The Bristol Cable needs to define what it is, work in the open and get an editor

Last week, I went to the monthly members’ meeting of The Bristol Cable. This is the newspaper* that is co-operatively owned; anyone can become an owner, from £1/month. I wrote about the AGM here. The aim is to come up with a sustainable model of quality, independent local journalism in the service of the people, not shareholders, advertisers or Rupert Murdoch. (Hackney Citizen is similar, but is privately owned by one individual — and seems to run on fumes.)

I find myself getting fired up about the concept — and wanting to raise plenty of critique and ideas — because I want this thing to succeed. Strong, vital local journalism could make such a difference to the quality of local political debates on housing, the environment, schooling — basically everything. If we’ve reached ‘peak centralisation’ in the UK and local/regional government is going to increase in importance, then we’re going to need high quality, independent local media and journalism. And if knowledge is power, and you believe in political equality (the idea that we should all have equal political power) then it seems logical that the people should own the means of the production of knowledge.

Makes sense to me, anyway. And as I get excited about the concept and its potential, I worry that The Bristol Cable isn’t good enough. Of course it takes time and resources to build the thing, and it’s not always helpful to have co-owners being a nuisance. But I’ve written some things, meant with the best intent, and hopefully useful to someone — whether the Cable or another media co-operative somewhere. I think the big risk is that the Cable fails because of execution and then the co-op model takes the blame.  Continue reading The Bristol Cable needs to define what it is, work in the open and get an editor

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Politics without Parties: Flatpack Democracy by Peter Macfadyen

the bookFrome. Rhymes with broom. Nice small town in Somerset. Home to the Guardian’s John Harris, who brought attention to the fact that in May 2015 the local electorate booted out political parties from the town council altogether, in favour of a loosely aligned group of independents known as Independents for Frome.

The ringleader behind it all – though leader is probably an unwelcome word – is Peter Macfadyen. He’s written a call to arms / guidebook on why and how to repeat their success.

The book’s only a 100 pages long – so you should probably just order a copy. But here’s a precis just in case.  Continue reading Politics without Parties: Flatpack Democracy by Peter Macfadyen

“I can’t ride a bike!” And other notes from Hackney North hustings, Tuesday 28 April 2015

Took some notes at the Hackney North & Stoke Newington hustings this evening. I was going to rewrite them, but actually it’s more fun just to post my transcript (may not be super accurate).

Organised by the rector of St Mary’s, Stoke Newington – well done her, very well chaired.

Impressive turnout…well over 100 people here. Looking around, it’s 90%+ white (remember this is supposed to be Hackney…). More elderly than the constituency average (i’d guess) and a 50/50 mix of men and women. Continue reading “I can’t ride a bike!” And other notes from Hackney North hustings, Tuesday 28 April 2015

One resolution fulfilled: my 2014 charitable giving

Exactly one year ago, I took the Giving What We Can pledge. It’s a commitment to contribute 10% of my salary to the most effective efforts to end global poverty.

This post details what I’ve done about it and hopefully encourages others to join the fun.  Continue reading One resolution fulfilled: my 2014 charitable giving

Quick notes from ‘Contact democracy for the hyper-connected age’ event

Policy Network and the Barrow Cadbury Trust are running a great little series of events under the umbrella title of ‘Understanding the Populist Signal’. Last night’s was ‘Contact democracy for the hyper-connected age‘ – probably the area most closely related to my own interests.

Prof. David Farrell of University College Dublin gave the main presentation – an excellent review of both the pessimistic view of democracy (turnout down by an alarming rate in all large Western democracies – but watch those Scandi’s bucking the trend, of course) and the optimistic view (today we engage in different ways – by signing petitions, by tweeting a minister – and we hate the phrase politics, but that doesn’t mean we don’t practise it). Even on constitutional reform – which can seem to be going nowhere – Farrell argued that the UK has been a lot more successful over the last 20 years than his home country of Ireland (e.g. progress on Freedom of Information and the Human Rights Act). Continue reading Quick notes from ‘Contact democracy for the hyper-connected age’ event

Why it’s time for governments to take wellbeing seriously

100% happiness guaranteed
It’s not this easy…but it’s getting easier

Earlier in 2014, the Legatum Institute published the final results of their Commission on Wellbeing and Policy. I don’t know much about this think tank – it seems to lean rightwards, claims to be non-partisan, and is probably funded with oil cash, but they put together an all-star cast to advise this report:

  • Sir Gus O’Donnell (former head of the UK civil service)
  • Prof Richard Layard (a leading author in the field, wrote the book on ‘Happiness‘)
  • Prof Angus Deayton (economics prof at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Service at Princeton)
  • Martine Durand (Head of Stats for the OECD)
  • David Halpern (ex-academic, now running the quasi-governmental Behavioural Insights Team (their ownership structure is worth a blog of its own))

It is a superb piece of work. If you’re interested in the role of government, public services, evaluation, economics, life, the universe, or indeed anything, you should read it. Lots of golden nuggets and summaries of vast amounts of academic research. It should be shaping the way governments work, everywhere.

Its main conclusion is a call for the greater use of subjective wellbeing data in policy making. It argues that we need to stop using money as a proxy for wellbeing in basic cost-benefit analyses. The logical second conclusion of the report is that we need better data. It’s not impossible – wellbeing really can be measured. And we’re getting better and better at it. As we get better data, governments will be able to take far, far better policy decisions, which in turn should increase our wellbeing. It’s fairly intuitive, but could be revolutionary. Continue reading Why it’s time for governments to take wellbeing seriously

‘The real objective is a greater life.’ Notes from Roberto Unger: The Progressive Agenda Now

Solidarity mural
Hands in Solidarity, Hands of Freedom mural on the side of the United Electrical Workers trade union building on West Monroe Street at Ashland Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. (BY-NC-ND 2.0 Terence Fairclough)

Roberto Unger is a Professor of Law at Harvard. He taught Barack Obama back in the day, and apparently urged Americans to reject Obama’s bid for a second-term. Ouch.

He’s also advised progressive movements and parties around the world – and he served in President Lula’s government in Brazil. Great lefty credentials. Huge Wikipedia bio here.

He spoke at LSE last week and was in the UK to lecture, sell books and talk with Ed Miliband (more on whom later). Continue reading ‘The real objective is a greater life.’ Notes from Roberto Unger: The Progressive Agenda Now