fighting chance

I was darning my right woolly glove today (luckily I’m left handed so it’s relatively simple; darning the left glove with my right hand can lead to very random results) and pondering the new world heavyweight boxing champion, David Haye a man who not only defeated someone who could eat him in a sandwich, but was able to persuade Germans off the streets to take a pummelling, just for fun.

One of the few things we seem still to be good at is producing boxing champions. While we are all looking the other way at Tom Daley , boxing was metastasing round the country like winter flu.

Fighting is a traditional talent of the British. Specially, but not exclusively, British men. Hence all that practice in pedestrianised town centres every Friday night. As fans of that marvel of historical re enactment, ‘Gladiator,’ will know, giving the other bloke a bloody nose is one of our oldest and proudest traditions, having given rise, with a couple of millennia’s experience, to the British Army’s astounding, if sometimes misplaced, feats all over the world.

And this army, moreover, somehow manages to teach its recruits things no City Academy, however lavishly equipped with atria, Think Pods and pasta bars has accomplished. You might not expect to hear this from a pacifist, but our army seems to have become  the last repository of those values with which we still smugly associate this country: public service, honour, courage, altruism and self-sacrifice. You don’t find a lot of that in the City.

It seems a bit of a shame, that. All that nobility and human sweat and risk and terror and courage, just to kill other people. And the money we spend on it! My lord. Seventy billion on Trident – which we can never use, because it would mean the end of everything. Twenty million on helicopters ordered fifteen years ago and already out of date. Seventeen billion on eurofighter jets that can’t do the job they’re needed for.

Our per capita spending on the military is not only way above the EU average; it’s two and a half times that of the Russians, and seventeen times that of those notorious warmongers, the Chinese. Even the military R and D budget is forty times what we spend researching renewables. Don’t you sometimes feel they just ought to have their pocket money taken away, until they learn to spend it usefully?

But wouldn’t it be great if all the courage, nobility endurance the army somehow brings out in its squaddies could be channelled to help save people from the other threat looming over us all now?

Copenhagen is almost here, and  we’re already being told they won’t agree anything And it’s easier than ever before to feel defeated. Let it all go. What can we do?

Okay, let’s go back to armies and war. Before WW2, America didn’t even have an army. In 1942, they spent as much on the military as the entire GDP of the previous year. They closed all the car factories, and just two months later – that’s from now to the January sales, in our world – reopened them as bomb factories. And by the end of the war, those factories had turned out 66,000 bomber aircraft 

It’s not that our government can’t act fast when it wants to. They may take ten years to decide a planning application for a wind farm, but when the banks need them, the pounds appear faster than wishes in a panto (And then, of course, disappear again; but that’s the way with fairy tales).

Luckily, there are still a few muddle-headed idealists who think things could be different. That all the people currently employed by the killing industries could, and would, do other things. They don’t specially want to be making torpedoes and out of date helicopters, they just want jobs. What’s the difference, in the end, between a helicopter blade and a turbine blade? At every level, from the most sophisticated engineer to the lowliest fitter, there’s a green job they could be doing instead.

Three of the biggest trade unions in the country have just worked out that for £20bn – which by now we all know is, like, pocket money – we could have a million new green jobs, insulate all our homes, give salable skills to the terrifying numbers of kids who have no qualifications, no money and no prospect of anything ever improving, and actually end up with the energy infrastructure that we’ll need after the oil runs out.

Sounds pretty good. So it can’t happen, right? That seems to be how things go these days.

Or not. What else has been in the news lately? The Berlin Wall. Listen to them talking about how it felt to be in Leipzig twenty years ago. Two hundred people out on the streets doesn’t sound like much, but if they’re two hundred people who’ve never marched before, that’s two hundred people realising for the first time that they actually have a voice, that others feel the same way, and that in the end, if they just don’t give in, something will have to change. So they just kept at it, week after week, day after day 

And in the end, they did win, and something huge that nobody ever thought could change, just collapsed.

So Copenhagen isn’t just about exhausted apparatchiks arguing in their third or fourth language about stuff nobody understands. It’s about the outside chance of a different world, for all of us. And if you don’t like the sound of the one I’m after, go out and campaign for compulsory tango classes, or cash for young carers, or jam tomorrow or whatever else you want. But get out there.

For me, December 5th is the day. This is one battle anybody can join – and with luck, not get killed.

Pull on the reflective leg warmers , bundle up the kids, get down to Speakers Corner and have a blast. Shout and yell like a squaddie on Red Bull. Trust me, you’ll feel twenty feet tall. And it’s free.