What is the solution to political alienation? A profound moment of democratic renewal not populism

October 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Adam Lent 

Deep political alienation is a breeding ground for extremism and populism. Research released today by YouGov and Southampton University proves the point.

The work has two key findings. Firstly, contrary to the opinion of some supposedly wise old political hands, people genuinely are much more alienated from politics today than they once were. Over the last seventy years, the proportion of the population thinking politicians put their country above their own interests and those of their party has fallen from 36% to just 10%.

The other finding is that these declining levels of trust are driving support for UKIP. Those voting for Nigel Farage’s party are much more likely to believe politicians only look after themselves (74% for UKIP voters compared to 48% for the wider electorate). In fact, the research showed that holding such a view is as good a predictor of a voter backing UKIP as the social characteristics associated with UKIP supporters: male, older and working class.

As the researchers conclude:

Arguably political disaffection unifies UKIP supporters at least as much as either opposition to the EU or concern about immigration … UKIP voters are not necessarily the ‘left behind’, but are people holding unambiguously and intensely negative views of politics and politicians.

Read more

Those who want greater equality should not stand in the way of devolution

October 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Adam Lent, Social Economy 

One of the perennial objections to greater devolution of power away from the central state and down to cities and regions is the claim that it will damage equality. A classic of the genre was recently penned by The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee who wrote:

The logic of localism risks leading in the end to less national identity and less fair distribution of wealth. Good politics will revive if strong ideas hold the imagination, keeping enough people together with common goals.

This is a version of what I described in a recent post as “big equality”. This is the notion, which gained a firm grip in the twentieth century, that the best route to equality was for a powerful state to equalise incomes by redistributing the proceeds of the wealth and assets owned by the better off.  It is fundamentally a remedial and conservative approach to achieving a more equal society. It takes as a given that current inequalities of wealth and economic power are very difficult or impossible to change and so the only route is to take some money from the well-off and hand it on to the less well-off. Read more

Britain is facing a crisis of democracy but the main parties cannot respond

October 11, 2014 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Adam Lent 

Britain is in the early stages of a crisis of democracy. Westminster has been shielded from the full consequences of voter disaffection by the fact that the anger has remained unfocused and unorganised for many years. But this is changing. The independence referendum and now a resurgent SNP is giving voice to anti-Westminster feeling in Scotland. In England, it is finding its voice through UKIP.

A survey conducted last year by YouGov and Southampton University makes clear the scale of the disaffection.  Almost 2,000 respondents were asked whether they agreed with the following statement: ‘politics is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful in our society’. 72% agreed and and 8% disagreed. The largest proportion strongly agreed at 42%.

It is worth digesting that slowly: almost half of Britain’s citizens believe strongly that politics in their country does not serve their interests but those of a powerful political and economic class.

The main parties have great difficulty responding to such sentiments for two reasons. Read more

The Umbrella Revolution must succeed: it is about far more even than the future of Hong Kong and China.

October 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Adam Lent 

[The themes in this post will be explored in my book, Small is Powerful: Why the era of big government, big business and big culture is over (and why it’s a good thing). I'm crowd-funding for the book, so you can pre-order and help make sure it gets published here.]

China is a grim relic of the Twentieth Century. The Chinese revolution happened in 1949 – a time when the love of the big state, big corporation and big, conformist culture was at its peak both in West and East. China, as a result, is big not just in land mass and population but in its profound attachment to big power.

Modern China was founded in an era when it was widely assumed that big was more efficient, more stable and more fair. Of course the Communist countries took this claim to absurd extremes but the belief that a better world could be created if only well-educated bureaucrats and technicians could seize control of vast resources and shape behaviour was at its height across the world. It is hard to believe now but many in the West genuinely feared that Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China would ultimately outstrip the democracies precisely because their bureaucrats and technicians were so all-powerful with few limits on their capacity to shape populations and plan economies.   Read more

Two minutes to explain why big is finished and small is powerful

September 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Adam Lent 

Here’s a two minute video of me explaining the idea behind my planned book – Small is Powerful: why the era of big business, big government and big culture is over (and why it’s a good thing). If you pop over to the crowd funding site you can see a chapter outline and a whole chapter. Most importantly, you can pledge to make sure the publication can go ahead, get your name in the book and pre-order a copy.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

We need a vision of a more equal society that allows mass creativity to flourish not be stifled

September 27, 2014 by · 9 Comments
Filed under: Adam Lent 

[The themes in this post will be explored in my book, Small is Powerful: Why the era of big government, big business and big culture is over (and why it’s a good thing). I'm crowd-funding for the book, so you can pre-order and help make sure it gets published here.]

There aren’t many people left in the political mainstream who think huge disparities of wealth and income are a good thing.

Or if there are, they keep mighty quiet about it.

The truth is, left, right and middle all accept that in the years before the Crash something went wrong. Policy-makers agree that it is morally indefensible for speculators to earn tens of millions a year while hard-working people doing a meaningful job find it tough to pay for life’s necessities. They concur that in a society where the wealthy and the middle earner live such utterly different lives, mutual incomprehension and suspicion can only grow. Even the originator of the famous quote himself admits that the days when we could be “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” are long gone.

So we all want greater equality now but we rarely ask ourselves what type of equality. No question, however, could have a bigger impact on the actions we might take to secure that fairer world.

We need to recognise that we have to choose between a small equality and a big equality. Read more

Five reasons why the Scottish vote is bad news for Eurosceptics

September 19, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Adam Lent 

As one referendum sails into the sunset, another looms over the horizon. Should the Conservatives form the next Government there is a strong chance the whole of the UK will be voting on whether to leave the EU in 2017.

Eurosceptics have been urging the vote for many years but the result from Scotland today should give them pause for thought. Here’s five reasons why. Read more

If the referendum is to spark wider change, we need an alternative for the rest of the UK as powerful as Scottish independence.

September 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Adam Lent 

What is driving the contagious passion behind the growing support for a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum? The ICM telephone poll published last week is clear. The three over-riding motivations are:

  • “feelings about Westminster and the type of politicians there” (51% of Yes Voters)
  • “your feelings about Scotland” (41%)
  • “your hopes of a more prosperous future for you and your family” (41%)

Concerns about the future of public services (24%), dislike of the City of London (18%), and remarkably, feelings about the UK as a whole (6%) trail very far behind.

So, as one might expect, Scottish identity is driving the Yes vote but equally, or even more important, it is a dislike of Westminster politics and the hope that an independent Scotland will lead to greater personal prosperity.

Should the vote go Yes on Thursday or should it just be close, these findings must stand as the loudest wake-up call to Westminster in decades. The Union will have been lost (or come close to being lost) not because of the “lies” of the Yes campaign or the ignorance of the risks of going independent but because half the Scottish electorate have lost faith in the way decisions are taken at the heart of government and believe they would be materially better off without Westminster politicians leading them. Read more

Whether it’s Yes or No, British politics must change.

September 7, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Adam Lent 

There’s currently a lot of discussion about the constitutional or economic shock of a Yes vote. But if we wake up to an independent Scotland on 19th September the immediate impact will be psychological. And the trauma will take two forms.

The first will be the realisation that the combined effort of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition was not enough to save one of the central institutions of the British state for the last 300 years.  From that point on, the credibility of the most senior leadership of the British political establishment will be probably irrecoverable. The situation will be made worse by the inevitable blame game that will follow and the fact that practically zero preparation has been undertaken for the eventuality of an independent Scotland.

The second longer-term shock will therefore need to be addressed by a new generation of political leaders. Read more

In the 1970s, big government and big business was challenged for the first time in decades. Let’s rekindle that spirit today.

September 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Adam Lent 

The Crowd-funding pitch for my book, Small is Powerful, went live on Friday over at the Unbound site. To my amazement, people have already started handing over hard money - a big thanks to them.

You can pledge anything from one quid (you get your name in the book and access to posts just for supporters in the ‘author’s shed’) to one thousand (all manner of goodies come your way). There’s lots of levels in between which get you things like hardback first editions, invitations to the launch party, even lunch with me at a posh restaurant (or if you prefer: lunch without me at a posh restaurant).

Here’s the synopsis for the book that appears on the Unbound site:

How can we create a wealthier, fairer and more stable world? Politicians tell us that we must rely either on big business or big government or, more often than not, both. This is a terrible failure of imagination that ends up keeping the very people and organisations in charge that delivered the most serious economic crisis in eighty years.

Small is Powerful will reveal how our faith in big business, big government and big culture was manufactured in the 1800′s by a group of powerful business leaders, politicians and thinkers and how it had a forceful grip on our world throughout the twentieth century.

Even if our political leaders are still in thrall to the ‘big consensus’ of the last century, a small revolution is already underway. Millions are choosing to set up their own small business rather than work for a giant corporation. Political and social change is increasingly delivered by many small initiatives and campaigns rather than big parties. And, more than ever, people make their own decisions about how to live their lives rather than accepting the rulings of big religious and civil organisations.

Small is Powerful argues that the small revolution must be embraced. A world where power and resources are shared out much more widely will deliver the fairer, stabler, wealthier world we want.

But it is a revolution under threat. Business, politicians and those who think they know best how we should live are fighting back. Small is Powerful is an impassioned plea for ‘smallists’ everywhere to stand up and be counted.

I’ll be tweeting progress on the book here.

I also wrote a chapter of the book for the pitch. It’s about how the ‘big consensus’ of the twentieth century began to break down in the 1970s. I hope the book will make a small contribution to rekindling the spirit of the campaigners, entrepreneurs and thinkers I cover here. I’ve copied it below but please do go over to the Unbound site to find out more about the book and please pledge to help make it happen. Read more

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