Alternative Editorial: What's Love Got To Do With It?



By Indra Adnan, co-initiator of A/UK

Love is not an easy thing to talk about on a political platform. So we’re using Valentine’s Day on Feb 14th as a short cut to your indulgence.

Of course, some will say we are colluding with the consumerist commodification of love. That may be true. Others might say, aww, go on then (these people are most likely to be disappointed by what comes next). But when Tina Turner sings:

What's love but a second-hand emotion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?

That’s a proper challenge we feel requires a response. 

Listening to Newsnight yesterday – an increasingly rare event for me – was a spectacle of breaking hearts. We were listening in for news of one, or maybe more, new political parties about to be launched (not forgetting the other 90 already announced since Brexit..

The conversation was a riot of competing let-downs. Was Luciana Berger letting the Labour Left (and younger generations) down for not supporting Jeremy Corbyn, despite the historic achievement of Momentum? Was Jeremy Corbyn letting her down for not solving the problem of anti-Semitism in the party, or the majority of his party down for not supporting a People’s Vote? Was Theresa May letting ‘the people’ down by not honouring Brexit in its original spirit? Or is Nigel Farage the worst splittist by robbing Corbyn and May of their pro-Brexit constituencies?

Newsnight’s anchorwoman Emily Maitlis played her part – maybe abetted by the newsroom prompting questions in her ear – as she constantly interrupted everyone. No-one was allowed to take pause and reveal the complexity of the problems we face, when viewed from the perspective of party politics. Instead, emotions were high: everyone felt strongly that their hopes – and the hopes of the people they speak for – had been bitterly betrayed. As Tina would say:

It may seem to you that I'm acting confused
When you're close to me
If I tend to look dazed, I've read it someplace
I've got cause to be

And not for the first time. To some extent, party politics is the inevitability of such disappointments. In a first-past-the post (and hence, two party) system, the success of one means the failure of the other. It’s a zero-sum game. Each party is invested in the other’s failure – and the failure of half the citizens of this country with it. 

Add to that our history of class divides, our cultural and gender diversities, an the political sphere looks like a chaos of competing agendas and accompanying emotions. We are a polity that has, for some time now, been unable to trust politicians with our dreams. Not just our dreams of flourishing, but - more urgently every day – for the survival of the very planet we live on. 

We’re not without hope, however, or action. The previous day at Westminster, in the cramped Jubilee Room where we sat with Make Votes Matter (ref) only a few weeks before, another minority gathering was taking place. This time it was the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness (ref). This is a group of MPs and Lords from across the divide who have changed the way they think about politics (see our blog on the research behind it this week).

Visiting neurologist Dr. Dan Siegel was explaining the Wheel of Awareness that can, if properly initiated and nurtured, appear in our minds. This models the relationship between a calm centre which is always open to change and the multiple sensory inputs to the brain. These inputs might be physical or mental, cognitive or emotional. When there is a mechanism for the inputs to be connected to the calm, open centre – like that between the spoke and the rim of the wheel - we develop a capacity for patient engagement with others; a resource for imagination and transformation of conflicts.

Of course, the centre is the element that is most elusive to us in our daily lives. We are all too familiar with the chaos of multiple emotional calls on our attention (these are performed on Newsnight daily). But establishing the patient, open space in our minds for complex realities, out of which we can forge new solutions, is nigh on impossible in our stressed lives. Let alone on the benches of the House of Commons, arranged for full-frontal confrontation only.

Mindfulness is the practice of establishing the spoke at the centre of the wheel. And increasing numbers of people, in business, schools – and politics – are taking this up, year on year.B

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Siegel talked about how we establish a relationship between these inputs and what he calls the constant “plain of possibility”. This is the moment when a practitioner feels that they are “back in control” of their own emotional reactions to the barrage of inputs. Not with a personal conviction – it’s not about them being right – but with a willingness to be uncertain for a moment. This isn’t dithering, but a capacity to hold the space for something they hadn’t thought of before to emerge.

Reporting from years of clinical experience, Dan noted that when people are in this space, they describe what they feel as love. Not so much love for something – the kind that so often makes us feel vulnerable and fearful of rejection. (The love, indeed, that the upcoming Valentine’s Day capitalises on). 

What Siegel means is a love of all that you are now in relationship with, which happens after you have let go of old established certainties. That love, he says, comes as a surprise – and it becomes the source of a new kindness and compassion for the people you are working with. Try and imagine that sensibility operating in a Newsnight show, working on all our behalf to meet the crises of our age.

Is love the answer then? If so, why did the Love Revolution of the 60s do so little for the public space and politics specifically? Some say it led indirectly to the end of the Vietnam war, but the military-industrial complex only ended up growing ever larger. Why did John Lennon’s conviction that All You Need is Love end so badly? To return to Tina Turner – she too was wary of simple solutions:

I've been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I've been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way

Turner’s route to that constant, capacious love was subtly different from the Beatles’ very public Magical Mystery Tour, in which love became a synonym for the abandonment of mind and reason. In contrast, in the midst of what was revealed later to be a life of physical and emotional abuse from her partner Ike Turner, Tina adopted a Buddhist practice to help her become the master of her own mind and controller of her own life. And in that process, she found a source of love that no lover could give her.

So love, yes. But what kind of love, and how you get there, are important elements of how it functions. It’s about having the tools to take back your own mind – from daily stress and the manipulation of the public sphere (ref last week’s editorial). It’s about finding less despair and more empathy for others. This is surely an important part of the picture of a sustainable future for us all.  

Here’s an extract from Mindfulness in Politics and Public Policy by the APPG on Mindfulness convenor Jamie Bristow (a paper we’ve blogged about in more detail this week):

“At the Mindfulness in Politics Day, conservative Member of the Finnish Parliament and former minister Lenita Toivakka said that she hoped mindfulness would cultivate ‘what [she] misses in politics in Finland, and globally, and that’s kindness, or ‘heartfulness.’”

So when you go out this week to buy a Valentines card for your beloved, remember: love is the new politics.