Alternative Editorial: The Revolution Now Possible

How Many Shoes Fit Into The Sky?  by Joao Bambu

How Many Shoes Fit Into The Sky? by Joao Bambu

by Indra Adnan, Co-Initiator A/UK

As promised in the penultimate editorial of 2018, from 2019 we are going to focus on news and action more than theory. Ideas play an important part in that – what couldhappen next – but our intention is to bring attention to the tangible and the viable. Actions we can get hold of ourselves. “We” being the 98% of people not currently members of a political party.

As a number of this week’s blogs – and in fact, the majority of the past two years’ blogs – have demonstrated, there is a plethora of good ideas about what a new politics might look like. And also, what kind of new society and planet that would enable. On our pages, most of these ideas can cohere within a new social eco-system: the one that Buckminster Fuller suggested we start building all those years ago.

However, outside of our bubble, most of these ideas appear random, disconnected. When encountered without the kind of framing we - and others like us – offer, they seem either overwhelming, or worse, underwhelming. Irrelevant to the crisis. Pie in the sky.

This is largely because people see power as concentrated in the hands of the few: principally the two main parties in Westminster and their vested interests. Their only hope is to appeal to these two behemoths, and sell them their ideas. In the process, much of the original energy and invaluable insights are lost. 

George Monbiot’s book, Out of the Wreckage is a great example of a meaningful new narrative arising directly out of the creative grassroots developments of recent years – but with nowhere it can land in Westminster (other than the beleaguered Caroline Lucas of the Greens). In an unprecedented crisis moment for the planet – one that Monbiot offers real answers to – the major parties are totally absorbed in their battle for power. They cannot tear themselves away from looking at each other as the enemy, long enough to organise buckets of water.

So what is the possible container within which some of these new ideas and their advocates can have a chance to find each other, see how they fit together? For some time we have advocated citizens networks and more recently Citizens Action Networks – both of which are slowly surfacing out of our collaboratories and other similar initiatives. 

But how can this kind of originality and pluralism be captured by official, conventional politics itself? What is the alternative structure that can capture the richness of this fuller expression of our energies and diversity?

Sitting as a member of the Make Votes Matter Alliance in a Westminster meeting on Tuesday, I was reminded that the move to Proportional Representation voting system is just that – a movement. A direct reflection of the people’s choices in the distribution of power in Parliament would give us more parties with enough seats to have a say in what happens. MPs would be obliged to develop their collaborative muscles over their competitive ones. 

Despite knowing it would be fruitless, enough people voted for the Green Party last year to give them seven seats, if we were operating a proportional voting system nationally. In the current system, they only have one. Imagine if people knew their vote would make a difference. How much more would they choose the party that is most directly focused on saving the planet? 

But neither of the current leaders of the main parties are interested in the change to something more representative of the 98%. Instead they want to manage the splits within their own parties with party whips – a mechanism which requires MPs to regularly betray the wishes of their own constituency. This intransigence, brought into question by the Speaker of the House is now causing a complete breakdown at the heart of power. I have been told that Jeremy Corbyn’s only glimmer of openness to PR is that, if there is real evidence of a popular demand for it, he would reconsider. 

Since Brexit, the UK has spawned no fewer than 90 new parties. Since the birth of the TheCynon Valley Partyon the 24thJune 2016 we’ve had people – from local groups to significant movements – clamouring to be heard by the closed shop that is our current political set-up. They’ve had as evocative names as Engage (30thJan 2017) or Aspire (26.01.2018) to slightly more policy oriented such as the Money Free Party (27.03.2017), The Arts Party (25.04.2017) or - our fave - The Rubbish Party (27.03.2017). Or the more prosaic Ninety-Nine Percent Party (13.07.2017). 

Some are clearly tiny; others, such as Renew (30.01.2017) are on their way to putting up candidates for the next General Election. It’s a soup of infinite possibility, that, given the chance to take part in a proportional system, would probably throw up at least three or four new political contenders. 

Only one or two of these are taking on the electoral system directly. And by the rest failing to do that are not creating a bigger call for a system in which they might succeed in actually getting a seat. 

Maybe each of them should think harder about the Daily Express Com Res poll – blogged this week in the Daily Alternative – which found that 72% of people are ready for a complete overhaul of British politics. That’s a conservative newspaper, actively promoting system level change. 

Wake up, all of us: this is a moment of real opportunity, in which strong alternatives to the current system can get purchase.

And here’s a refinement on the current battle for PR, so nobly pursued by Make Votes Matter. Since Scotland won their battle for a national parliament in 1997 they have run their national elections with PR (amongst the many forms that could take, Scotland uses the Additional Member System). So while the SNP dominate Scottish representation in the UK Houses of Parliament because of the UK General Election’s first-past-the-post constituency system, at home in Edinburgh they engage with a more distributed form of power. Smaller parties like the Scottish Green Party can hold the balance of power (with six seats) and have far greater influence over policy than in Westminster.

The National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the London Assembly also have proportional systems, giving otherwise unheard-of parties (eg The Brexit Alliance, or City Greens) a chance to be seen. (We should also mention how proportional voting operating to elect European Members of Parliament in the UK has given smaller parties a degree of resourcing and status – notably UKIP, but the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru also).

If the rest of the UK could be afforded something similar, imagine how much more engaged the 98% might be with their city level or regional level politics? Imagine an election in Yorkshire where Yorkshire First could be actively shaping policy? Or in Devon, where a permaculture style party, alongside an Arts party (not yet materialised) could be managing participatory budgeting and encouraging social enterprise for the whole county? None of this is currently possible with only two to three parties contending and a 30% turn out for elections.

How much more would people see themselves in politics and how much more could be achieved by localism and municipalism? And the more people engaged in a politics that allows deliberation – because it is conducted at community level – the less we are threatened with populism. That’s a revolution.

But to agree that would require a change of mind not currently on offer in Westminster. For the time being, the call for change will have to keep building from the parishes, wards, towns and cities upwards. Not simply horizontally across the grassroots, but systemically, linking up with the civil society organisations, tech enablers, social enterprise. All of these amplified by social media, in order to create the more glocal, or cosmo-local options for the future.

So that sometime in 2019, our challenge will be to any one of the national political parties: give away your power. Not simply in ways that replicate the current system – as devolution generally does – but in new ways that would turn the old system upside down. Champion the true plurality of your citizenship by finding ways to conduct proportional elections at the city level. And see what happens when the people rise to meet you. 

And just as the SNP and UKIP have shown us, in their respective displays of capturing the public mood, if (and when) the people are ready it will only take one party to change the game.