We have a dysfunctional democracy. This adversely affects almost every aspect of our lives. We are failing to respond to the most important and urgent challenges facing us: the environmental crisis, economic and social injustice and a stagnant, unbalanced economy. We are a divided nation terms of prosperity, wellbeing and health. There is a huge gap between the City and South East and the rest of the country. Nor are we playing an effective part in the challenges facing the world: the environmental crisis, poverty, violent conflict and mass migration that can only grow. Failure could lead to human extinction. Dysfunctional democracy prevails in Europe and throughout the world. The biggest lesson is that we need to embrace difference.
We have a unique opportunity to create a new democracy that could a model for the world. We are in situation of creative chaos. At the end of WW 2, exceptionally gifted leaders created an astonishingly enlightened post-war settlement and institutions, not only for Britain but for the World. Amongst these leaders were Clement Attlee, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George C. Marshall, John Maynard Keynes and Winston Churchill. The challenge facing the World today is even greater: the possibility of human extinction. In the UK, we need a new kind of leadership, new a ways of involving people and a new constitution. This article offers proposals.
Brexit was a huge protest vote. The message is clear: Westminster needs to listen. Neither of the two main parties listened to the diverse concerns of people in different parts of the country. The result was a huge protest vote. There are similar messages from people all over Europe and the USA. Ultimately if people feel unheard and unrepresented, it can lead to violence as we see in Syria with appalling consequences and recently in Turkey. Brexit will be a huge distraction and diversion of resources from far more important and urgent issues. This flawed referendum was the wrong process for dealing with such a vitally important and complex issue (the decision to hold it was partly motivated by party as opposed to national interests). Prospect Magazine articles on Brexit are especially illuminating, including Welcome to New Britain – The referendum was the start of a national re-alignment of British politics http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/features/welcome-to-new-britain-rachel-sylvester-eu-referendum and the articles that follow.
People want a different kind of politics. Our antiquated politics is adversarial when collaboration is needed. Parties focus on winning elections and pander to the ill-informed rather than providing far- sighted leadership. Parties put self-interest before national interests.
Both Labour and Tory parties are riven by conflict. Neither is effectively responding to or uniting their diverse membership. Labour, tearing itself apart, is unable to fulfil its role as the official Opposition. Both parties need to respond to what the public, especially younger and more progressive people are telling them. Such people dislike an adversarial, often abusive, approach. Jeremy Corbyn who has attracted huge numbers of new members has been trying to respond to that. Sadly this behaviour continues: Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn are in conflict. And “Trot” and “looney left” do not go down well. Whoever wins in the leadership election is unlikely to satisfy all members. If Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected, probably by an even larger margin, a split between the crusading and restraining forces is likely. That will not be win/win for Labour, but might benefit the nation?
The first past the post voting system and belief in so-called majority rule led to a government, backed by less than 24 percent of those eligible to vote, inflicting extreme Neoliberal policies on the nation. Osborne’s harsh austerity would not have been possible but for this deficiency. Austerity continues to delay economic recovery, harms almost everyone except the very rich and damages every aspect of our society. Majority rule results in bad decisions and leaves at least half the public angry, frustrated and disengaged.
The first and most important requirement is to end first past the post and replace it with proportional representation. (Alternative Vote was not PR – a senseless proposal that was rightly rejected). Already there are moves to bring this about through an alliance of MPs: Labour, Lib/Dem, SNP and Green, even some Tories. As Katie Ghose says in a new book, The Alternative: Towards a New Progressive Politics, https://www.bitebackpublishing.com/books/the-alternative Britain is not just the only country in Europe to use First Past the Post for national elections. England is now the only nation of the UK to use it for its main elections. She also points out that Proportional Representation would enable the main strands of public opinion to be represented throughout the country.
A National Constitutional Convention Green MEP Molly Scott Cato says one of the ideas being talked about is a National Constitutional Convention to bring citizens and politicians together to discuss the democratic future of the UK. Given the time it will take to agree a new relationship with the EU, now seems the ideal time for communities to discuss our future outside, or indeed inside, the EU. Such a process could genuinely help to heal the deep and painful divisions that were created and exacerbated during the referendum campaign. We need to create opportunities to introduce fully participatory processes to inform and decide on the many important and far-reaching decisions about our post-Brexit shared future with the rest of Europe.
A new kind of leadership is needed in the 21st Century, a transformative, enabling leadership that embraces the full diversity of the nation. We also need to adopt the principle of involving all stakeholders in bringing about change. Surely the lesson of the past thirty years is clear: Imposed change does not work. Many initiatives imposed by successive governments failed because people “on the ground” were not properly involved from the start. Dedicated people have become alienated and exhausted. Many chosen other work, adding to existing shortages of skilled people and the pressures on overburdened and underfunded organisations. The latest example is Jeremy Hunt’s attempt to impose a seven day week on junior doctors.
From Hero to Host Our concept of leadership needs to move From Hero to Host – a leadership 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 and love of colleagues. Servant Leadership Margaret Wheatley describes this in her article From Hero to Host http://margaretwheatley.com/library/articles/leadership-in-age-of-complexity/ . We need to embed servant leadership throughout society, in place of greed. Excessive consumption is driving us towards extinction.
Get the whole system into the room and involve all stakeholders. This is an essential principle for creating change that enables people to build consensus and create solutions that work and meet everyone’s needs. Likewise, leaders of political parties and members need to value difference and recognise the importance of “getting the whole system into the room”. Future Search https://www.amazon.co.uk/Future-Search-Getting-System-Commitment/dp/1605094285 is an excellent approach for building consensus on the best way forward.
Consensus Design Another approach is Christopher Day’s Consensus Design http://www.christopherday.eu/consensus-design. In essence this enables people to listen to each other with respect and reach consensus. They come “into the room” with one view of what needs to be done and by listening with respect, instead of trying to win the argument, they come to a different and far better solution.
Many of these approaches are described my book Making a Difference: Strategies and Tools for Transforming Your Organisation https://www.amazon.co.uk/Making-Difference-Strategies-Transforming-Ornisation/dp/1852523727
So, what can you do? Here are some suggestions:
- Lobby all parties demanding their commitment to comprehensive constitutional reform in the next Parliament.
- Support the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy, The Citizens Assembly Project, Assemblies for Democracy, Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 5050 Parliament and Voice4 Change.
- Support Polly Higgins’s campaign for the UN Ecocide law – the fifth crime against peace.
- Subscribe to the New Economics Foundation, Compass, Positive Money, Global Justice Now and Jubilee Debt Campaign, James Robertson’s inspiring Newsletter http://jamesrobertson.com/newsletter.htm . Visit Robert Greenleaf Servant Leadership http://www.greenleaf.org.uk/about.php .
- Use 38 Degrees, Change.org and Avaaz to petition and lobby.
Bruce Nixon is an author, writer and speaker. He gives participative talks in communities, universities schools and at conferences. There is more about transforming politics in Chapter 9 Transforming democracy in his recent book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness http://www.brucenixon.com/21stCenturyRevolution.html