New Publication: The Bridge


Tuesday, 04 March 2014


We are on the cusp of a big shift – one where flat organising is trumping traditional hierarchies. Where technology, creativity and passion is making a space where we can share, collaborate and practise a different kind of politics. In ‘The Bridge: how the politics of the future will link the vertical to the horizontal’ we explore how we can shape this emerging world to fit with our values.

Click here to download the publication and please share your thoughts with us by commenting below.

Share this post


Leave a comment

We take no responsibility for the content of the comments posted on this website, which represent the views of their authors alone.

  1. Posted by Aubrey Meyer

    The Bridge – Well done. “We are all particles in the wave of the future that us ours to make.” That is very elegant and also [dare I say it] ‘very Niels Bohr’. Designing a bridge while at the same time we cross it is no less of a quantum challenge than the one he rose to a Century ago. Let’s ‘hope’ we all have the ‘nous’ to reach the other side in working order.

  2. Posted by Robin Nuttall

    I just kept coming back to the line “The old icebergs of state and corporation are dissolving into a flat and fluid sea…..” and feeling astonished that there is anybody out there who truly believes this. Maybe there is a bright ray of hope in the lands of our Northern European brothers, but here in the UK we are so far from any melting effect; we are cast away into space, existing at absolute zero while the icebergs of bone-headed Ruling Class Elitism hardens into a single ice sheet that suffocates and oppresses everybody except the lucky 1%.
    There is a lot of flattening to do my friends; and it will take more than a bridge to wrest the centuries-old weapons of power from the blind avarice of Britain’s deeply entrenched hereditary masters.

  3. Posted by Nat

    There is a lot of value in this idea. For example, Frank Ostroff wrote “The Horizontal Organisation” in 1999, with the example of Xerox (among other companies) and how they shifted from a hierarchical, bureaucratic model to a more flexible, vertical, project-focused one. However, they still needed some hierarchy and management as a division of labour. And when working with civil society groups and active citizens, especially ‘digital natives’, there is sometimes a lack of understanding of the necessary advantages of minimum structures that remain vital, such as having someone chair meetings, ensuring minutes and action points are written down and agreed, allocating tasks and giving people freedom to do them, etc. All this can be ignored for ages when everyone in a ‘horizontal’ group is going with the flow. But as soon as there is a serious disagreement, co-operation can break down rapidly and civil society alliances can shatter. In sum, more horizontal is good, but we need to acknowledge the aspects of vertical, hierarchical organisation that serve a valuable purpose, and not give up on the necessity of individuals taking leadership and management roles, which in turn need robust structures to enforce their accountability to the rest of the community.

  4. Posted by Robin Turner

    I have two comments:
    (1) The language is not accessible to most people.

    (2) The grammar is poor.
    Where technology, creativity and passion ARE making a space where we can share, collaborate and practise a different kind of politics.

  5. Posted by Des McConaghy

    “Technology’s new flat earth”! Guardian 5 March.

    Hi Heal – I have three grandchildren in Copenhagen and so I go to Denmark quite a lot. I must copy to you my correspondence with their Finance Permanent Secretary about state financing – and various “centralising” “reforms”! But readers should also know that the Danes have high levels of taxation – which are generally tolerated, inter alia, because they have very effective public services. But one wise Dane once told me that our own Horatio Nelson did them a good turn when he beat the living daylights out of them at the “Battle of Copenhagen”. At that point the Danes gave up any thought of viking pasts or conquest or empire and settled down to be a nice well mannered little country. Verb. Sapiens – Des!!

  6. Posted by R.L.Symonds

    Sounds all very well-meaning’ but so far I hadn’t read anything that means much to me. No clear ideology. No plan. Above all no answers to the questions people put to you on the streets. I liked’The Good Society’, that was relatively concrete. To my mind, vagueness is death of politics. I’ll wait.

  7. Posted by Stan Rosenthal

    Expect the usual cynicism, ridicule, pessimism and general negativity from large elements of the Left (the comments at the Guardian were a disgrace). But I’m afraid this this is the great weakness of the concept of power to the people, facilitated by the new technologies. ” The people” are not necessarily repositories of wisdom. What mainly comes through are the views of those who make the loudest noise based on pre- conceived mind sets, with little tolerance of the views of others.

    That is why the idea of a bridge to this kind of democracy is so important. Without the bridge we just fall into an abyss of Babylon (to adapt the biblical analogy) where everyone speaks a different tongue and no one really understands each other). With the bridge (in the form of a party which is prepared to lay the ground for the new democracy by equipping people to handle it) we can get across to the Good Society in reasonable and reasoning shape.

  8. Posted by Keith Westhead

    Personally I thought it was blue-skies rubbish of the sort we frequently get nowadays. At business meetings, council meetings, agency meetings, and any other sort of meeting where people are trying to impress you with vague euphoric rhetoric without any real meaning. It may sound good until you start to analyse it. Then it is obvious nonsense, and much of it untrue. Enough said!

  9. Posted by Derek Tatton

    Good stuff, taking arguments on this vital big issue forward.
    It’s helpful to place the extraordinary technological developments, which are shifting politics from the vertical to the horizontal, in a general historical context. Raymond Williams was prescient on all this. It’s worth visiting to
    to assess his continued relevance. Recent residential adult education courses organised through the Foundation have engaged with the challenges and new kinds of politics in ‘The Bridge’ including a weekend on ‘Scandinavian Politics and Culture’. More of this transnational, cross borders, sharing of experience, working together on problems which are global is essential. Keep up the sound work.

  10. Posted by Mike Watkins

    Excellent article. As a member of the Green Party for 35 years I don’t find the approach too radical, but like a lot of excellent ideas it never gets past the gatekeepers. All radical, like-minded organisations need to join together in pursuit of these goals, not pursue them separately. “We are many they are few” would then truly apply.

  11. Posted by Martyn Tozer

    Yes, we are indeed on the cusp of change. However Governments will continue to try & act autocratically, keeping important facts hidden & passing laws to suit them or their industrial backers rather than the electorate.

    Industry, through their lobbying & donations to Political Parties will continue to be very powerful, They are currently involved in trying to establish laws drawn up to favour them at the expense of people & the environment.

    Slowly the old paradigm of ever increasing consumption & environmental degradation is being challenged & the 3rd world is finding its voice, thanks to new technology.

  12. Posted by Tim Roberts

    This challenging article omits one key point: in order for political expression to thrive in democracies it requires people to vote. As someone who expends a lot of time canvassing people to vote I am horrified by the number of people who say that they “can’t be bothered” to vote. Worryingly, this non-engagement is particularly prevalent among young people and especially so among young women (18 to 30 years) whose grandmothers may have chained themselves to railings to gain the franchise. Until voting is made compulsory (with a deterrent non-compliance fine) then debate about political engagement will be largely theoretical and not reflect democratic action.

  13. Posted by James Hynes

    “The waves of change demand interconnections to flow because we know that all of us are smarter than anyone of us.”
    Your thesis is correct in suggesting that the new electronic Means for communication opens up new opportunities will does not give us a new way of being people. This statement is too trite. Think of the Scots when they say, “Whenever Scotsman leave Scotland for England and the average intelligence goes up in both nations.” History and biology have told us again and again that some people are definitely a lot smarter than others. The whole is not necessarily greater than the parts.
    Despite the electronic objections of all old people in Denmark to the privatisation of the electricity the state sales still went ahead. It is still the old fashion revolutions on the streets which lead the way to change and unfortunately some of the recent revolutions have been organised by the people all power duping the demonstrators into believing that they’re bringing about Democratic change. While, as in United States, 99% of the country, its property and assets is owned by less than 1% of the population, only old-fashioned revolution and redistribution will alter the situation.

    And yes if we bring about a society based upon authoritarian populism we could have the stupid leading the blind while being manipulated by a powerful elite the still owns most of the world. Witness the astonishing phenomenon on in United States where people who could benefit from free healthcare have been conditioned to oppose it and thus oppose their own welfare. We certainly do not want a world run by a elites, the fascists, global corporations, the Stalinists, so old-fashioned politics or to serve us for land time yet.
    By the way, the word disinterested in your sentence quoted here should be replaced by the word un- interested. I’m afraid that’s an all too common in old-fashioned error. “In Denmark the Alternative is leading the way as a radical ‘open source’ party, reaching out to those political individuals and groups that are deeply involved in network-based politics but until now have been rightly disinterested in traditional “top-down party-politics”.
    I do think your thesis is an important one and you are correct to point out the new opportunities but you cannot put new wine into old bottles. Mix the wines new and old and modified the shape of the bottle to suit the new ideas and the old ones together.

  14. Posted by Nick

    My experience of online campaigning is that it’s quite easy to build online support around an issue. You can get thousands of signatures, sign ups, even money, very quickly. But the politics starts after that when you have to do stuff offline. That is as difficult as it ever was. In a way the online world works against the offline world. You think you have the support online and then it vanishes when you go offline. Organisations, that you might be campaigning against, are as good, if not better, at using the online world against your campaign. Political campaigning is as always a long hard offline slog. Politics is about power and the distribution of power. Power is always vertical not horizontal.

  15. Posted by Peter Buckman

    I’m all for the new transparent and participatory politics, but who will want to be a politicians if they have to take account of hundreds of different views expressed at the click of a mouse? Who will actually DO things – argue for change in endless committees when drafting laws and overseeing their execution? The danger, or difficulty in the new landscape is that most people are disinclined to get involved in the nitty gritty of political action, which leaves the field clear for those who have the time to impose their agenda on behalf of the uninvolved.

  16. Posted by Simon Norton

    This looks like the source for Neal’s talk at a recent event in Cambridge. My impression was that it didn’t convince the people there, including myself. The powers that be have responded to the new politics by saturating us with so many campaign issues that some of the most crucial ones such as local transport get lost. Our government’s masterpiece was the Lobbying Bill, which came near to tying up the entire campaign resources of the country.

  17. Posted by David Pavett

    Opinions are strongly divided on this analysis of the claimed transformative effects of new communications media. I am with the doubts expressed by Robin Nuttall, Robin Turner, R.L.Symonds, Keith Westhead, Nick, Peter Buckman and Simon Norton. I guess that I am one of those whose contributions to the Guardian discussion of an excerpt from the pamphlet Stan Rosenthal thinks were “a disgrace”.

    A study of earlier advances in communications media will reveal a lot of exaggerated claims about what they will lead to. The Science Museum exhibition of 19th century telegraph technology is worth spending some time with. When the first transatlantic cable was laid people were claiming that now capital could communicate with capital across the globe in seconds there would be no more war!

    Similarly there was a lot of rather wild talk about the implications of new media in the 60’s if the last century and beyond. Marshal Mcluhan announced

    “Print is the extreme phase of alphabet culture that detribalizes or decollectivizes man in the first instance. Print raises the visual features of alphabet to highest intensity of definition. Thus print carries the individuating power of the phonetic alphabet much further than manuscript culture could ever do. Print is the technology of individualism. If men decided to modify this visual technology by an electric technology, individualism would also be modified.”

    Many claims were made about how the nature of democracy would be transformed but there was a definite absence of sober evaluation of just how much a medium can per se be an agent of social change. Like all other technologies communications technologies are double edged and when large vested interests in communications play such a major part in the process clearly caution is advisable before rushing to see the new technology as heralding a new dawn of social advance.

    Anyway, be that as it may, I have followed up Neal’s encouragement of “horizontal communication” and offered Compass a critique of his analysis in the spirit of peer-to-peer exchange. I understand that it is to be made accessible on the Compass website.

  18. Posted by Chris Johnes

    An interesting article which captures well the impacts of technology, the limitations of democratic government authority (not power) and the fact that the ‘45 settlement is well past its sell by date.
    However what it fails to largely recognise is that the immediate beneficiaries of flatness and the erosion of the state’s authority have been large corporations who provide alternative power (and until recently alternative authority if you see polls on who is trusted) and have captured so much state decision making.
    It is also not at all clear on how horizontal and vertical actors can productively work together; the default relationship is conflictual and while the Governmental actors get weaker in what they can compel or inspire us to do they remain very capable of stopping things happening.
    Can’t help feeling for this vision to become reality a huge culture change within the Labour Party (a career change for the likes of Ed Balls & Owen Smith would probably be a start) and the civil service is going to have to take place first; ironically there are at least parts of the two coalition parties who are further ahead in their thinking.

  19. Posted by Bob Bollen

    Dear Friends

    Here’s some brainstorming about what we in Compass might do to advance your thoughts about flat-earth and horizontal power.

    First of all, I believe a key enabler will be the members’ hub/ switchboard we’ve talked about once or twice. So, we need to be getting on with this soon.

    How about something like this:

    Compass will be a key promoter and facilitator of a vast array of liquid democracy pilots, which increase in scope and reach, so that people all around the UK get to understand the benefits of greater involvement, and demand it in even larger areas of their lives.

    * choose some focus areas for pilots (maybe school governance, local civil society, Compass itself, …..)
    * search for best practice in 3-5 different kinds of democracy
    * search for software to support each/ if none, convene a hackathon to build them
    * create a Compass ‘white label’ software service to support each kind
    * promote the best practice & service through the Compass hub/ switchboard and elsewhere
    * link existing practitioners with people/ groups that want to do a pilot
    * persuade groups to set explicit success critieria, and monitor progress towards them
    * learn and share best practice
    * publicise successes widely
    * choose more focus areas with bigger scale, and go round the loop again (eg CCGs, Health Trusts, Local Authorities, ….)

    Of course, these are just my ideas. And some of them will need funding.

    How might we convene a group to brainstorm and propose a Compass strategy for promotion to its members?


  20. Posted by Neal

    Thank you for thoughts and criticisms – unlike other sites – all nicely done. This is clearly work in progress. More to come which will take all this on board.

  21. Posted by dr david seddon

    it is indeed time that a coherent approach to the emerging ‘new politics’ of horizontal communication, mobilisation and collection action was developed. I have been writing on what I have called ‘global dissent’ in which increasingly mainstream ‘politics’ is being sidestepped and/or ignored in favour of various forms of direct action – on line or in the streets. this is a global phenomenon, and is only most recently seen in Ukraine…
    Organisations like 38 degrees and Avaaz and others can mobilise signatures and ‘opinion’ but what is needed is both a mechanism for translating ‘clicks’ into ‘concerted action’ and an ‘ideology’ if I might put it that way that explains and makes sense of the new world in which old forms of democracy are gradually, we hope, being superseded, by new forms which take advantage of mobile phones, e mail, the internet etc to create WHAT MIGHT BE CALLED A DAILY DEMOCRACY