We’re Aiming Too Low — Party Politics Needs To Die.

Copied from posting on Medium here.

My genuine question to you all is — is this what “winning” looks like? Is this “progress”? Is this a success of a “movement” of people — the young and the undervalued?

My answer would be a big fat no. To all of them.

Living outside the UK for the last 5 years has made me an observer in my own country when in life my preferred role is a participating one, this hasn’t always been easy. At the same time I have been studying Futures Studies for the last academic year, which has benefitted from my disengagement from the political discourse, and it has raised many profound questions about the future of humanity and our structures in my mind. My analysis on this last election in the UK (As I’m from Wales I have watched 4 different elections and one referendum in the period I’ve been away) is meta. Meta as hell. Because honestly, a sincere lack of ambition and Political navel-gazing is how I would describe the last five years of British politics — meanwhile the rest of the world is seeing tectonic shifts across the board from Politics, to tech, to the climate. We are being left behind, and, we are not immune. Many are feeling the effects of being buffeted around by the winds of change, in response to their feelings of powerlessness they’re seeking simplicity in the face of complexity. Unfortunately, this just isn’t going to cut it, it’s a false haven and the storm will only get worse.

If you read nothing else, I would encourage everyone to think of a hung parliament as an opportunity for genuine engagement in the Political discourse, because everything is on the table and up for discussion. Let’s add to that pile with a sincere debate on the future of democracy. It’s happening in other countries and we as the UK are in a time of potentially huge transition as we consider the combined power of full Scottish devolution, proposals of further Welsh devolution and Brexit. Meanwhile a quick scan of the horizon adds the following impacting factors into the mix: changing poles of power internationally with China and Russia successfully challenging US supremacy and changing the way developing countries are spoken to (no more paternalistic human rights conditionalities or Western criminalising of African heads of state from the International Criminal Court); waves of pop-up D.I.Y terrorism that easily evade detection and who’s impact is mainly through media coverage, not actual numbers killed; leadership on climate change is being demonstrated by India and China, Germany and France, as well as multilaterally as the core 196 Parties to the Paris Agreement hold strong without the US and basically without the UK; and, there is a continued general increase in the mobility of people, coupled with greater numbers of refugee flows concentrated in some areas. The UK both is both impacted by, and creates impact on, all these external trends.

And so the central question is, what is the role of Party Politics in all of this? In a time when we have the internet, big data, forays into space we are still relying on oppositional, uncooperative governance models for making decisions. This is not to say that Government won’t need to exist in 2050, but it is about acknowledging its current vulnerability to major disruptions that both render our governance structures impotent and they don’t build the alternatives that take us out of the situation. My sincere opinion, is that it is the tribalistic nature of party politics that holds Government as a governance model back.

What do I mean?

Firstly, diversity. Diversity is diversity. You can’t pick and choose who diversity stands for and it doesn’t have a face. This means accepting all of our differences and similarities, recognising that everyone has their own moral circle that they make decisions based on. Excluding cause to create direct harm to another person or community, who is anyone to say that your moral circle is better than your neighbour’s? No-one can be “wrong” for the Political decisions they make, they are just different from your Political decisions that you base on your moral circle. There is no higher Political or social truth that we can measure ourselves or others against, there are only greater and lesser degrees of good and bad, judged within the context at the time. This is evolution. And this is inherently why a Party Political system will exclude, cause disengagement, anger and hurt and possibly drive communities apart: because it creates winners and losers. “My moral circle wins for the next 4 years, so there.” Importantly, this winner/loser dynamic doesn’t only arise around elections and key Political flash points, it is the everyday mode of politics. Each side questioning how they can “win the narrative” breeds short-termist competitions about moral circles where winning has nothing to do with what is ‘good’ in that situation/at that time/for that community, it’s an egotistical dick-waving contest (and it is mostly dick’s let’s face it). “Winning” the vision-setting with only one pathway forward, not only neglects the huge diversity of other possible pathways, it is repressive in itself. For those who do not feel represented or participate in the mainstream of the vision, they are relegated to the curb, which is how we have created ghettos of poverty and scared enclaves of ethnic minorities in the past — but in the future these curbs could look very different. This will only drive polarisation.

If we truly value diversity we have to embrace complexity, and complexity doesn’t thrive in binary spaces such as these. When there’s a hung parliament, or when just over 50% vote for a President do we stop to consider how the other 50% feel? We are continuously splitting our nations time and time again and expecting better, more humane, more loving outcomes with each election. It doesn’t add up, and so party politics centred around a top four or five parties has to die. It’s time for something new.

Secondly, oppositional Politics is inefficient. The gargantuan effort and resources that are mobilised for elections and to oil the party machines for “winning” for the microscopic period of four years is not reflected in non-Party Political impact on the ground. The inefficient system pours effort, time and resources into setting up a competitive system that uses all its fuel in the competing, with very little content to show for itself at the end of it all. There is no long-term benefit built into the system, except avoidance of authoritarianism and dictatorship. At a time of great threat from climate change, from non-military bursts of random violence and economic volatility, we have to expect and want more than avoidance of the worst things, we can and must be constructive, innovative and engaged.

Finally, the Party Political system that we call Government is highly vulnerable. Remaining embedded in the narratives of the past will not tackle the present and forward looking concerns of citizens today who seem to be feeling that this level of turbulence and disruption of the status quo is not normal, is scary and perhaps are entering survival mode as a coping mechanism. This is not how we create adaptive capacity. Maintaining a static set up against all the odds takes more courage than strength, and that’s what we’ve been doing. A system that tries to squash all our interests, hopes and fears into two or three Political Party narratives — which are also fairly shallow- is inherently lacking complexity, leaving it vulnerable to Political and narrative manipulation, whether it’s by the Brexiteers, algorithms or the well-established media cycle. How can we resist polarisation when our official representation options are themselves offering only 2 options?

And so nothing less than transformation will suffice. This is not a manifesto of a utopia. This is a basic understanding of human relations and governance processes. Luckily, transformation is not only necessary, it’s also possible, and it doesn’t have to overwhelm us.

To transform relationships between left and right, civil society and corporations, government and its people we have to stop thinking of terms of winning, or emphasising our differences. Our new key words are collaboration and trust.

Stay with me.

Transformation has to be a systemic participatory process otherwise it’s not a transformation — it literally won’t qualify for use of the term. Here are my thoughts on some key pieces of the puzzle, framed using the 7 principles of resilient ecosystems for guidance on what builds adaptive and purpose-led social-ecological systems:

  1. Promote diversity & accept redundancy: Ditch Party Politics. Let’s accept it’s redundancy. There is no time for messing around with petty fights between dominating parties who want to maintain their hegemony to exercise more power. Political representation needs to be direct, so no more first-past-the-post that only maintains the big parties status quo and keeps the population voting tactically, not according to their genuine preference. A smaller example would be the Party name ‘Labour’. We are moving towards societies of high unemployment, of high automation of industry and services, and work will not be such an identifying factor for us as “developed” countries, how will Labour define itself then, or should it accept its growing redundancy and reform or disaggregate now?
  2. Manage connectivity: centering our Political system in the very south of the country without sufficient devolution and power sharing dynamics disconnects large parts of the country from the people in power and those powerful people from landscapes other than those they are directly connected with. Alongside the polycentricity promoted below, geographical location of power processes has to be a consideration in creating equal connectivity across the country, resisting powerful network nodes that promote certain interests, e.g. London, is key to managing connectivity to our benefit. And from a different connectivity perspective, we need to be incorporating the internet as a tool that can profoundly reform how citizens connect to Politics, it’s already changed our interpersonal lives, and countries like Estonia are already innovating at the Government level. Here are some Argentinians working on the future of democracy in the internet age through online tools: http://tinyurl.com/yd59hwc7
  3. Manage slow variables & feedback: this tells us that the ‘slow variables’ of a system’s underlying infrastructure must be managed, not just set in place and left to their own devices. We need democracy iterations throughout the centuries, and they need to be flexible but robust to avoid being constantly impacted by the fast variables of positive and negative feedbacks that can accelerate either direction of change. Are we managing our slow variable with one eye to the future? Positive and negative feedback can generate loops which self-reinforce and destabilise a system. One such example could be the penetration of biased algorithms in social media, which have had profound impacts on recent political processes. These are not to be underestimated and so part of managing the slow and fast variables must be about keeping up with, or even, having foresight, to understand threats and opportunities that do not directly announce themselves to government until they have created an intentional disruptive mess. Why do some of the brightest and most innovative go into the private sector not the public sector? We all know the answer to that.
  4. Foster complex adaptive systems thinking: stripping our politicians of a Party Political system frees them and enables them to bring forward solutions representative of the diversity of opinions in their constituency, not whipped into Party line and punished for failing to subscribe to the Party mainstream. Almost all the best ideas in the world have come from the margins, we cannot deny this. Coupled with the dynamics of trust and collaboration, there is a greater likelihood of unique and purposeful coalitions of advocacy and implementation — e.g. MP’s of all Political colours from South Wales and North England collaborating on 21st century industrial policies and learning from each other’s best practices.
  5. Encourage learning: learning does not thrive in a place of fear, continuous competition or when under attack. Learning processes need honest answers, honest acknowledgement of mistakes and places to genuinely learn if it is to feed the feedback process which keeps systems alive, adaptive and purpose-led. An atmosphere of ‘us vs them’ does not enable learning to be shared across the system, and depending on the Party hierarchy and atmosphere, not even within the Party itself. It would also be my hope that by taking large Political Parties out of the picture, we can step away from labelling people in association with them, allowing these labels to get in the way of knowing and understanding the persontalking to you, this will be key to building trust.
  6. Broaden participation: Transformation and collaboration does not need everyone to be on the exact same page. It needs a commitment to enabling things to move forward unless you feel very strongly the need to veto its progress. That looks like a voting system that asks does anyone oppose this policy/motion/measure/decision? No, then it will continue. Yes? Then we need further debate until we can get to a point of no vetoes. The glue that holds all this together however, is trust. Trust does not mean friendship, it does not mean handing over all our worldly goods or loving your “enemy” (unless you want to of course). It is a continuously built and maintained state that enables things to happen. In fact, trust matters more than truth. It is a bridge-builder, and contrary to some beliefs, it does not exclude competition.

“Trust is what we can do together without doubting co-operation as a possibility and an actuality” Maturana

7. Promote polycentricity: promoting polycentricity also promotes diversity, and it enables democracy to reach further down into society than a top-heavy Westminster ever will. This means empowered local councils and cities, and support for Celtic countries’ devolution pathways, mixed as they are. And of course, England should feel equally invested in themselves, as polycentricity doesn’t mean division, it means recognition.

In conclusion, this latest election circus has only underlined my conviction that collective transformation is necessary, and possibly the only way out this mire. We must all get involved in distributing power across the country for our biggest project yet — collective nation building.