Polarisation - and how to reduce it. A great new podcast series from the RSA


It's our great hope at The Alternative UK that our "collabratories" (or political laboratories) in communities up and down the country, can begin to establish a common, local purpose, beyond the tired party-political ding-dong. A willingness to identify problems (and aspirations), and draw on all talents and inputs to realise them. 

So we're all ears for ideas and methods that can soften the polarisations - between old and young, city and small-town, urban and rural, Leave and Remainer, one big old Party and another big old Party - that currently command our political consciousness. 

The RSA - for all its antiquity, one of the institutions that doggedly tries to bring real reform and improvement to institutions and laws on these islands - is launching into a new set of initiatives on polarisation. 

First there's a new podcast called "Polarisation" - available on iTunes, or on their website. Here's the blurb for the first show: 

Commentators have written at great length about left vs right, the young vs the old, ‘somewheres’ vs ‘anywheres’. But what if there’s one big divide they’re missing? Are we now a nation of liberals vs authoritarians?

Divides in politics are nothing new – but are they deepening? And does the old left/right split still apply, or are there newer, different splits in British politics?

That sounds more exploratory of the issue, than necessarily having any solutions. Matthew Taylor, head of the RSA, is lecturing soon on polarisation - and does suggest that the solution might lie in more "democratic deliberation":

Democratic deliberation is not the same as direct democracy nor is it simply another form of general engagement. It is the use of specific and robust methods to inform representative groups of ordinary citizens so that these citizens, having heard every side of an argument and having had a chance to deliberate, can reach a view which – like a jury in a criminal trial – can stand for the conclusions which would have been reached by any representative group going through the same process.

This may sound familiar to you from our interest in citizens' assemblies. And the RSA have great form on this agenda - they are responsible for the Bank of England conducting citizens inquiries over the last year, through their Citizens Economic Council

Anthony Painter - a great force at the RSA, particularly strong in his advocacy of Universal Basic Income - has also written eloquently about how to address polarisation in the UK:

Britain’s majoritarian, winner-takes-all brand of democracy becomes incredibly socially divisive when losers see the alternative as not just undesirable but unacceptable. Anger may well increase.

And there’s the small matter of enormous common problems that we face: economic insecurity, environmental degradation, a health and social care system not fit for purpose, the potential impacts of new technology on work, society, and democracy and we could go on. None of these problems can be resolved in winner-takes-all environment or on a single mound.

And so, new spaces for democratic dialogue within communities, within economic institutions, and between filter bubbles become even more important, not simply as pressure valves but as means of exploring common challenges. So a magical new leader is unlikely to be the solution.

Instead there is responsibility on civil society (and this is one reason Matthew Taylor will be making a case for greater deliberation in our democracy in a few weeks), its plethora of organisations, to find ways of opening out these spaces. The RSA is just one of these organisations but, in a polarised world, it may be the most important service to society that we can provide.