It’s politics Jim, but not as we know it

September 26, 2019   By Claire Kennedy Co-founder & Managing Partner, PPL

There is no need for another blog to articulate the complete chaos that the British politics system finds itself in at the present time. As of today, the government teeters on through a newly reconvened, non-prorogued Parliament, careering headlong to its October 31st ‘do or die’ deadline for Brexit. But who knows what tomorrow will bring…

In the frenzy of daily arguments and drama, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

People talk about the polarisation; the intransigence; the certainty that pervades both sides of this ongoing debate. We say despairingly ‘where will it end?’. But a more interesting question might actually be ‘what comes next?’. Because one thing is certainly true – this isn’t really about Brexit any more.

We are used to a politics that splits comfortably left to right – that’s why Bridget Jones’ descriptions of ‘braying men in suits vs Nelson Mandela’ worked as comedy, it was a relatable and simplistic version of how we thought the world worked. See also ‘vote with your heart in your youth and your head as you get older’, and all the other maxims that have been trotted out over the years to try to summarise voter behaviour.

Brexit has destabilised us because that model doesn’t work as a way of understanding what anyone thinks about it. People speak in shock about discovering that close friends and family had voted differently from them. And the shock is real because, suddenly, where you stand on Brexit is actually the political perspective that ‘matters’; it has become the axis around which we organise ourselves – the totem that symbolises who you ‘are’ politically in the same way as, previously, where you sat on the left / right spectrum did.

Let’s be clear, it is as blunt a measure as its predecessor – it is an artificial line in the sand that hides a multitude of complexity. But, blunt though it is, it still matters, not least because the process of reorienting an entire political system is usually brutal, violent, disorientating and, above all, dangerous.

The political framework in the Republic of Ireland, a product of the tumultuous 1920s (about which most English schoolchildren remain alarmingly ignorant) might be a pointer as to where we could end up. Irish politics is largely centrist, coalition-based and dominated by two parties who have their genesis in the perspectives of their respective supporters on the Treaty settlement signed with Great Britain after the Irish War of Independence, with (in a simplified description!) Fine Gael the descendants of those who were pro-Treaty and Fianna Fail those who were against.

Many of the divisions we see around the world were the product of actual wars; we are instead fighting a culture war, but the consequences may be no less significant. For those of us working on the future-focused policy space, understanding that paradigm being born before us is critical. It is easy to put your head above the parapet only to be shot down or dismissed for being ‘a Tory’ or ‘a leftie’, when the reality is that those are unhelpful labels from a world that is sinking before us. The new axis, around progressive thought on the one hand, and protectionism on the other, is throwing our previous bearings into chaos.

Those of us thinking about the future have a duty to push thought into that new space, and to resist the siren call of the familiar patterns of the past. When we think about solving problems as a community, we are instinctively pushing forward and progressing. When we retreat into familiar but unsuccessful patterns of behaviour, we are holding back.

The NLGN’s Community Paradigm is a way to think and do forwards. We are proudly and firmly on the side of the progressives – we want to build a future that is better than the past because it is more connected, more sustainable and positively asset-based.

It is my hope that, in the future, we will be seen as those who were the founders of the progressive wing of the new behaviours which, by that time, will just be politics as we know it.

This post is written by Claire Kennedy – co-founder of PPL and member of the NLGN Board.

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