The Alternative UK: From Launch, to Learning, to Action
23 October 2017 - Indra Adnan MSc HGIDip

Back on March 1st, The Alternative UK launched in London with a fantastic co-created event that saw us work with truly inspiring thinkers, artists, youngsters and our mentors from Alternativet in Denmark. Read all about it here.

We felt we hit a mark that evening – making a re-orientation of political culture seem like a real possibility. There were moments of shock and discomfort: but we left moved and excited. Some even used the word converted. But to what?

As promised, all of our activity since then has been along three lines.

Firstly, identifying the many socio-political initiatives that are making waves outside of the political bubble on what we describe as the I, We, World axes. 

Every day we have published a Daily Alternative – and we always have a surplus. The General Election also gave us an excuse to publish 12 Alternative Manifestos generously supplied by our network.

Secondly, we have been meeting and co-creating events with others.

This includes adding an Alternative UK intervention at events by 38 Degrees, Flatpack Democracy, Campfire, Alter Ego, London Futurists, Newspeak House, Social Innovation Exchange, St Martins School of Arts, Unusual Suspects Festival, Alternative Global, Perspectiva, Brighton Digital Festival, Virtual Futures, Emergency Arts, 42 Acres, Conspiring and Inspiring – did we forget anyone? Each one of these is a starting point for the transformation we see happening across society.

Now, because we are called The Alternative – not simply Any Old Alternative – we have been lightly framing our activities: observing what holds our six values, what appears along the I, We, World axes, and what feels good enough for a future we can look forward to. Partly to see if there are any patterns emerging, but also to begin to get a sense of where our Living Manifesto is likely to begin.

Here are just a few factors that contribute to this ‘new politics’ that we’ve seen emerging:

  • It will be expressed in a language everyone can understand, but continue to be well founded intellectually and empirically.
  • It will answer the need for people to have more control over outcomes for themselves and their communities.
  • It is likely to be founded on devolved power: more grassroots up than national structures down. Localism, municipalism, other forms of autonomy/independence are all only growing in popularity.
  • We will have very new ideas about work – we are clearly moving on from full employment as the goal that unites us. Automation and the gig economy is opening up the possibility for more time. 
  • It must save the planet: the penny is dropping with the calamitous weather and there are so many good examples of good, green practice
  • It will be more feminine and diverse – as most of above describes. Even though white men continue to be dominant in the public space, significant change is happening at the cultural level.
  • It is more fractal, and emergent in nature, therefore, does not need to be scaled by a central bureaucracy. The best initiatives will be copied rather than enforced – any new politics has to capture the energy released by the information and connectivity revolution now making its mark even in Dagenham!
  • It needs an organising, not a mobilising approach. For more on this, see Hahrie Han but essentially it means serving people, not asking them to follow you.

All of which brings us to the third concrete action we have been taking – designing our political laboratories.

Our early ideas were for a post-Brexit Open Space type inquiry, in which anyone and everyone would have a say on what they need from a new politics. Since then our good friends Campfire Convention have filled that space very well: literally lighting a fire and chatting in locations all over the country and providing a great follow up point in their socially mediated website. 

Then we thought about more practical spaces for ideas to arise and take shape – but 38 Degrees Live and Flatpack Democracy cover those very well – the latter providing an ongoing model for localism now being adopted in many places in the UK and Europe.

What we now feel is missing, is a space for an entirely new socio-political sensibility to be generated. One that recognises that we have been in an old-politics and media induced trance most of our lives and now need to awaken – not just to our rights and responsibilities, but to our imaginative and creative capacities for a different kind of life, society and world. 

In our design group we currently have artists, a play-specialist, musicians, advertising gurus, activists, mediators, facilitators, political theorists, writers and researchers, a psychotherapist, a soft power expert, a school governor, young and old people of various hues and orientations – thoughtfully co-creating. You can join the team if you sign up to The Alternative UK (costs nothing).

Over the next six months we will have distilled the essential elements of a laboratory that can be offered anywhere, to help any local community come alive with socio-political energy, that suits their yearning and will begin a process of change they own.

In our view, that will give us all the best possible chance of a genuinely new, popular and agentic politics: the alternative.