Want to use your creative talents to help reimagine a broken politics?
In July 2015, Dominic Cummings - the deep mastermind of the victorious Leave side in the EU referendum, and coiner of their slogan “Take Back Control” - wrote a recruitment blog for their campaign.
Among the usual appeals for researchers and grassroots activists, Cummings asked for “web designers, social media experts, computer and cognitive scientists, advertising/marketing/direct mail/creative designers”. And even with researchers, he also wanted “these who are young, clever, willing to work crazy hours, and aren’t worried about upsetting a whole load of powerful people, from Whitehall to Goldman Sachs to Brussels”.
Had they read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and Spook Country? Did they want to create something as iconic as the 1984 Apple Ad for the Leave campaign?
If they succeed in their goals, all planners seem retrospectively like visionaries. But at the very least, Cumming’s 2015 appeal indicates one thing: how important the input of the arts, the creative industries and technology/design is to the conduct of political campaigns - and even to the sparking of political movements.
Complaints about the “post-truth” nature of the Leave campaign, or other populist appeals, forget the point that most of these experts always remember. Emotion, metaphor and narrative is at least as motivating forpolitical citizens as argument, statistics and abstraction - if not the primary motivation in most cases. The real victories are at this level.
Yet as the popular currency of the term “Project Fear” indicates, the citizens are themselves well enough aware of the emotional buttons being pressed by creatively-informed campaigning - and of the limited range of those emotions (anger, hope, fear/anxiety).
We are beginning to see how much our emotional lives, triggered and shaped by all the techniques of cultural and creative practice, determine what seem to be the “self-evident truths” of our political beliefs.
This should be an advance in understanding. But knowing this could as easily generate even more widespread cynicism and rejection of politics per se, its representatives and structures. This is a dangerous situation, in which demagoguery might easily flourish.
So here is the challenge that we hope to address through the establishment of the Alternative platform in the UK: How can we use the resources of the arts, the creative industries and technology to refresh the broken languages and practices of progressive politics - rather than use them for emotional manipulation and collective incitement?
What zones, experiences, facilitations, participations and performances might be devised, that could allow citizens throughout the island to reflect on the values and feelings that drive their political identities? Can we begin to enrich our political vocabulary, by sidestepping the exhausted terms we’ve inherited from centuries of party systems, and using creative methods to let new aspirations and terms arise? And not pulled out of people by propaganda, but emerged in a participative process?
For example: who could deny the deep human need to “take back control”, or indeed assert any kind of control over our lives? But how can we articulate the equally primal need to “live and let live”, or “do unto others as you’d have them do to you?”
And what are the dramatic, audio-visual or musical forms (brought or co-created), the convivial meetings and events, the insights from therapeutic or spiritual practice, that could bring BOTH of those needs - and many others - to the self-consciousness of a community? In a way that allows us all to contemplate the wiring of our political identities, and start to plug in some new connections?
Inspired by the “political laboratories” practiced by Denmark’s Alternativet party over the last few years, The Alternative platform in the UK plans to design, promote, host and document our own “political laboratories” (though we might come up with a warmer, more human term - “carnival”, or "friendlies", are contenders).
We have already started to network throughout the arts, creative industries and technology sectors. We’re asking practitioners to think about the kind of best-practice in their domains that could be brought into such laboratories; that could also be showcased as tools and practices on our website; and might themselves develop into an bigger entity or enterprise on the Alternative platform.
We believe, from our own personal contact with many in these sectors, that there is a huge pent-up demand for creatives to contribute what they are best at - that is, creative solutions and visions - to the cause of improving the language and practice of contemporary politics
At the same time, we will stay in contact with our fellow travellers in other activists movements - in particular, Compass’s Progressive Alliance - who will be able to alert us to local or community circumstances where one of our labs/carnivals would be most effective and needed.