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Britain may be quickly approaching the worst possible outcome for Brexit, but a more united brand of democracy is already on the rise: crowdfunded politics.
As you know by now, this week the British Parliament will vote on Brexit. Sorry, it is getting annoying, I understand. But keep reading, because this story is not about Brexit. Or at least, not really. Although it is tempting to talk about it at least a little, because of the predictions of what will happen if London’s politicians dig in and say “no” to a deal with Europe. Apparently, 3,500 troops are on standby, to step up if the shit hits the fan; there is a 2 billion dollar “contingency plan”, but nobody really wants to say what that consists of; contractors are building a 21-kilometre parking lot for truckies at Dover, so they can wait, probably for days, to cross the Channel. Meanwhile, food will rot, prices will rise, trade will suffer, people won’t be able to get their medication and planes will be grounded because Europe will no longer recognise the pilots’ paperwork. Sounds like war to me, but what do I know? Although I spent quite a bit of time in Northern Ireland when the Troubles were going on there, and my contacts tell me that the so-called “hard border” that will be the result of a no-deal Brexit might restart hostilities all over again.
And that is exactly the problem. No, not the mayhem, but the politicians. You know me, I have been protecting them for years. Explaining how difficult the job is, how hard they work, how they get bullied a lot. But this—this stubborn politicking instead of trying to find a solution to a very serious situation—is undermining society as we know it. Not just democracy, by the way, but society, the pact we have made as humans so we can orderly live together. This was the deal: we would form a nation, all of us, and we would elect people to organise the daily infrastructure of the country. I don’t mean that narrowly, as in roads and rail, but the whole of what we need to keep the “ship of state” afloat. They would be answerable to us and do what was best for the community. The problem now is, of course, that they haven’t. Everywhere in the world, it seems, politicians stopped listening to their democratic masters and started focusing on their own navels instead. So everywhere in the world angry voters told them to “f”-off and pay attention. Which led to Trump, Scott Morrison and Brexit.
So: politics is on the nose. And that is why the Poms have invented More United UK. The phrase “More United” comes from the maiden speech of Jo Cox, the British Labour politician who was assassinated six days before her 32nd birthday in 2016, by a man who considered her “a traitor to white people”. In her speech, Cox had said that what surprised her “time and time again as I travel around is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us”. A few weeks after Cox died, ex-politician Paddy Ashdown came up with a plan to make sure that Cox’ trust in and expectations of her country (and the world) would be continued. Politics, he said, had turned into “a bunch of squabbling would-be leaders, who agree on nothing and hate each other with a passion”. That was not what Jo Cox died for, Ashdown believed. Continuing her work would mean “giving people a way to participate in and change politics (by) using the power of the Internet to transform the way politics is funded, making it easier for moderate, progressive MPs to get elected and creating a new centre of political gravity in the UK”.
Ashdown was convinced that Brexit was an ill-directed revolution that would, in the end, eat its children. But “if parties don’t provide answers to the voters, they go out and find them themselves”. And because they don’t know what they are doing, they jump on the bandwagon of the first snake oil salesman who comes along. So what was needed, the veteran thought, was a “movement” that would stand above politics. A group of people who would come together, live or via the Internet, to talk about issues and vote for the MPs they would like to support. They could come from any party, that was not important. What was, was the integrity of the person and their willingness to work for the ideals that tied the movement together. So, in July 2016 More United was founded. It boasts about 150,000 members and thirty or so “convenors”, people who advocate the issues and the movement. They are academics, lawyers, tech professionals, businesspeople, writers, doctors. Historian Simon Schama, journalist Dan Snow, Luke Pritchard from Indie group The Kooks, filmmaker Gia Milinovich, co-founder of Lastminute.com Martha Lane Fox, are part of that group, who advise and support, and help out with their network and sometimes money. Most of the money, though, comes from crowd-funding. It was used to help elect MPs in the 2017 election, by providing donations and mobilising volunteers. More than half of them were, in fact, voted in: 34 MPs from four different parties.
The members of More United have come together not for party political reasons, but to promote a number of values. As its website says: “A modern democracy that empowers citizens, not politicians. A green economy, that protects the environment and works to reverse climate change. An open and tolerant society where diversity is celebrated in all its forms. A UK that welcomes immigration, international cooperation and a close relationship with the EU. And a fair, modern, efficient market-based economy that closes the gap between rich and poor and supports strong public services”. Or, as I would like to conclude: common sense ideas that most well-meaning, sensible people can unite behind. Ideas that should be, and once were, considered part of the centre of politics. More United looks at the politicians on offer, presents their platforms to the members, the members make their choice, and the platform gives its support to the politicians the members like best. In a way, it is about active citizenship, taking responsibility for your country and doing something more than sitting on the couch and complaining (or putting on a yellow vest and torching cars). More United writes letters, takes action, funds MPs to do things (one visited the Rohingya refugee camps, for example), does surveys, brings MPs together, contributes evidence to Parliamentary Inquiries and runs campaigns. It wants to be “part of the solution”, as its tag line says. What do you think? We took our present political system from Westminster all those years ago.
Why not listen to them one more time? It can’t hurt, can it?