Collaborating for Change

Issue 304
September/October 2017
Together We Are Stronger

Web Exclusives
Article

Collaborating for Change
by

issue cover 304

Cover: Illustration by Valériane Leblond www.valeriane-leblond.eu

Issue availability

Back issue available

Issue available as PDF

Reprint permissions

In Britain, we need a revolution in how we do politics, argues Bruce Nixon, who offers his own distinctive recipe for reform.

We have a dysfunctional democracy in Britain. This adversely affects almost every aspect of our lives. Government is an obstacle, not an enabler. There is a lack of courageous, visionary leadership at the top. So we fail to address the most fundamental challenges facing us: above all, the risk of human extinction through climate chaos, destruction of our habitat or nuclear war, economic and social injustice, and failure to resolve conflict without violence. We need to ensure that everyone benefits from the Fourth Industrial Revolution – developments in medicine, artificial intelligence and robotics – and that it does not give even greater power to the few.

Under the current form of democracy, half of us are unrepresented and disempowered. We are a divided nation in terms of prosperity, wellbeing, housing and health, which set London and the south-east of England apart from the rest of the country. Large areas of former industrial heartland continue to suffer generations of unemployment and deprivation.

Meanwhile, however, we are in the midst of a revolution in politics. There are more political parties, and vast numbers of progressive political movements largely beneath the radar of the conventional media. They involve thousands of young people and broadly equal numbers of women and men. Their processes are inclusive, not top-down. Their territories are mass gatherings, the internet and social media. Young people voted in much greater numbers at the 2017 general election. Jeremy Corbyn, a disrupter, grasped these changes, and as a result the Labour Party benefited.

We have a unique opportunity to create a new democracy, a model for the world. We need to focus on a vision for a better world, a good society, a good Europe and a good democracy. To achieve this, a new kind of leadership and new ways of involving people are needed. The biggest lesson is that we need to collaborate and embrace difference. This article offers proposals.

Brexit was a huge protest vote

The message of 2016’s Brexit referendum was clear: Westminster needed to listen. The two main parties had not listened to the diverse needs of people in different parts of the UK. Similar messages come from all over Europe and the United States. Ultimately, if people feel unheard and unrepresented, violence is the result. Brexit distracts from such vital issues as the possibility of human extinction through climate change or nuclear war, or the overuse of resources. To say that Brexit is “the will of the people” is nonsense. It was the will of only 51.9% of those who voted, many of whom had been misled; certainly not the will of most people under the age of 45. There is nowhere in the world where the vote of 37% of an electorate would constitute a mandate for such major constitutional change. And the flawed referendum, inappropriate for such a complex issue, was only advisory. Polls now show a shift to Remain. Brexit is a disaster: which political leader has the courage to say this and demand that it be abandoned?

People want a different kind of politics

The wrong kind of people get into political leadership. Instead of providing far-sighted strategic leadership, they focus on winning and holding on to power. Politics is adversarial, whereas collaboration is needed. There is widespread dislike of adversarial, often abusive, debate. Debate is half-truth, often untruth. Verbal abuse is a form of violence. We need to listen and learn. No single party has a monopoly of wisdom. As Satish Kumar says, opposites make the whole.

The two main political parties have been riven by conflict

Rather than fight among themselves, the main parties need to value their diverse membership and listen. They also need to respond to the diverse voices among their own constituents: businesspeople, people in the public sector, the general public, especially younger people, people who are suffering most, and progressive people. Difference makes the whole.

‘One party rule’ is out of date

In 2015 the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system led to a Conservative government, backed by less than 24% of those eligible to vote, continuing to inflict neoliberal policies on the nation. Continuing harsh austerity measures would have been impossible but for this deficiency. Austerity, an illiterate policy in a recession, obstructs economic recovery, harms the most vulnerable and is damaging every aspect of our society. Majority rule results in poor decisions and leaves at least half of us feeling angry, frustrated and disengaged. A divided country is an unhealthy one. As we await the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, we face many more months of uncertainty, and uncertainty leads to psychological stress.

We need a clear vision of what a good democracy looks like.

This is my vision of a good democracy:


• A written constitution

• Citizen-led conventions to determine the constitution

• Parliament the principal decision-making body of government

• The prime minister head of a government elected by parliament as a whole

• Proportional representation (PR) voting systems for national, regional and local government

• 50:50 representation for women, and proportionate representation for black, Asian and ethnic minorities

• Devolution of power from Westminster to regions and local government

• An elected reviewing chamber

• All elected politicians liable to recall by their electorate

• A cap on individual funding of political parties, and complete disclosure

• An end to the so-called revolving door that allows politicians and senior civil servants to move swiftly to top jobs in the private sector

• Votes from age 16

• Recognition of the rights of future generations

Proportional representation

Under a system of PR such as the Single Transferable Vote, the following would have been the distribution of seats in Britain’s 2017 general election (with the actual result in parentheses):

Conservatives 275 (318)

Labour 260 (262)

Liberal Democrats 48 (12)

Scottish National Party 19 (35)

Green Party 10 (1)

UKIP 11 (0)

Plaid Cymru 3 (4)

Democratic Unionist Party 5 (10)

Sinn Fein 4 (7)

It’s a condemnation of the political class that it has resisted reform for so long. Again, courageous leadership is needed.

PR would have had a similar effect in the 2015 general election. The Conservatives would still have been the largest party, but in a real democracy their 37% of votes would never have been equal to 51% of seats.

The first and most important step is to replace the first-past-the-post system

Britain is the only country in Europe using FPTP for national elections. PR would enable the main strands of public opinion to be better represented. In the run-up to the 2017 general election, Compass led a progressive alliance of parties working together that resulted in the election of many progressive MPs. Collaboration like this could help make PR happen.

A constitutional convention

We need fully participatory processes to make the many important and far-reaching decisions about our future. Molly Scott Cato, a Green Party member of the European parliament, has called for a national constitutional convention to bring citizens and politicians together to discuss the democratic future of the UK. Given how long it will take to agree a new relationship with the EU, now seems a good time for communities to discuss our future, outside or inside the EU. Such a process could help heal the deep and painful divisions created and exacerbated during the referendum campaign.

A new kind of leadership is needed in the 21st century

Courageous, transformative, enabling leadership that embraces the full diversity of the nation is needed. Leaders need to involve all stakeholders in bringing about change. Imposed change does not work: many initiatives imposed by successive governments have failed because the people affected were not properly involved from the start. Dedicated people become alienated and exhausted. Some choose other work, adding to shortages of skilled people, and pressures on overburdened and underfunded organisations. A recent example was Jeremy Hunt’s attempt to impose a seven-day week on junior doctors.

An enabling state

Most of the initiatives required to create prosperity are instigated by individuals and communities, not the state. The state’s role is to enable. Our concept of leadership must be one that enables people to empower themselves, releasing their creative energy and, by resolving conflict, the power of love. Love is a powerful force: love of one’s work, workplace and colleagues, and love of one’s country.

Servant leadership

In place of greed, we need to embed servant leadership throughout society. Excessive consumption is driving us towards extinction. Prosperity must be redefined as wellbeing. We need to live lightly on the Earth. Today we need the equivalent of about 1.6 planets to provide the resources for our consumption and absorb our waste. But which party leader has the courage to say this?

“Getting the whole system into the room” and involving all stakeholders

This is a principle for creating change. It enables people to build consensus and create solutions that work for everyone. Leaders need to value difference and recognise the importance of “getting the whole system into the room”. Future Search is such an approach. In his book Consensus Design, Christopher Day describes how people start with one view of what needs to be done and, by listening with respect instead of trying to win the argument, come to a different and far better solution.

If you want more information on the ideas I’ve outlined here, look up the following organisations. I don’t necessarily subscribe to all of their policies or suggestions, but they suggest new ways of approaching our political problems:

• Britain for Europe

• Centre for European Reform

• Electoral Reform Society

• Make Votes Matter

• Open Britain

• Servant Leadership UK

• The Convention

• Progressive Alliance

• The UK in a Changing Europe

Bruce Nixon is the author of The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness. www.brucenixon.com/21stCenturyRevolution.html

The Resurgence Trust is an educational charity that publishes Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, Resurgence.org and theEcologist.org to promote ecological sustainability, social justice and spiritual values. Read our vision statement

© The Resurgence Trust | Terms & Conditions | Privacy | Registration & Login Help | Sitemap | Contact Us

The Resurgence Trust publishes Resurgence & Ecologist magazine. Registered Charity Number: 1120414