Should trade deals trump values?

I’ve noticed that when right wing politicians are asked questions about values, or the morality of specific political decisions, they tend to respond with answers focused solely on trade interests. Or they decry such concerns as ‘juvenile’.

I don’t expect political consensus on values. But it worries me when politicians insist that politics is amoral. It makes me wonder who, if anyone, they wouldn’t strike trade deals with?

It seems astounding that one of the reasons given for leaving the EU was the claim that Turkey might join, yet one of the first countries Theresa May has attempted to strike a trade deal with is Turkey. Why would the UK government want to negotiate an arms deal with Turkey if they were so worried about them joining the EU?

And the speed with which Theresa May issued Donald Trump with an invitation for a prestigious state visit to the UK – just days into his presidency, and in the same week he endorsed the use of torture, and enforced a ban on refugees – also raises uncomfortable questions.

I wonder if any government which ‘protects’ the ‘national interest’ at the expense of refugees and other vulnerable communities inside and outside national borders has the moral capacity to exercise any meaningful care towards its own citizens in the longer term?

Most of all, I wonder what kind of future world is being created right now, and if we’ll be able to turn the clock back if it turns out we don’t like it all that much?

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Photographer: Sue Phillips

Notwithstanding the fact that there are many honourable and hardworking politicians across the political spectrum, there seems to be something of a moral vacuum in government. And, to paraphrase Burke, evil happens when good people do nothing. So what can we, the public, actually do? Clearly there are no easy answers. But, for what it’s worth, these are my thoughts.

Although I’ve lost a great deal of faith in political institutions and processes over the past year, that makes it even more important to keep up the pressure on government to put people before profits, and to re-imagine the ‘national interest’ with more compassion In the present moment, and with more concern for the long-term future.

Individually most of us don’t have much influence. But organisations including 38 Degrees and Avaaz exist to do the research we don’t have time to do, and to make sure our collective voice is heard on important issues. So I’m making an effort not to succumb to ‘petition fatigue’, and also to make financial contributions to help ensure such organisations are adequately resourced to campaign on issues I care about.

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Photographer: Sue Phillips

Likewise I’m making a voluntary subscription to a newspaper to help ensure the survival of a diverse and independent media.

‘Conscious consumerism’ won’t save the world. But, still . . . how we choose to spend our money does make a difference. I’m making even more of an effort these days to buy stuff from small, local, ethical companies; rather than from global corporations motivated purely by profits, and whose actions in many cases destroy livelihoods and degrade the environment. Compiling the ‘Where stuff comes from’ Directory of ethical companies reminds me how many good alternatives exist. And, hopefully, the Directory provides a useful resource for others.

And, finally, I’m finding support and encouragement in linking up with people with similar values. I’m sometimes discouraged by the apparent superficiality of social media. I don’t count ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ as meaningful communication, and I’ve been surprised at how often a direct message or query from ‘Where stuff comes from’ is ignored. But, on the other hand, I’ve been inspired by numerous people I’ve met online, and this has led to some amazing collaborations. (For example, watch this space for upcoming interview with Jessica Böhme aka @the_utopian_).

Our political environment is evolving in some disturbing directions. But ultimately it’s up to all of us to create the kind of society we want to live in. I’d rather live my life with care and compassion; acting to make a positive difference; and trying not to be overwhelmed by circumstances over which I have little control. Choosing joy rather than hate and fear is also a political act.

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Photographer: Sue Phillips

If you’re interested in these issues, you might also like my previous post: Where will stuff come from after Brexit?


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Sue Written by:

I'm a finance professional who's interested in whether we're accounting for the right things in the right ways.

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