It’s not just
governments we need to change, but the entire, top-down, 19th
Century political system. And we can start, right now, in our towns and cities.
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 18th December 2019
blame Jeremy Corbyn for Boris Johnson, and Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump.
You can blame the Indian challengers for Narendra Modi, the Brazilian
opposition for Jair Bolsonaro, and left and centre parties in Australia, the
Philippines, Hungary, Poland and Turkey for similar electoral disasters. Or you
could recognise that we are witnessing a global phenomenon.
were individual failings in all these cases, though the failings were very
different: polar opposites in the cases of Corbyn and Clinton. But when the
same thing happens in many nations, it’s time to recognise the pattern, and to
see that heaping blame on particular people and parties fixes nothing.
nations, people you wouldn’t trust to post a letter for you have been elected
to the highest office. There, as widely predicted, they behave like a gang of
vandals given the keys to an art gallery, “improving” the great works in their
care with spray cans, box cutters and lump hammers. In the midst of global
emergencies, they rip down environmental protections and climate agreements,
and trash the regulations that constrain capital and defend the poor. They wage
war on the institutions that are supposed to restrain their powers, while, in
some cases, committing extravagant and deliberate outrages against the rule of
law. They use impunity as a political weapon, revelling in their ability to
survive daily scandals, any one of which would destroy a normal politician.
has changed: not just in the UK and the US, but in many parts of the world. A
new politics, funded by oligarchs, built on sophisticated cheating and
provocative lies, using dark ads and conspiracy theories on social media, has perfected the art of persuading the poor
to vote for the interests of the very rich. We must understand what we are
facing, and the new strategies required to resist it.
is a formula for the new demagoguery, there must also be a formula for
confronting and overturning it. I don’t yet have a complete answer, but I
believe there are some strands we can draw together.
Finland, on the day of our general election, Boris Johnson’s antithesis became
prime minister: the 34 year old Sanna Marin is strong, humble and collaborative.
Finland’s politics, emerging from its peculiar history, cannot be replicated
here. But there is one crucial lesson. In 2014, the country started a programme to counter fake news, teaching people how to recognise and
confront it. The result is that Finns have been ranked, in a recent study of 35
nations, as the people most resistant to post-truth politics.
Johnson’s government, or Trump’s, to inoculate people against their own lies.
But this doesn’t have to be a government initiative. This week, the US
Democrats published a guide to confronting online disinformation. They will seek to hold Google, Facebook and Twitter to account. I
would like to see progressive parties everywhere form a global coalition
promoting digital literacy, and pressuring social media platforms to stop
But this is the
less important task. The much bigger change is this: to stop seeking to control
people from the centre. At the moment the political model, for almost all
parties, is to drive change from the top down. They write a manifesto, that
they hope to turn into government policy, which might then be subject to a
narrow and feeble consultation, which then leads to legislation, which then
leads to change. I believe the best antidote to demagoguery is the opposite process:
radical trust. To the greatest extent possible, parties and governments should
trust communities to identify their own needs and make their own decisions.
Over the past few
years, our relationship with nature has begun to be transformed by a new
approach: rewilding. Bizarre as this
may sound, I believe this thinking could help inform a new model of politics.
It is time for political rewilding.
When you try to
control nature from the top down, you find yourself in a constant battle with
it. Conservation groups in this country often seek to treat complex living
systems as if they were simple ones. Through intensive management – cutting,
grazing and burning – they strive to beat nature into submission until it meets
their idea of how it should behave. But ecologies, like all complex systems,
are highly dynamic and adaptive, evolving, when allowed, in emergent and
inevitably, these attempts at control fail. Nature reserves managed this way
tend to lose abundance and diversity, and to require ever more extreme
intervention to meet the irrational demands of their stewards. They also become
vulnerable. In all systems, complexity
tends to be resilient, while simplicity tends to be fragile. Keeping nature in
a state of arrested development, in which most of its natural processes and its
keystone species (the animals that drive these processes) are missing, makes it
highly susceptible to climate breakdown and invasive species. But rewilding –
allowing dynamic, spontaneous organisation to reassert itself – can result in a
sudden flourishing, often in completely unexpected ways, with a great improvement in resilience.
applies to politics. Mainstream politics, controlled by party machines, have
sought to reduce the phenomenal complexity of human society into a simple,
linear model, that can be controlled from the centre. The political and
economic systems they create are simultaneously highly unstable and lacking in
dynamism: susceptible to collapse, as many northern towns can testify, while
unable to regenerate themselves. They become vulnerable to the toxic, invasive
forces of ethno-nationalism and supremacism.
some parts of the world, towns and cities have begun to rewild politics. Councils have catalysed mass participation,
then, to the greatest extent possible, stepped back and allowed it to evolve.
Classic examples include participatory
budgeting in Porto Alegre in
Brazil, the Decide Madrid system in Spain and the Better Reykjavik programme in Iceland. Local people have reoccupied the
political space that had been captured by party machines and top-down
government. They have worked out together what their communities need and how
to make it happen, refusing to let politicians frame the questions or determine
the answers. The results have been extraordinary: a massive re-engagement in
politics, particularly among marginalised groups, and dramatic improvements in local life. Participatory politics does
not require the blessing of central government, just a confident and
far-sighted local authority.
Is this a formula for a particular party to regain power? No. It’s much bigger than that. It’s a formula for taking back control, making our communities more resilient and the machinations of any government in Westminster less relevant. This radical devolution is the best defence against capture by any political force. Let’s change the nature of politics in this country. Let’s allow the fascinating, unpredictable dynamics of a functioning society to emerge. Let the wild rumpus start.