Do We Have to go Into Space to Value Our Home?
December 26, 2022
I was on the BBC Sunday Politics last week. Arriving in the green room, stripping off layers of overcoat and fleeces, I offered my hand to fellow guest, ex-Conservative MP, Lord Timothy Kirkhope.
“Should I call you Timothy or Tim?” I asked. There was a pause. “Or Lord Kirkhope?”
“How about Tory scum?” he asked, without making eye contact.
Few things in politics shock me, but that did. This was not a jocular ice breaker.
“I don’t go in for that kind of language,” I said, “not my style at all.”
It’s true. I’m very much a ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ kind of guy. It’s the Golden Rule: treat others as you would wish to be treated.
By the time we’d chatted and done the show, we’d found common ground that the Government should treat asylum seekers better. He offered me a lift, but I was going in a different direction. Literally as well as politically.
I walked home across the Town Moor. Frost was glistening on the footpath. Frozen blades of grass stood sharp. It’s rare to have a clear, panoramic view in the middle of a city. Our horizons are usually cluttered with buildings and vehicles and noise. It literally gives you a different perspective.
Astronauts experience the ‘overview effect’. Last year, William Shatner, Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk, became the oldest man to go to space. On his return he wrote, “While I was looking away from Earth, and turned towards the rest of the universe, what I understood, in the clearest possible way, was that we were living on a tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death. I saw the deepest darkness I could have ever imagined, contrasting starkly with the welcoming warmth of our nurturing home planet.”
Star Trek looks dated now, but was revolutionary in its day. Mr Chekov was a Russian serving on the USS Enterprise at the height of the Cold War. Lt Uhura was a black woman bridge officer. The first interracial kiss on US television. Star Trek’s Prime Directive is anti-colonial.
There’s a different vision of the future, too. Most pre-Star Trek sci-fi was dystopian. But Jean-Luc Picard explains, “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”
The recurring plot theme was seeking mutual understanding. Aliens have the same strengths and failings we have.
And so it is in politics. To change someone’s mind requires understanding their point of view. Sometimes you can reach agreement. By working with government ministers, we’ve got £10’s of millions of extra investment in the past year.
Yet the philosophical differences in politics are real. Sometimes, as in Star Trek, diplomacy fails and we launch photon torpedoes at each other.
I cannot accept any suggestion that children growing up in poverty is a tolerable or inevitable consequence of a modern economy. Those MPs who voted to deny children free holiday school meals are just morally wrong.
I cannot accept that people fleeing persecution should be deported to Rwanda. Or that we should turn our backs on people’s sons and daughters drowning in the Channel.
A lamb and a wolf are never going to agree on what to have for dinner. But if you go in “shields up”, with hostility, no one communicates.
Trade unions are winning disputes using the power of rational argument. Forensic accounting, for example, proving that pay rises are affordable. Mick Lynch won the public over by defying the stereotype and sticking calmly to the facts.
Anger can make you feel better, for a while. But anger is not a plan. That suits those who benefit from the status quo.
I want change. I want a world without obscene wealth inequality. Where we invest for a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren. I’d like a politics where evidence trumps abuse – we have work to do.
As William Shatner said, “I had to get to space to understand that Earth is, and will remain, our only home. And that we have been ravaging it, relentlessly, making it uninhabitable.”
In the end, we all want to live long and prosper.