Indra Adnan: What Is The Alternative UK?

By Indra Adnan, co-initiator of The Alternative UK

On March 1st a new political platform - The Alternative UK – was launched with 100 artists, community organisers, independent politicians, human revolutionaries, futurists, netbuilders and international activists at the Impact Hub, Kings Cross, London. They were joined by the founders of Alternativet DK / Global - Uffe Elbaek and Rasmus Nordqvist – in an evening of beautiful song, political analysis, drama, strategy and humour.

That politics is broken has become a cliché. After a 2016 which delivered Brexit and the election of President Trump, both the UK and USA appeared deeply divided – that is, each country split almost right down the middle.

Suddenly, we are in an era of swift, populist action that seems intent on sweeping away the social-political developments of the past ten years including freedom of movement, multiculturalism, planetary sustainability, human rights – all in the name of democracy.

How has this happened? Why can’t politics bring us together to face the real, urgent problems of poverty, mental unhealth and climate change, better than it is doing?

In the UK, politics is unrepresentative of the society it claims to serve, in at least three crucial ways. Firstly, it tends to see the human being as homo economicus – a monetary unit requiring only a job and roof over its head to survive.

What UKIP revealed beyond doubt, is that people’s emotional needs – for status, belonging, control – trump economic security, especially when that economic security is offered on such unequal terms.

Emotional manipulation is nothing new – it was advertising, after all, that delivered the consumer era. But we are all now living in more saturated media environment, from Facebook to the proliferation of TV channels.

The battle for our emotions - our attention – is now easier to identify. Politics too should be emotionally literate, ready to recognise human vulnerabilities and strengths and how they shape society for good and for ill.

Secondly, politics has not been able to answer our need for control. Political culture is still very top down – whether within Parties, or within the bigger overly centralised Westminster system.

All across the nation, individuals, groups, towns, regions are using the power of the internet to socialise and mobilise, create local initiatives and brand themselves independently. From the YES movement in Scotland to the Independents for Frome and the subsequent Flatpack Democracy movement, people are reconfiguring power.

Thirdly, UK politics has not been able to help us feel confident in the world. Globalisation is blamed for all our financial woes – whether in the form of immigration or corporate competition driving wages up and prices down. Our politicians look at the nations beyond our borders as either friendly or hostile, focusing on creating blocs of alliances against enemies, necessitating armies and nuclear weapons to keep us safe.

It’s a very different mindset that grasps that every nation must thrive for the globe to be healthy. Or that global competition must come second to global co-operation for us to survive.  Yet that mindset is not absent from society. From environmentalists to NGO’s of all kinds, the call to come together internationally is loud.

Echoing that are sportsmen and women upholding the Olympic ideal; musicians and artists dreaming of ‘one world’; internet natives – now the whole of generation Z – who have never really experienced national boundaries in their day to day digital interactions with the world. Add to those, the millions of people who have dual nationality – the global citizens.

So these three elements of our human condition - the person, the community and the planet – seem to us crucially relevant to understanding the crisis of a broken politics. In our thinking and practice, The Alternative UK is calling them the “I, We and World” realms of experience.

In each of these realms, politics lacks literacy, empathy and vision. Instead, it reduces all the complex realities of our lives to measurable units of cost and growth: robbing us of our capacity to build rich, meaningful lives. Is that why only 2% of the population is drawn to being a member of a political party?

As an Alternative, we are bringing together the many networks that orient themselves towards at least one of these I, We and World realms. We want them to meet and develop a new political conversation – one that reflects society as it is lived and felt by the 98%. The health of the individual and the relationships between them, we are saying, is directly linked to the health of the planet.

Of course it’s not an exclusive space – anyone can join in. But it’s also not an empty space, with no analysis whatsoever.

Nor is it a value-free space. Like its founding political platform, Alternativet in Denmark, there are six values against which we are checking all our plans and actions: empathy, generosity, openness, courage, humility and humour.

The last in particular recognizes that it’s not enough for politics to have the moral high ground - it needs to be attractive. For politics to be a means of social development, people must want to participate, have a laugh as well as find meaning and purpose.

Finally, politics needs to face the future creatively. Behind our democratic deficit lies an imagination deficit. With automation and human enhancement coming rapidly down the line, we can’t afford to act like rabbits in the headlights. Can we actively imagine a techno-progressive society and the politics we need to deliver that?

With all these questions what does Alternative UK actually plan to do? Three things:

·      Energetically connect the dots on all creative socio-political initiatives we can find, starting with those in the I, We, World networks. People with similar agendas need to see each other to feel hope of change

·      Facilitate friendly political laboratories around the country – drawing together local artists and musicians; those in the I, We, World networks of personal, social and global work of all kinds; plus anyone interested to come along. This is where we re-design the future and imagine a politics capable of delivering it

·      Show and share what’s possible. Every day we are bombarded with images and headlines that terrorize us. What’s the Alternative? Images and headlines that draw attention to the good stuff happening everywhere – a friendly revolution. We will be calling for the artists and performers, jokers and players to share their imagination. As an added tool, we’ll be calling on advertising creatives to sell us a future we can all look forward to. See here for Phil Teer’s take on Basic Income.

What that adds up to is a soft power strategy for change. Grow the movement, grab the social media and gain influence. Infect the old politics with new ideas, cultures and behaviours. Create an Alternative.