Whilst I don’t live in the UK at present, I still consider it my home. The land of my friends, family, and memories. An island of familiar spaces and faces to which I may one day wish to return. But with every election I feel this familiarity erode. The voice of the nation appears to speak against the values I hold. The anti-immigration, anti-poor, austerity rhetoric has reached a point where I can no longer bare to listen. It leads to negative emotions I don’t want to play host to.
I’m especially sensitive at present to the narratives on Migration and the EU. I’m married to an Egyptian Migrant. I am a European Migrant (although the press would call me an Expat). We are migrants of privilege rather than necessity (although I would argue that Love is a necessity ;)).
Fear dominates politics and Apathy keeps people bound in the shadows. Fear of loosing what we have. Fear of the “Other” – the “terrorist”, the “immigrant”, the “skiving poor” stealing our “hard earned taxes”. Apathy born of a crippled political system where the only viable choice is the least bad one. Neither of these modes of engagement leads us to a positive future.
As austerity continues throughout Europe, we must watch closely for political extremism. Extreme is becoming the mainstream. Extremes of opinion* barely simmering beneath the surface, create a hostile environment. The impoverished and different make easy scapegoats. But the real danger is when austerity really starts to bite. Hunger leads to anger. Bread and Blame can be a powerful force for persuasion. Fear of the Other is already fuelled by a media keen to shift attention away from the banks and the systemic problems that we are all complicit in. After all we lend them the power. As #don’tjustvote correctly said:
“The Power is loaned to them by the people, and they can hardly dare to acknowledge how grudgingly that loan is made, how overdue the repayments have become.”
Yet increasingly feels like this is not the case, like power is something that they are entitled to. Indeed many of them may feel that way – they are schooled to rule.
Now as we go into the next 5 years many are Fearful, and many are Apathetic. The political system is in dire need of transformation, yet unlikely to change.
Where do we go from here?
My friend Dougald has some interesting insights in his post “The Only Way is Down”. Which I recommend reading if you haven’t already. In addition to his insights I’d like to add some thoughts of my own. It is the inspiration for this post, combined with my desire to somehow purge this election from my conscience.
I have more questions than solutions. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I hope you enjoy the questions.
How do we change the attitudes of the core?
We’re all in this together. As long as we are divided along party lines we can never reach a point where our real collective needs are served. We must seek to understand the fears at the root, and find ways to create opportunities for changes in opinion. We must take care not to distance ourselves from those who do not share our perspective.
Despite Lobbyists, Commercial, and International interests, our government must still answer to the public. Labour’s stance on immigration and benefits cuts was little better than the Conservatives. This stance stems from what they perceive public opinion to be. I have a hunch that this is what cost them and the Liberal Democrats the election. Neither party represents the values of their original supporters anymore. The press has a huge influence on public and political opinion. Yet it’s opinions are also influenced by the will of it’s customers (and political and commercial actors).
Often the dominant liberal narrative bemoans the press, and it’s influence over the masses. Yet these “masses” also influence the press.
Transforming beliefs is notoriously difficult. It can backfire if done wrong – reinforcing instead of changing belief patterns. Yet what does appear to work is a conversation with the “Other”. By “Other” I mean the person affected by the opinion.
How do we create opportunities for the “Strivers” to meet the “Skivers”?
How do we create opportunities for Sun Reading Pensioners to meet Muslims and Migrants?
How diverse is your own social circle?
Our liberal filter bubbles are not just limited to online media, but other aspects of our lives. We are equally guilty of polarising opinions – I’ve seen the phrase “Evil” or “Stupid” often in my own feed. There is no enemy, we’re all in this together.
How do we create friendly spaces for what we believe to be uncomfortable conversations?
How do we leave the “echo chamber”, and step out of our own comfort zones?
Grow the future you want to experience
In his post Dougald talks about starting where you are and supporting the most vulnerable. Which is sage advice for those confused by the myriad of problems we are facing globally and locally. He also advices working with religious organisations regardless of your own belief system. This also will help to expand your sphere of social connection and influence in both directions.
I would also add to this the following consideration. Think about how through these actions you can create solutions that provide for you and your community long term. For example: A community garden may provide a longer term benefit than a food bank, yet a food bank has a more immediate benefit. How do we combine these actions?
Leveraging emergent and existing infrastructures
New forms of political engagement are emerging. Organisations like 360 Degrees, Avaaz, and Hope not Hate are influencing the political sphere. At the same time we are seeing tools like crowd funding provide entirely new means of funding social enterprises. At the very edges we have the tools for entirely new organisational structures. We should consider how we can optimise our use of these tools, and how we can direct people beyond Clicktivism. As Dougald suggests we should also look at how we can support organisations who are already addressing these issues. Regardless of whether we identify with their motivations or beliefs. We should look to the end result.
Another world is possible
The Conservatives want to replace state infrastructures with corporate ones. Their argument being that the market will make such services more efficient. The economic realities of the market mean that services must over time get more expensive – shareholders must see profits increase. Prices will also escalate as insurance schemes buffer consumers from the real cost – I’ve witnessed this in Germany. Cooperative distributed service models could potentially outcompete centralised service providers whether Public or Private.
How can we salvage what is useful from the NHS and keep it in the public interest?
Is there a means by which a cooperative can bid for contracts?
Could NHS departments form their own cooperative service providers?
As they work to dismantle our social welfare infrastructures we should use this opportunity to build something better in it’s stead – because we’re going to need it.
All thoughts in Beta >> Opinions offered represent my thought at time of posting and are entitled to change as a result of ongoing conversations and intellectual transformation. Please don’t make the mistake of connecting my ideas to my person, they are merely something I hold onto in order to function in society. If better ones come I’ll hold those instead 😉
*Note: “Extremes of Opinion” refers to original article, but I refuse to give the Sun any clicks for this.