Tag Archives: politics

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.

First #neweconomics event with @johnmcdonnellmp

A couple of weeks ago, John McDonnell MP, the shadow chancellor, announced that he’d be organising a series of events on New Economics to “broaden the debate around economics in Britain.”

I booked up for the first four in London straight away. The first lecture was last night at the Royal Institution. It was good, I heartily recommend you getting along to others in the series if you can. I had a few reactions to it that might be expected by regular readers here.

  1. I’m not very good at lectures. Mariana Mazzucato was a great speaker in that unstoppable Italian-American way. And I stuck it to the end, but it was a hard exercise in concentration for me. That aside, I’m left wondering if it was worth it – one person talking for an hour, even jumping around her slides, is something I can watch on YouTube and I get to pause it to have a cup of tea and a think half way through.

  2. I’m not very good at Economics. I spent a good deal of my second year at University rebelling against having to do Economics 101 and I’m very glad to say that last night had no mention of inelastic pricing, but I was on my guard for long explanations of this model versus that model. I’m glad I got to hear what she had to say (big takeaway: don’t forget that all of Silicon Valley’s invention is built on the foundations from large publicly-funded programmes [DARPA, NASA, CERN etc]) but I had to work hard for it (probably a good thing).

  3. I’m really not good at post-lecture Q&A. There may be some people who enjoy it, who get to hear things they didn’t hear before, but I don’t think that justifies the mic-hogging and mansplaining and all of us having to sit through another half (if we’re lucky) hour of one person speaking at a time.

I came away really wanting to know who else was in the room (other than Jeremy Corbyn) and what they thought. And what all of this was doing to “broaden the debate”. I may just be being impatient. Let’s see what the next one (on Tech & the Future of Work) is like. I’d much rather have some Open Space/Unconference events where people really get to talk about this stuff and we all have an experience we couldn’t have had through a screen.

Which ties in conveniently with two evening events I’m doing in February at WeWork on the Southbank! After the Future of Work spaces we did before Christmas, I wanted to continue the conversation but with a more practical angle. So rather than talking broadly about new technologies, I’m asking “What are we actually going to do?”

You can book on Eventbrite:

Future of Work: What are we going to do about Artificial Intelligence?

and

Future of Work: What are we going to do about The Internet of Things?

See you there if not before!

 

That Bloody Woman

I’ve heard and read lots of people over the last couple of days telling us what Margaret Thatcher did to harm them and make their lives more difficult.  Her sins are then recounted to make it clear how right  this person is that it was her fault.  But as that well-known “terrorist” Nelson Mandela said “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that it will kill your enemies.”

Nonetheless, I have a lot of sympathy with those who are picking away at their old wounds.  If you’d asked me in November  1990 (while I was honeymooning in Malta and desperately trying to find out what was really going on back in London)what reaction I’d have if she actually died, I’d have probably given you a list of reasons why I would enjoy dancing on her grave.

I joined the Labour Party at the age of 18, toward the end of 1983, partly in response to the horrendous election result in June of that year.  I think I was told at home to “stop moaning about it and go and do something about it”.

As a recent school-leaver without a job and as a member of the Labour Party Young Socialists, I was active throughout the following year in campaigns to support the printworkers in dispute with Eddie Shah and supporting miners on strike through 1984 and ’85.

So all through the eighties I was involved and awake to what was going on.  And all through that period, I hated Thatcher and the rest of the Government.  But I can’t do that any more, it stopped working for me.  This isn’t piety, it’s self-preservation.

Next Wednesday, while a coffin-bearing gun carriage trundles down Fleet Street to St Paul’s  I’d like to do something other than the obvious choices of cheering or jeering.

I think we need to focus rather on the release of resentment and ways to find reconciliation, preferably without talking about MHT or her colleagues at all.  So I’ll be holding Human Scale Conversations on those themes.  If you’re interested in doing something different on that day, come along.  I’ve not settled on a venue yet, but somewhere away from Whitehall and The City – maybe the weather will be kind and we can go somewhere in Hyde Park.  I’ve put up a #wewillgather event and see what happens.

BTW this explains Human Scale Conversations.

UPDATE/AFTERTHOUGHT I’m doing this in Central London, but if you’re not here on Wednesday, I’d strongly encourage you to organise you’re own event in a similar vein.

I’ve started watching “House of Cards” on Netflix #houseofcards

I had a long period of TV abstinence beginning in about 2004 (I guess it was about when I started writing here – something had to go to make time for it).  But Netflix has drawn me back into fairly regular TV watching because it’s totally under my control and it makes a decent fist most of the time of alerting me to things I’d like to see.

Lots has been written about the new House of Cards which is not being shown on regular TV.  It’s on Netflix-only, and the 13 episodes were released all in one go last week.  Mostly though people are focusing their attention on the novelty of the release rather than the programme itself.

Which is a shame, because it’s very good.  I haven’t gone full throttle into TV addiction yet so I haven’t succumbed to the temptation of just watching the whole thing in a 13-hour marathon, but I’ve managed the first three episodes and we’re getting used to the characters and seeing some of the storylines start to firm up.

I was initially disappointed to realise (it came in the first few shots when Kevin Spacey turned and started talking to camera) that it’s the Michael Dobbs/Andrew Davies House of Cards remade in today’s US political scene.  Disappointed only because the original was *so* good, so captivating, so of the time and shockingly near to what we suspected the inside of party politics was like, long before The Thick of It.  And because Ian Richardson was so compelling: simultaneously adorable and despicable.  And because I’m rarely won over by American remakes of British TV.  Where I am at the end of episode 3, Spacey hasn’t quite reached Richard III levels of despicability but he’s getting there and I fully believe that he pulls it off by Episode 13 and Robin Wright is an able Lady Macbeth.   Part of the draw for me is seeing how the other recognisable characters might turn out – although it’s pretty much a question of how they will meet their various sticky ends rather that whether they do (I hope).

I like the graphic overlays that denote when people are texting each other.  It lets the acting continue without cutting away to a close-up of the phone screen.  I haven’t seen it done as authentically before.

It’s very interesting to see it transplanted into American politics and the DC village rather than the Westminster one.  Though I am wondering why it took 23 years for this story to be acceptable to a US audience.  Is American politics in a similar place now to where we were at the end of the Thatcher era?  I guess there are similar levels of disillusionment with the system, but has that come about recently? Is it a new thing?  If we got any faith in the system back in 1997 we’ve lost it again since.

One thing that does crop up with the all-in-one release thing is that it makes it hard to have an online social experience around it and so it’s hard to write about without some spoilers – it’s neither like a movie (which you’ve either seen or you haven’t) nor like a standard TV series (where you might allow people to be a few episodes behind, but pretty much you expect everyone to be up to date or avoiding any reviews).  And of course it’s also a remake.

But do I hate spoilers so I shall wait until a significantly larger number of my friends are admitting to having seen it.

 

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.

To run or not to run

Now this feels weird.

It started with a tweet, like so many things in my life today.

mptweetscreen

And of course a bit of banter arose and a hashtag was suggested #LloydDavis4MP but then I started to talk to other people about it and realised that they were taking the proposition seriously, being encouraging saying things like “Oh yes, I think that would be marvellous” So I’m writing about it here so that I’m quite sure that I’m not being blindly selective and only telling people who I know would be supportive but also to better understand what I might do next.

Because I’m up for it, I think. It fits very well with making social art and building community, which is what I (and others) see myself doing. I’m just not sure how.

I see our current national political system suffering from similar issues to those faced by other large organisations – that large-scale centralised bureaucracies do some things extremely efficiently but mostly at the cost of the people who are supposed to be served by them as well as the people who spend their time trying to run them. I think that working out what it might mean to run this country (or any country) in the next century is something worth putting time and energy into.

The expenses row shows just how vulnerable the system is to abuse of trust. I’m quite sure, from the gobsmacked faces and embarrassed shuffling that most MPs considered they were playing the game as it’s supposed to be played and that from their perspective, the goalposts have been moved. Yes, they knew it was probably wrong, but everyone seemed to be doing it and it’s easy in that situation to tell yourself that you’re doing the right thing. Very easy, that is, if the only people you talk to about it are other people who are engaged in the same activity.

So there’s a choice for those of us who see that change is needed. I could write about this over and over and work out what I think and tell other people what they should do or should believe and engage in endless conversations about policy and designing a better system, or I could say, y’know what, I don’t think it’s possible to stand outside a human system and tinker with it, design a desirable future state and then implement it – that’s the process that got us into this mess and innumerable messes before. I think we have to participate in our democracy in a much more active way.

Which brings me to our current parties. I joined the Labour Party in 1983, soon after the second Thatcher election victory. It felt like a grim time. I was a 1 in 10, a number on a list. The economic base that most people at that time had believed would be with us forever, manufacturing industry, was being swept away, restructured or sold off. I instinctively disliked the hard-headed, stubborn, dogmatic and combative style of the Tory party under Thatcher – I preferred the being hard-headed, stubborn, dogmatic and combative in my *own* way, and on the side of people more like my family and friends, so I joined the Labour Party Young Socialists (which for those unacquainted with the history of such things, means what the press at the time dubbed “The Militant Tendency” though that wasn’t what I thought I was getting into at the time). And then throughout the 1980s I took part in political activity that didn’t work. At a local and national level, we lost again and again. I wasn’t forced out of the party over Clause IV or for being a member of a party within a party or anything like that, the reality was that when my son was born in 1991, I had just been made redundant and I needed to spend more time on caring for my own family than fighting for others. I have voted in every election I’ve been entitled to and on each occasion I’ve voted Labour or spoiled the ballot paper where there was no Labour candidate. And perversely I’ve always lived in Conservative constituencies – the only time that the candidate I voted for has won has been in District Council and European elections. But now I’m done with combat and dogma of whatever flavour and you should judge me on what I do and say today, not the things I went through on the way.

And now I feel quite distanced from any of the parties. They don’t seem to live in the same world as the rest of us. They seem to be still trying to play the same game and the game has become more important than the original function.

Those of you who’ve seen me at Tuttle will, I hope, have seen me being of service to the group, to the community. The more that I’ve done that, the more I’ve let go of trying to run it, or make it go in a particular direction, the more successful it has been and the more I’ve enjoyed being part of it. I’d like the opportunity to try that out on a grander scale. And representing local people at a national level seems where there’s most improvement to be made.

We’re all quite exercised about how public servants should act with integrity and honesty – my definition of integrity is simple – you do what you say on the tin – you are open and clear about the principles that you apply when making decisions and you do what you said you’d do.

So the idea of standing as an independent candidate is quite appealing, running on a ticket of integrity and true service. And I’m attracted to serving Bromsgrove because I lived there, I know and love the town and because they seem to have had a rough deal with MPs for a while. I’m open though to doing something elsewhere or accepting that I’m completely wrong about the whole thing and should just get on with something else.

And of course, I have some interesting ideas about how my knowledge of the use of the social web could support both a campaign and the day-to-day business of being a sitting MP.

I’m very interested in what others think on this. Are there qualities that you think I’m lacking? Can you see a more suitable way for me to contribute to this issue?

Do as I say…

07012009799How do you change the world without telling people what to do? Forget changing the world even, how about getting anything done or created at all? I guess that’s one of my big life questions.

Because telling people what’s good for them and what’s best for all of us and what they should do that I’m not already doing – isn’t that the only way it’s going to work? Isn’t that what marketing and politics is all about? Don’t people need to be told how to live better lives, what things they need and what they don’t need, what they really ought to stop doing straight away? Otherwise, then what would happen?

It does seem as though there is no other way. Except, oh dear, we have a rather major blind spot. There is no other way as long as it’s me or my pals who are doing the telling, but the moment that you’re telling me what to do, you’re telling me how to live my life then I will resist – to put it mildly. Sometimes I will resist violently, sometimes more subtly, in fact sometimes so subtly that even I might not notice that I’m resisting, but nonetheless I will resist.

Oh yeah, and I’m quite good at recognising when you try to make me think it was my idea in the first place.

Aren’t I?

Bonus audio: Vinay Gupta’s lecture on Infrastructure for Anarchists (70MB) at the Temporary School yesterday