Tag Archives: election

Opening Space To Talk Power & Politics Before the General Election

Open space gorgeousness #DDiii

TL;DR – I’m going to open as much space as I can, all around the UK, before the General Election to talk about power and politics and us at a much deeper and more practical level than is available online.  There’s a Loomio Group Facebook Group to join if you want to help make it happen but there will be other ways of getting involved emerging quickly.  As usual, this won’t be for everybody, but it should be for anybody who wants it.

Whether we like it or not, we are going to have another national vote on who should be in charge of whatever we want to do next as a country. It will be on the 8th June, which is soon, it’s fifty days time. Fifty days ago was February 28th – do you remember Pancake Day this year? That was fifty days ago today, that’s how long we’ve got.

Yesterday it became clear to me that this was the time to do a thing I’ve had on the back burner for some time. Ever since the surprises of the 2015 general election and even more so after last year’s referendum result, I’ve been thinking about how to get people together for a better sort of political conversation.

My Facebook feed yesterday was full of extremes – glee and despair, hatred and derision of each of the major party leaders. Lots of people saying “This is the only sensible way to vote” and “This is what I’m going to do and I expect you to do so too”. I saw calls for reasonable, collegiate debate (by smug, privileged bastards!) and calls to erect the barricades (by loonies!).

How did it get like this? My simplistic answer is that it’s only really like this when we talk to each other online and face to face we have a different experience – it’s less comfortable, sometimes more confronting and it’s not straightforward to just turn the other person off in the way that you might close down a Facebook tab in your browser, but it actually moves things on somewhat.

I’ve been really reviving my Open Space Technology practice over the last couple of years. It’s the sort of minimal organisation for productive, creative conversations that makes most sense to me. It is a very different experience from other face-to-face gatherings let alone any online argument or the sort of analysis you see in mainstream media. And, of highest importance, it is a form that gives power back to participants to decide what they want to talk about and work on – pretty much every other kind of political event has an agenda set by a party or is about a niche subject or has an angle and there are people in charge and people who mostly sit and listen. That’s not the sort of conversation I want to have either. So this is what I want to spend my time doing for the next seven weeks:

  • Organise and facilitate as many day-long Open Spaces as I can up to Wednesday June 7th.
  • The long form title I’ve got so far is “Having said all that, what are we going to do about the place that we find ourselves in today?” – to break it down:
    • Having said all that – by which I mean all the things that have been said again and again on Facebook, Twitter and social media and regurgitated in mainstream media. So, putting all that aside…
    • What are we going to do about [this] place – I want to do these in large cities all around the UK and I want to root the conversation in a local-ish context – So what are we going to do about Birmingham or Aberdeen or Plymouth or Brighton?
    • [This] Place that we find ourselves in today – So not only is this the physical place but it’s also the political, economic, social or technological place and, even more subtly, it’s the place we find ourselves in metaphorically, we find ourselves by looking at our environment – how do you find yourself, what to you see of yourself reflected in the environment of York or Belfast?
    • So that’s quite rich, I think. A wide and deep field in which to ponder power and how we might change the way power is used and distributed in our society.
    • Or we might just go for “Oh yeah Politics – WTF, right?!?!?”
  • In private conversations I’ve had about this so far, the most audacious target has been thirty events. I think that might be the end of me if I did every one, but it’s a nice juicy target isn’t it?
  • I’m aiming for gatherings of around 100 people (though more if we can get large enough venues – and free/cheap ones at that)
  • I’d like to be able to pay myself for full-time work on this – a minimum of London Living Wage.
  • I’d like to be able to pay others to help, probably 1 full-time equivalent, not necessarily one person perhaps one person per location or whatever.
  • The other main expense will be travel (by train wherever possible) – let’s have fun tweaking the timetable to minimise these costs!
  • I will be looking for accommodation when needed with local friendly folks wherever possible (it’s always possible)
  • We should raise money for this and other costs through a mix of sponsorship, crowdfunding and donations on the door. If there’s a surplus at the end we’ll have a democratic way of deciding what to do with it.
  • There should be an easy to use blog/CMS for people to write reports of their sessions.
  • And the whole process should be specced simply but tightly enough for others to be able to pick up the format and do it locally if I can’t get to where they are or need to work on a smaller scale.

I need your help with organising: crafting an invitation; working out a timetable; sourcing free venues; getting sponsors; thinking about the money and other logistics. I’m giving myself a few days to work on things before doing the first event before the Bank Holiday on May Day (yes, the next couple of weeks).

Although comments here are welcome, there’s a Facebook Group to join, come and join in, please and thankyou.

Working quickly and alone for now so please forgive (but alert me to) any clumsiness, excessive vagueness or gross mistakes, thankyou.

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Perhaps there’s time to learn to walk first

Thank you everyone who commented on the previous post – wow!

This reminds me very much of what happened when I wrote my original Social Media Cafe post – I had an idea, I fleshed it out a little and then people went and took it seriously 🙂 Which of course, in truth, was my intention, but I still cling to a little English self-deprecation and false modesty.

I also feel the need to remind newcomers here, that I consider this blog to simply be my thinking ground, this is where I get to understand what I think and why – that’s why I write. Then it’s great also to hear what others think of what I think, because it helps me clarify that through conversation. You may think me mad or a pointless dilletante. There’ll be reasons for that.

I also want to let you know that I am comfortable holding the apparent paradox that I am both entirely committed to following through on this *and* consider it a thought experiment and social art object.

I had some good chats about this at Tuttle today too, it certainly seems to have caught some people’s imagination. The question now is what to do about it.

I think I need to explain some other things more.

Firstly, let’s be clear, there is no election currently being held that I’m interested in standing at. After I posted yesterday (and doubtless as a direct result) Julie Kirkbride announced that she would not be standing at the next general election, but that could still be quite some time off yet.

I believe that if an election were called tomorrow, and if I could garner enough financial support to cover my deposit and living expenses for the three weeks or so until the vote, I would stand, if only for the experience of doing it – I may start a fighting fund for just this purpose.

However it is unlikely that Gordon will go to the country so soon and so I’m asked what I’ll do in the meantime.

We’ll see. I’m not in a position to put all of my time and energy into building a base in any particular constituency. I am not, today even sure of where I might stand, I need to think about where I really feel I could be of most service.

What is clear to me is that the three themes that I’m interested in exploring are Service, Representation and Governance. What does it mean to serve a community, how can one person best serve several thousand at a national level? Who do MPs represent and how does it really work, how could it work? If they are there to represent the interests of their constituency why do so few people feel represented or feel inspired enough to turn out to vote? And what does governing a country mean? How do you “run” a country? Is there room to start running it in the way that large swathes of the internet are “run” on a far more decentralised and libertarian (with a small ‘l’) basis?

The party question is an interesting one. Many people have said something like “if you want to get elected, why not join a big party, you have much more chance that way” to which my response is that the overall purpose of this is not to win a seat at any cost. But in that case, why would anyone vote for me, don’t we vote for the person we think has a good chance of winning or else for someone who represents a party that we’d like to see forming a government? Well, yes, we do but that doesn’t mean it always has to be like that or that it has to be like that for every constituency. And anyway this sounds like the people who said, “why would anyone want to go to your social media cafe?” which elicited a “well if
you don’t know I can’t tell you” kind of response from me. It turns out

And another thing. What do you do with supporters who aren’t voters? There are some lovely people who’ve said, I can’t vote for you, but I’d love to help in any way I can. What role is there for such folk, especially if a large part of the campaign is online. Perhaps there’s an example in the Obama campaign and what contribution people from overseas made to his success – anyone measure this?

It has shown me how I think differently about the world from other people. I am quite convinced that we do not know what the future holds and that the economic situation is so shocking to many people not because of the severity of its effects but because their illusion that they knew what was coming up over the next year, and that it included their house going up in price, their job paying more and prices remaining pretty stable has been shattered. So I find attractive the idea of coming clean on this and giving up the idea that you’ve got to know everything you’re going to do before you get started.

I was also interested in the fear and smear factor that Terence brought up in the comments. Most of the things he talks about, I’m quite comfortable with. I think the issue is how perfect do we expect our representatives to be. Is government just a game where we put people on a pedestal, cultivate extreme and unrealistic expectations of them and then gloat when they fail, in order to make ourselves feel better about our own falings? Possibly. Is that something we want to spend so much time, money and energy on or is there a better way of doing that? Not me.

I think overall, my point is “Let’s stop talking about what the job is, what it has become, but rather get back to what we want and what sort of people can deliver that”

I was most relieved however that Ewan Spence recognised that I want to find a way of taking this seriously without being too serious and pointed me to the advice of the Monster Raving Loony Party.