba; the thermometer in the shade being 84°. The beautiful view of the distant wooded hills, reflected in the perfectly calm water of an extensive lagoon, quite refreshed us. … the vanda here was a very good one and I have the pleasant, but rare remembrance, of an excellent dinner …
No longer called Mandetiba, it turns out that the delightful inn and the refreshing view were literally just around the corner from our Jacone house and my view over the lake was Darwin`s view nearly 200 years ago. It is no further away from our house than one hedge of my English fields is from the opposite hedge!
So, there I was in my hammock on the terrace – sipping on a glass of cold beer – the temperature almost exactly the same as it was for Charles Darwin all those years ago. There were, and still are, a few clouds about, so the lake is reflecting a cloudy sky and is ruffled by a modest breeze, so I am not getting the reflection of the “distant wooded hills”, but at least the beer was “refreshing”.
Reflections on Politics.
No wooded hills, but my mind was reflecting on recent politics. And very disappointing reflections they are. Regular readers and long-time friends will already know that it was the dire result of the referendum that brought me back into politics in 2017, after `retiring` from Party politics back in 1998.
These same readers and friends will also know that my retirement then was partly triggered by a frustration that environmental issues – although reasonably well represented in Lib Dem policy papers was never presented “front and centre” during elections. Also my long-term Liberal view that nuclear weapons were immoral, dangerous and wasteful, had been superseded by the Lib Dem acceptance that they were somehow justified as a deterrence.
Frankly what they are now deterring for us – as a small gaggle of islands off the north-west coast of Europe – is rather moot!
The optimist`s view
As a glass-half-full person (and, no, I am no longer talking about the beer – that glass is now well and truly empty!) I was anticipating a thumpingly good general election for us this year. The party had won a huge number of local council seats in the May elections and then 16 MEPs in the Euro elections that followed.
We were (apparently!?) on the right side of history, being so clearly a Remain party, after a couple of hugely attended marches through London. And, for me, the party manifesto featured very clearly a critically good response to the Climate catastrophe, which should have captured the hearts and minds of the young generation of eXtinction Rebellion protesters. I had even had a hand in helping to write the policy paper that was central to the Climate change section of the manifesto.
We had a whole slew of environmental activists in winnable seats who would have been capable of changing the nature of the debate in Parliament about the climate catastrophe and many other environmental issues. And, along with a few colleagues in the Green Liberal Democrats, I spent many an hour writing up profiles of these “Green Heroes” to help them along in their elections. Many of those hours were spent in our first week here in Brazil too – my politics did not just stop after the journey from London.
“Bollocks to Politics?”
So, What`s next? A very tempting scenario from the lofty view of my hammock, glass of beer in one hand, was the “bollocks to politics” option. I first got involved in politics during a mock election at school in 1964 when the Liberal Party had just six MPs. During much of my adult lifetime I have had to try and keep explaining why Liberalism should bother to continue – and here again, there have been journalists and others wondering out loud why we bother. We struggled and fought to achieve a position, where, despite the huge bias of the FPTP electoral system there were over 60 MPs gracing the Liberal Democrat seats in the Commons.
Then Clegg`s “bromance” with Cameron with a neo-liberal and libertarian approach to economics made the party toxic among many left-leaning voters. The Environmental inheritance showed through in our Green Investment Bank and the huge increase in renewable energy, but the Tories sold the bank off and claimed the renewable energy growth as theirs when they had the place to themselves. And we were relegated to a very minor party status with just eight MPs in 2015 – back to the Party in a taxi jokes!
I am now comfortably in my eighth decade on this planet and there are people in my life who now and again ask – “Why do you bother?” It was a question I was asking myself in the hammock earlier – and I was not getting any very positive answers springing to mind.
The answer is a Question!
It turns out that the answer to my question “Why should I bother?” turns out to be another question. That question is this – “Can I actually influence the nature of the Party, as it struggles with its own sense of purpose with just 11 MPs and a huge uphill task of justifying its existence?”
Well, as I said above, I am an optimist, so despite many years experience of feeling that my influence has often been overlooked, there are instances where one feels perhaps that it is not all doom and gloom. The sentence that best sums this up is that sentence, to which I have referred before, which I managed to write and get inserted into the Liberal Democrat Preamble to the Constitution in 1988 – “We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms.”
So, I shall keep trying (at least for the moment!!) Perhaps we shall get a radical realignment of the left leaning, Green focussing, Climate change conscious environmentalists. Perhaps we will get a Party Leader who does not say “Yes” enthusiastically when asked a question about pressing the Nuclear weapon button as Prime Minister. Perhaps we will even get to change the name of our Party to what is currently the name of a significant and growing pressure group – perhaps the “Green Liberal Democrats” can change the political narrative for us all.
If not, then perhaps I shall get to write that autobiographical memoire I have tentatively entitled “Failing with Gusto!” during my less optimistic moments!