Sunday 27 September 2009

Scratch Manifesto

I was challenged in a cold-call from BAC on Friday. In the Scratch Festival themed on Democracy, they had persuaded Martin Linton, MP for Battersea, to accept a challenge and wanted me to do the same. Namely that we'd each be given 24 hours to prepare a 5-minute manifesto. Martin as an artist, me as a politician; it happened last night. Martin was great, underlining his unsung role in the setting up of BAC, and more recently in saving it. I liked what I wrote, so I'm posting it here with the caveat that yes, it's a manifesto so it's got a lot of rhetoric. But also some rabbits.


The Manifesto I Sign Up To

In the American Declaration of Independence, Jefferson underlines the pursuit of happiness.

Happiness matters.

The manifesto I sign up to drops wealth as a measure and goal for the nation; instead of Gross National Product, rather embraces Gross National Happiness. Just as they have - for real - in the kingdom of Bhutan.

Not the happy-clappy happiness but something deeper-rooted. That comes from agency and responsibility and connectedness. Community.

In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln declared government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth. But here it's withering. The connection and agency that people feel to party politics is diffused and diminished, dominated by personal interest.

The manifesto I sign up to radically transforms democracy into a living community.

Councillors - at the local level - and MPs - at the national level - are no longer the decision-makers. Rather they are elected best to facilitate the debate of the issues and assemble gatherings of people - in council chambers like this one. It's democracy for the day, like jury service, new people gathered every day to decide matters brought to them. New votes every day, but every day the people are present.

At national level, cabinet is elected by MPs every quarter. You only get to do it once.

The office of Prime Minister and the Monarch are both abolished and replaced by rabbits. A pair of rabbits. It's in the nature of rabbits that it's difficult to keep track of precisely which pair of rabbits is which. But actually, crucially, any pair will do.

The House of Lords is abolished and replaced by two chambers with veto power.

One chamber is full of eight-year-olds, who will veto any proposal that is not clear, not fair or not fun. Or appears to be upsetting the rabbits.

The other chamber is full of eighty-year-olds who veto not on behalf of their own elder generation but on behalf of all future generations yet to come. So we do right by the past and the future.

Everyone is responsible. We take the consequences of our actions and discover our own passions. So I have some proposals that are rabble-rousing. And rabbit-rousing, not that they need much encouragement.

For every extra zero on the end of a banker's bonus, an extra digit of their PIN is released to the general public.

The headquarters of every energy and resource-burning corporation, together with the house of their CEO, is forcibly relocated to low-lying islands in the Indian ocean, better to focus their minds on melting ice caps and rising sea levels.

And on a lighter note, borrowing a trick from Google, 20% of our time in work or in school is for us to pursue whatever we find interesting, without worry of results, and to share what we find with everyone, better to dream our future together.

The Manifesto I sign up to abolishes income tax and instead creates The Club of the Common Good. It's a bit like a Christmas Club. There's a means-tested tax for everyone to pay their bit together for the things we can't afford to buy properly individually. Education. Health. Art, even.

You benefit more individually the more you do for the Common Good, - recycling, gardening, loft insulation, even feeding back on scratch performances.

But every time you do something for your own individual good, it's taxed and hypothecated for the Club of the Common Good.

Private school fees? Great. You just bought textbooks for your local state school.
Filling up your car? Good work. You just helped make train tickets cheaper.
Plastic bag? Brilliant. You just subsidised a local allotment.

And everyone is themselves challenged to come up with new ideas and rules for the Common Good. And rewarded with an opportunity to pet the rabbits.

Happiness is also born of reflectiveness.

We're in this together. That's what politics is about, fundamentally. People here in the first chamber of the manifesto I sign up to, please look at each other. Take a moment to say hello not just to your friends but those on the other side of the room. Imagine windows here, here and here through which the world is looking in, and you can see the world: past, present and future.

We're in this together. Us and the rabbits.

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