Citizen State

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I’ve thought about politics and economics a lot these past few months. I’m really interested in the mechanics of it all. One of the things I thought about was how much it would take before there was a revolution in this country. I had two conclusions:

1) It will never happen
2) It’s undesirable.

With regard to 1, I don’t believe that we’ll ever hit the point of such clearly felt oppression that people are willing to be imprisoned/die to make a difference. I may be wrong, but actually I hope it doesn’t happen, which leads me to explaining point 2.

I’m pretty sure that revolution is the most damaging kind of disruption. There are so many examples of where it has been the only (and necessary) route that we have plenty to learn from. Large-scale disruption is a guaranteed way to plunge everything into chaos for a considerable length of time and I don’t think that’s the answer to our problems (if you don’t think we have problems then this is probably a good point to stop reading).

In a democratic country we only really have two routes to making change: democracy and revolution. We can either go through the democratic process we’ve fought so hard to build and protect, or we can overthrow the government through other means. If we rule out revolution for practical reasons then we need to focus on the democratic process.

To put it bluntly, the democratic process isn’t working. The choices we have are increasingly futile, and fewer and fewer people believe that the government is acting in the best interests of the citizens. Given the current state of the opposition and the suicide of a third political party we’re also highly likely to maintain the current government at the next election.

The alternative parties we have are often single-issue extremists. While they may make gains in certain areas, around key topics, they never seem likely to be viable as a full government. In part this is because they fragment opinion, but it’s also because they don’t demonstrate a capability of handling all the functions of the State.

I believe this leaves us in a difficult, but not escapable position.

There is an unprecedented opportunity to build something better. And at the heart of it is a very simple idea. Instead of creating a political party that enters the next general election on the promise of making things better, let’s demonstrate how things can be made better first. Use all the ideas, enthusiasm, and practical experience to re-invent the functions of the state, from health and education to banking, as if people mattered.

We have the knowledge and technologies to build things from the ground up, create all the functions of the State and big business in parallel, demonstrate new approaches to strong communities. And, most importantly, pull this together through the vehicle of a crowd-funded political party. In other words, we could go for the big target. OK, it’s a bit ambitious. But there’s more out there to draw on than ever before. And we have the means to connect it all up. In other words, this is practical.

There’s a lot more to this than I want to write here. I wanted to keep this post as short as possible. There’s a lot more to be said about what a political party formed on social principles might look like. There’s a lot more to be said about what properly designing the State around its citizens might look like. There’s a lot more to be said around network dynamics and democracy. But I think we should revisit that later.

For now, I want there to be a clear next step. There will most likely be a get-together of some sort at the end of November to get some perspectives on the idea. In the meantime the easiest way to communicate is probably a Twitter account. So, if you want to stay connected then please follow @citizenstate on Twitter. And, of course, please share.


By the way, I’d like to acknowledge the Petersham Project and subsequent discussions with Anne McCrossan in all of this.

  1. I have a question, and it might come across as challenging: are we hoping to build your model of what you think things should look like, or are you aiming to form a consensus? The root of the democratic problem, if you like, is that not everyone can get their way all the time and so we end up with the institutions we collectively deserve. Our major political parties are all democratic in some form or another. Why wouldn’t we join one of those parties instead?

    Or, quite possibly, I’m completely missing the point.

    • Thanks for the comment. To answer your question I’m looking to do both, and neither. By writing this post in the first place I’m trying to get across that I have something in mind, albeit a vague notion of something better. And I’m also suggesting that the most important thing to do right now is gather together a group of people with some degree of consensus on moving forward.

      However, it would be wrong of me to suggest that I have a vision I want people to sign up to, or indeed that I’m hoping to form a movement with a single, shared purpose. If we feel the need to do either of those things then I think we’re still looking at things from the perspective of our own democratic legacy, and that is the thing I really think we need to change.

      I have three things in mind at this point:

      1) That the current State is very, very broken
      2) That I’m not the only person that thinks this
      3) That we have the means to do something about it

      With reference to 3, the possibility of redesigning the functions of the State around people is very real, and the network to pull all the people together exists. My starting point is to say that something ambitious can be done; the people who care enough to make it happen are out there; and, most importantly, I don’t want to be sat here ten years from now still talking about it.

  2. Deon Newbronner said:

    Interesting you mention that parties should “demonstrate how” they would make things better. I agree. However, you appear to not do the same. Instead you talk the rhetoric of the need for change, which we all know and fully appreciate, and yet do not provide even the smallest example of how. Perhaps because what you might suggest is already happening, and you just don’t recognise it. Change is challenging. Slow change is lasting embedded change. Let’s not be hares lets be tortoises. Slow and steady wins the race…

  3. In my opinion, one of the biggest reasons we’re in the mess we’re in now is precisely the fact that people confuse leadership with having the answers. The constant need to demonstrate that we are right about everything is a curse on meaningful discourse and, by extension, the democratic process.

    My starting point here is to say that I know things can be done better if only we do more than complain about everything. Let’s use the opportunities and ideas around us to pull something useful together. Yes, there are small changes everywhere but small changes and battles won are sometimes the biggest dangers. New projects, changes in thinking and small wins give us hope. They make us think that change is happening. But this isn’t usually how it works. Somewhere out there are plenty of people who don’t want change, and they have the means to stop it.

    If you want to make real, long-lasting change you need to go after the big targets. You need to do something ambitious that completely circumvents the system we have. I’ve outlined very briefly how that might be done. But the mechanics of doing it need many more people to get involved and, at the very least, try. I’m not suggesting that I want to be the leader of anything here, it’s the opposite of what I want. I’d just like to see what it might mean to create a party for people in the networked age.

    Thank you for the comment.

  4. We have had at least a couple of revolutions in the UK in the past, but we never call changes in political power revolutions here. Our past is full of many people being imprisoned, injured and even dying in the cause of making a fairer society. To have a fair society, we probably need people to understand altruism. You also need to understand how and why the current, complex system works – and what does not work in it.

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