The Alternative UK: 6 months in

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By Indra Adnan and Pat Kane

Six months ago exactly, The Alternative UK launched in London with a beautiful event co-created with some of the most inspiring thinkers we know, artists, youngsters and our mentors from Alternativet in Denmark. Read all about it here.

That evening we felt we hit a mark – not only in evoking the possibility of a genuine re-orientation of political culture, but of how that might feel viscerally. There were moments of shock and discomfort: but we left moved and excited. Some even used the word converted. But to what?

As promised on that night, what happened next has been activity along three lines. Firstly, identifying the many socio-political initiatives that are occurring outside of the political bubble on what we describe as the I, We, World axes, particularly with a futurist and creative exposition. Every day for six months so far, we have published a Daily Alternative – and we always have a surplus. The General Election also gave us an excuse to publish 12 Alternative Manifestos generously supplied by our network.

Secondly, we have been assiduously meeting and co-creating events with others, adding an Alternative UK intervention at events by 38 Degrees, Flatpack Democracy, Campfire, Alter Ego, London Futurists, Newspeak House, Social Innovation Exchange, St Martins School of Arts, Unusual Suspects Festival, Alternative Global, Perspectiva, Brighton Digital Festival, Virtual Futures, Emergency Arts, 42 Acres, Conspiring and Inspiring – did we forget anyone? Each one of these is a starting point for the transformation we see happening across society. By drawing them into a field – a constellation of friendly radicals - we are creating the platform for the politics of ‘all of that’.

Now, because we are called The Alternative – not simply Any Old Alternative – we have been lightly framing our activities: observing what holds our six values, what appears along the I, We, World axes, and what feels good enough for a future we can look forward to. Partly to see if there are any patterns emerging, but also to begin to get a sense of where our Living Manifesto is likely to begin.

Here, in a very rudimental way is what we have found out so far: a ‘new politics’ emerging:

·      Will be expressed in a language everyone can understand, but continue to be well founded intellectually and empirically

·      Will answer the loud call for people to have more control over outcomes for themselves and their communities

·      Therefore, is likely to be founded on devolved power: more grassroots up than national structures down. Localism, municipalism, other forms of autonomy / independence are all only growing in popularity

·      Will link the personal, the local and the global. People are much more emotionally literate and increasingly aware of how social media affects what happens around the globe, for good and bad. This is due to Facebook in particular – where world events are not only debated but where peoples’ prerferences can be harnessed by those who can manipulate power.  Our reflexivity is greatly increased – even as we are subject to ‘fake news’ for example, we are discussing its impact

·      Will have at its core a complex idea of what it means to be human: Brexit revealed a cauldron of needs that came above simple economic considerations

·      Will be embodied and relational: digital democracy is not enough, except for the extreme right and libertarians

·      Will feel very different from old politics – not sitting around tables in smoke-filled rooms

·      Will have very new ideas about work – we are clearly moving on from full employment as the goal that unites us. Automation and the gig economy is opening up the possibility for more time. Universal Basic Income may well get a hearing soon.

·      Must save the planet: the penny is dropping with the calamitous weather and there are so many good examples of good, green practice

·      Will put the next generation high, if not top of the list of people to hear from and help

·      Will be more feminine and diverse – as most of above describes. Even though white men continue to be dominant in the public space, significant change is happening at the cultural level

·      Is more fractal, emergent in nature than requiring to be scaled by a central bureaucracy. The best initiatives will be copied rather than enforced – any new politics has to capture the energy released by the information and connectivity revolution now making its mark even in Dagenham!

·      Needs an organising not a mobilising approach. For more on this, see Hahrie Han but essentially it means serving people, not asking them to follow you

All of which brings us to the third concrete action we have been taking over this past six months – designing our political laboratories. It’s interesting for us to see how much our initial idea of how these were going to look has changed.

Our early ideas were for a post-Brexit Open Space type inquiry, in which anyone and everyone would have a say on what they need from a new politics. Since then our good friends Campfire Convention have filled that space very well: literally lighting a fire and chatting in locations all over the country and providing a great follow up point in their socially mediated website. We have our ear fully trained on that space, amongst others.

Then we thought about more practical spaces for ideas to arise and take shape – but 38 Degrees Live and Flatpack Democracy cover those very well – the latter providing an ongoing model for localism now being adopted in many places in the UK and Europe.

What we now feel is missing, is a space for an entirely new socio-political sensibility to be generated. One that recognises that we have been in an old-politics and media induced trance most of our lives and now need to awaken – not just to our rights and responsibilities, but to our imaginative and creative capacities for a different kind of life, society, world. Sounds like a high bar – but why bother otherwise?

In our design group we currently have artists, a play-specialist, musicians, an advertising guru, activists, mediators, facilitators, political theorists, writers and researchers, a psychotherapist, a soft power expert, a school governor, young, middle and older people of various hues and orientations – thoughtfully co-creating. You can join the team if you sign up to The Alternative UK (costs nothing).

Over the next six months we will have distilled the essential elements of a laboratory that can be offered anywhere, to help any local community come alive with socio-political energy, that suits their yearning and will begin a process of change they own.

In our view, that will give us all the best possible chance of a genuinely new, popular and agentic politics: the alternative.