We are all housekeepers of this planet, consciously or unconsciously playing a part in its economy and thereby in its governance or polity. Peter Challen FRSA argues for the development of a new political economy that enables us all to play our part as trustees.
Over the last year, two editions of the RSA’s quarterly journal in their different ways addressed questions around how more of us can be involved in shaping our world. One edition posed the need for structural change, while the other richly probed values in heritage and place. Yet, by approaching major issues deeply but only on a theme-by-theme basis, there is a danger that the global context may be neglected. Behind every issue in economics and governance lies both local and global impact. If we are to recover the structure of a political economy that reflects our global housekeeping in every local manifestation, there is profound need to acknowledge the creative tension between the local structure, heritage or place, and the global impact of every human act.
The dilemma that many do now acknowledge is the difficulty of gathering momentum, even a critical mass, to change the long-embedded competitive political and economic systems driven by the motive of ‘power-over’ that have enslaved us in a culture of socially acceptable greed, and destroyed the validity of ‘power-with’. This suggests we need to redefine and implement a restructured political economy based on people’s conscious participation at every level.
An interdisciplinary association of people acknowledging this need for creative tension between the evolving whole economy and its local expressions is proposing, "to use the system to become the system to change the change the system, to restore trust". They are doing this by creating self-organising groups of volunteers in constituencies across the UK as a transformative network for political change, underpinning independent candidate MPs who support the Independent Constitutionalists' Charter in forthcoming elections.
What's on offer is a scaled-up version of the success of Independents For Frome in Somerset where "a group of local residents took control of their town council and set about making politics relevant, effective and fun". But, to prevent the self-organising principle from dissolving into ineffective action, these new constitutionalists follow good-practice guidance on collaboration, through online forum discussions and email. Unashamedly, the Charter is billed as the People's 21st century Magna Carta and its ultimate aim is to construct a People's Political Economy of Trusteeship in the Harmony of Nature; the kind of fair society generations before us have yearned for, in which voters' trust in politics and politicians becomes a functioning reality.
Among other challenging proposals, the Charter would replace the House of Lords with a Constitutional Parliament and would adopt a land-value charge as the fair way of generating sufficient national revenue to provide a basic income for citizens over 18. The government would use interest-free Sovereign money for its spending into the economy (on the NHS, education and so on). This financial system is assessed to be viable in a working paper published by the International Monetary Fund in 2012, and is now being campaigned for in over 20 countries.
We live in interesting times, with an alternative to domination by vested interests on offer. Most of the proposals have been around for a long time. But what is new is bringing them together in one mindset-changing initiative that becomes a long-overdue bloodless revolution in British politics. Westminster became known as the Mother of Parliaments because it pioneered representative democracy. It is now time for Britain to show how genuine democracy works.
Such a bold proposal keeps a creative tension between the whole and all its parts encouraging a commitment to ‘principled pragmatism’; allowing universal values to serve people and planet in localised experimental motion to prove the impossible possible. It sets the recent RSA themes of widening concern for structural change and the affirming of habitat and place in their full planetary context at the roots of our UK democracy based on premises that could be applied everywhere. So, in the proposal also lie the seeds of a Confederation of the British Isles – of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – with even a future option for the Republic of Ireland. Here the interplay of mutually accountable devolution, subsidiarity and transparency would be harnessed by a democratically written, but living, Constitution, as the common premise for self- and interdisciplinary-audit at every level.
Besides resolving the UK’s domestic problems such as devolution and voters’ apathy, a similar model could be evolved for reconstructing society in the Middle East. The warring factions could be united around a plan for a post-bombing of Syria settlement. In ‘principle’ the model is universal; in ‘pragmatism’ it can spread around the world where people long for the instinctive and intrinsic values of co-operation as Trustees All of the gift of inter-generational life on this precious planet.
The claim from the climate change summit in Paris this December that there had been an international stirring of ‘political will’ prompted this piece. But the Italian Marxist, writer and politician Antonio Gramsci’s aphorism “I’m a pessimist of the intellect; but an optimist of the will” suggests the weight of both danger and opportunity that lies ahead.
Rev Peter Challen. Canon Emeritus of Diocese of Southwark, Ecumenical Chaplain in Economic Life, FRSA, Sloan Fellow London Business School, currently Moderator of the Christian Council for Monetary Justice and Trustee of the Independent Constitutionalists UK.