We live with crisis but hope is everywhere around us

Neal Lawson

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

At Compass we always believe the best in people. It’s the political system that is failing all of us. Despite the crisis, up and down the country we see examples of a Good Society emerging where people are working together and making change happen. Imagine where we could take our society if our political system was in tune with that. If it was fit for the 21st century. We know that it can be, but it will require the best of all of us to make it so.   

The Left is in a bad place. Johnson is often written off as a buffoon, but has been playing one simple but big bold game – to engineer an election in which it’s him versus parliament and the establishment. Right now it looks like he is winning. He has made a Brexit breakthrough the only way he could – by bringing the right in parliament together. Now he will look to bring enough of the country in behind that. An election looks inevitable and on his terms.

Who knows what will happen anymore? Labour and Corbyn might surprise us again, but the atmospherics are not good. The Remain vote is split and the Brexit vote consolidating behind the Tories. Corbyn polls appallingly and the party hasn’t decided if it wants a Labour Brexit or no Brexit. And while some of Labour’s policies are great – there is a huge democracy-shaped hole, which is no surprise given Labour’s culture is toxic. Internally and externally, for Labour it’s all about control born of a lack of trust in anyone who hasn’t been ‘on side’ for decades. Labour has failed to build for a majority, and not learnt how to work with others as a minority. 

Both Remain and Labour have played it badly. On the day after the last election, Corbyn, from a position of strength, should have opened up and out. He didn’t. Instead the wagons have been circled tighter. Politics is above all about alliance building, especially in such turbulent times. That is what leadership is all about. Meanwhile, for the last three years Remainers should have focussed more on why 52% voted for Brexit. By and large they didn’t and have failed to make real inroads into changing the national debate. 

We now pay the price of shortcut politics. Get to the top by any means necessary and command and control your way to glory. It doesn’t work like that anymore. At least it can’t for the left, we have to build deep transformative alliances for change.

Come an election, some will firefight, to try and stop the worst excesses of a Johnson win. That is understandable and we will help where we can. But our mission is different: to build the foundation of a new politics. What is the Good Society we want so much and how do we get there? What sort of democracy do we need, what sort of parties and leadership? These are the big practical, structural and cultural questions we can no longer duck. If we really want to stop the endless drift to the populist right then we have to go big and deep.

‘Short term hopes are futile, but long-term resignation is suicidal’. This is a long-term and difficult project. But we have been starting it. No one is coming to save us, we can only save ourselves – we are the best hope we have in a future that will be negotiated by all, not imposed by a few. Just as the tiny sect of Brexiteers relentlessly and ambitiously pursued their dream, we must relentlessly and ambitiously pursue ours, but with hundreds of thousands – to change the system to change society. 

Forget parliament for a minute and look around. Everywhere people are being creative and inventive in the pursuit of social and environmental justice. The urge to be fully formed human beings, to have agency and determine your life and shape your community, that desire can never be crushed by the Right. 

The failures of the remote state and the free market, the imperative of the climate crisis and the connective power of technology are creating the conditions for social transformation. A new world is trying to be born, but our out-of-date politics can’t be the handmaiden to this new world. So we must be.  

That’s why we led the charge on citizens’ assemblies and are now championing a Citizens’ Convention. It’s why we talk about a transformed world of a Good Society all the time. It’s why we are setting up a new UK Hub to promote Basic Income, so people have the time and resources to be truly free. It’s why we are developing real practical theories of change – 45° Change – and working with councils and organisations locally, nationally and internationally to accelerate and aggregate all this emerging change. Hope is everywhere around us – it just needs a new politics to serve it. 

There is no point in doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Battles can and are being lost, it’s the long war we need to win and to do that we need to build not on quicksand but on solid organisational and cultural foundations. It will be a new politics of pluralism and radicalism or it will be consistent and terrible defeat.  

Compass will work tirelessly, ambitiously and hopefully for transformative change and with all the people that want it and the good society that will result.

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