The Alternative UK Manifestos. 12: Indra Adnan - A Soft-Powered Future

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Our twelfth Alternative UK Manifesto - all of them here - is from one of the co-initiators of A/UK, Indra Adnan. Indra has been writing consistently about soft power, public diplomacy and the power of attraction and relationship in international relations for over a decade, in major UK and US publications. Here she uses the approach to inform a policy agenda appropriate to #GE2017. 

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Indra Adnan - A Soft-Powered Future

For the uninitiated, soft power is a term coined by Joseph Nye, former US Presidential advisor. He recognised a distinction between hard power (force) and soft power (attraction). Force is obvious – guns and money. But what is meant by attraction? Briefly, these are the many ways of being in the world that draw people to have a relationship with you. That could be culture or values – or just the way you treat people. It appears as ideas, images, narratives – it’s what is influencing you with (or without) your permission.

In an age when hard power has not been able to solve all our problems as expected, soft power has become the more important currency.

Myths about soft power:

  • It’s "more good" than hard power. Not necessarily - think how many bad things are attractive. Soft power is neutral.
  • Soft power is weak. Not likely - think about how advertising gave rise to consumerism. Soft power is relentless. 
  • Soft power is secondary to hard power. Not since the internet: think about the power of a story to change the direction of war or wipe points off an index. Hard power is stone, soft power is the paper that wraps.

So why are we pro soft power? Because it has untapped potential to change our public space. At a personal level, soft power education produces unique individuals – not cookie-cutouts – capable of attracting the means to thrive. At a social level, soft power is relational power as the route to warm and secure communities. At a global level soft power means we have countries competing to be the most effective at taking care of the planet.

Like yin and yang, soft and hard power find their balance: if you know what you are looking for, you can see that mutuality in operation. But our current party-politics seems overly defined by hard power. And people are unable to exercise the agency that comes from their powers of attraction and connection.

Here are ten policies that would help to establish a better balance between hard and soft power:

1.    Introducing a soft power education: teaching young people how to get both physical and emotional needs met healthily so they can develop an authentic self, capable of local and global citizenship. Core subjects include a) media literacy and capability b) personal and planetary health c) social dynamics and systems theory c) the transformative power of art, creativity and play

2.    Shorter working weeks: first four days, later three days, depending on automation levels. This gives us time - the main factor missing in our collective ability to exercise our creativity, become pro-active for each other, and to have the kind of fun that makes life worth living.

3.    Automation Dividend: as businesses automate jobs, their increased profits should be significantly taxed. The logic is that workers and their twentieth-century ancestors built the businesses that now are reaping huge capital profits. Their offspring should continue to benefit from the foundations those workers' laid. The age of automation belongs to everyone.

4.    This automation will pay for a Universal Basic Income. In one stroke, this takes away the main tool of oppression over those with less privilege early in life. Without the need to simply survive, everyone has a better chance to explore their choices.

5.    A radical programme of confederalisation to herald the age of autonomy. We should have units of between 1.5 and 5 million people – like Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland + English cities/regions - and they should have tax raising powers. Within those units, towns and districts should have significant participatory budgeting schemes.

6.    Increased investment in local renewable energy, linked up to the "Enernet" – the internet of energy (for more on this see: Mark Stevenson, We Do Things Differently, Chapter 6)

7.    Increased investment in distributed manufacturing and local innovation: from 3D printers to urban gardens; start-up labs to innovation classes. This could be subsidised partly by the mental health budget.

8.    Investment in health technology towards anti-ageing: this could, over time, save our NHS. (For more on this David Wood’s book on The Abolition of Ageing).

9.    Politicians to adopt a dual mandate: responsibility to the nation in which they hold office coupled, equally, with responsibility towards the globe in which they operate. This means, in practical terms, that every policy demonstrates awareness of the impact not just nationally, but internationally too. (For more on this, visit

10.   Parliament to have three houses: a) elected government b) elected cultural representatives c) global hub – this last to be made up of nationals of every country in the world. This would give government the best creative edge for the global age.