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Pete Lawrence - 29 Aug 2017


@Indra Adnan was our first guest for the Forum Sofa Sessions, which we hope will become a regular feature of the site. Indra is a Campfire member and has already been a guest speaker at our Frome and Brighton Campfire Conversation events.

The Alternative UK are doing vital and pioneering work on reimagining politics in the UK in its its widest sense. 

Here are the highlights of the session :

Pete Lawrence : What gave you the idea for The Alternative UK? What are its main aims? How long has it been going?

IA : I've been political all my life - that picture you used is for my campaign to be a Labour MP! Was working with Compass think tank for 10 years and wrote a report on the state of British political parties - when I uncovered the startling fact that only 2% of people are members of political parties in the UK. 

Around the same time I met Uffe Elbaek who was running a very different political experiment - Alternativet in Denmark. And the rest.. is history

Its main aim is to answer the question, if politics is broken, what's the alternative? We are doing this, first of all, by turning our attention to the 98% and giving attention to all the many socio-political initiatives we see out there. We publish a Daily Alternative - every day, another way into this big question.

We've been going for about a year - but didn't officially launch until March 1st.


Lizzie Jackson: Do you see a relationship between Campfire and Alternative UK, if so, what will that be e.g. a community of like-minded communities?

IA : Hi Lizzie! Campfire and Alternative are very aligned - we are looking at the 'problem' in similar ways. Having said that, we all know that there are many many different communities outside of ours - we are trying to open Alternative spaces all over the country and let the locality set the tone and culture. In particular we want to offer a platform to young people, futurists and global citizens - any future politics has to include / champion them. Accordion title 2


Pete Lawrence (quoting you) "self-development is the biggest publishing phenomenon of modern times. But politics + mainstream media can’t grasp it” Why do you think this is? Or is it just because they just serving a different agenda?

IA : Good question - and I think I've partly answered that in the question about the feminine. Self development has always been prized as a personal / private interest not one for the public space. Is that because our public space has been dominated by men in the past and even the women who are successful feel they cannot be seen to be 'soft' or interested in the 'self'? Not acknowledging the importance of, for example, getting our emotional needs met -as an aim of politics - has led to a badly functioning society. We have epidemics of depression, addiction and too many people in prison for avoidable crimes. 


Louise Scrivens : Why does the feminine perspective appear/need to be separate from mainstream politics?

IA : Hi Louise : ) Historically, politics has been a masculine space. It's slowly improving in terms of MPs at Westminster - although, even now, to get past the selection committees for each party, you have to show the traditional qualities of an MP, which were masculine. One of the results of this is that the public space has been shaped by masculine culture and behaviour - what counts as valuable is what men do best. However, society has evolved: women are occupying the public space more and men are more present in the home than before. Yet so much of our politics has not really changed. In short hand, this means a greater emphasis on relational structures rather than hierarchical ones, an economy that is driven by care principles as much as by growth. It's less about men and women - more about the culture we are now developing together. Does that make sense?


Sally Hughes : I'm going to get straight in and ask how I can do something in my own community...yesterday on Twitter someone mentioned the possibility of an #alterlab here in Cardiff...what does that mean?

IA : Hi Sally - good to meet you. We are currently designing political laboratories that will help a community address the question, if politics is broken, what's the alternative? They are being designed to appeal to a diverse audience, be very 'awakening' and lead to action. Anyone who would like a lab in their area, should contact us at and the fun begins


Sharon Prendergast : I really like 'Alternative' 's commitment to 6 values, rather than dogmatically sticking to inflexible and sometimes outdated policy statements. Sharing those values internationally can only bring positive internationalism closer to reality, and means the movement can be interpreted and re-interpreted as suits different communities - that can mean different villages or districts in one country or different countries. This correlates really well withe the values work which Campfire members have started on this site.I see many correlations between your work and that of Campfire as we start out, which is very exciting. I think this is what @lizzie was alluding to earlier.

IA : Hi Sharon - yes and yes! 


Julia Black : I've been trying to innovate within education for the past four years and seeing how switched off so many of our young people seem to be - as a result of an education agenda that seems so irrelevant to them - I'm very interested in helping them find their voice and then using that voice. I think our children are natural changemakers but they don't get any nurturing on this front and actually have it taken away from them. So anything we can do to empower them I'm excited about....

IA : I know this is not a question.. but can I jump in here? I'm a governor at a school and a pyshotherapist - so know whereof you speak : ( I see young people being trained for a life that is not available to most of them. At the same time, they are not helped to grow into adults emotionally - to become the managers of their own minds and bodies. There seems to be an unstated agenda from government of clearly dividing the leaders and servants of a future society - it's heartbreaking to see young people becoming disillusioned so early in life.

We prefer a positive narrative about the future. Yes there will be less jobs, but there will be more time and tools for creativity. Already they have so many more resources than we have - let's encourage them to use them, for both personal and social potential

Lizzie Jackson : Prof Stephen Heppell is amazing in that he gets children to design their own learning spaces, including the furniture and how they want to learn. I think using children (and older students) as consultants in their own learning is wonderful. The Alternative UK seems to support consultative development generally, is that right?


Kimm Fearnley : I am incredibly encouraged by the increase of and interest in initiatives such as The Alternative UK and Flat Pack Democracy and others but I am uncertain as to what can be achieved by simply being a platform or resource rather than a party or movement? I wonder if we need some more direct action to overthrow the current political system and seize power - a way of taking seats in parliament - an independent revolution of sorts? One way could be for those in like-minded groups and organisations or individuals already doing good things in their communities to be encouraged - perhaps via a centrally funded group - to stand as independents in every constituency. With a national campaign behind them. I can't see how political change can be brought while we are at the mercy of this two/three party governance. What are your views and how do you see The Alt UK making an impact on the current system?

IA : Hi Kimm - I can feel the warrior in me rising as I read your question! Yes - I feel like you in my guts. But I think we have to prepare well. The shift from the 2% narratives is not a small one - I feel that most of the people coming to our events are pulled like magnets to solving the problems using the old rules. We have to spend some time establishing new culture, behaviour, ideas about leadership. Don't know if you've had a chance to read my paper Is the Party Over which details what a complex task it is to break into something new. In our country, with the first past the post system, you can be a party with 5million members and only have 1 seat in Parliament. Great people and efforts are swallowed whole by Westminster and end up bitter and frustrated.

At the same time, others are trying to harness people on a largely emotional basis - offering them rewards they cannot deliver.

For me the real shift is that people are taking back control of their resources and lives in so many different ways and we want to amplify that in whatever way we can. Our task is not to mobilise people behind our message, but to help organise them doing their own thing. 

However, when the time is right, we may well become a party - let's see what the call is.


Kimm : 

Thank you for your reply, I confess that I have not read the paper you mention but I will tonight!

I like very much that your warrior was roused!

I agree with what you say here and am interested in the work you are doing. However, I notice that while many people turn out for meetings and gatherings and clearly want some kind of change - declaring their desire for a kinder, inclusive way of life, there is a feeling that "someone else" needs to do it, that somehow 'they' are powerless and after these meetings and exciting conversations most return to their lives and nothing changes. I would like to to see a real option presented to the population tht makes people feel they can be part of a change. A real revolution that can work . . .I beleive the bones of it are already there  . .it just needs pulling together.

Perhaps a central organisation such as yourselves identifying individuals already doing great things in their communities and guiding them through the process of standing as independents, with funding backed by a central media campaign. Martin Bell did it once as did others . .imagine house full of independents whose only agenda was to do good . . .There would have to redisgn the house as there would be no two sides of the The House. . .We must never stop dreaming big. . . I am very interested. . . 


Lizzie Jackson : Is Alternative UK part of a general growing appetite for fresh thinking? If so, is there a particular demographic that's particularly engaged?

IA : Hi Lizzie - when you take your eyes off the mainstream media and the 2% conversation that is our politics, you will be astounded at how much is going on. Have you looked at the Daily Alternative? We have no lack of ideas and projects to platform. We tend to curate them within six streams - a) new ideas about the complex human being and how to help it develop b) new ideas around power - how people are 'taking back control' c) new ideas about global governance, how to bring our planet together and be global citizens (those three referred to as I, We, World) d) futurism - we are tech-positive and are looking for narratives that help us look forward e) creativity - particularly how the arts play a role in awakening people and helping us see the complex possibilities in a simple way. 

Both men and women, young and old so far



Ralph Pettingill : A long held passion and concern is working alongside parents/ families/ young people.  My professional history included a manager in Sure Start, supporting parents. I see huge potential in providing supportive humane spaces for parents, so they can co-develop with their young people. I think parenting is hugely unacknowledged as a potentially very rich area for political awareness, engagement and change i.e. nearly every parent/ family grouping really wants fundamentally the same good things/ conditions for their loved ones and future generations.. parents want answers on the big questions.. ending war, environment.. health..housing.. a safe fulfilling world.. let's organise parents!!

IA : Ralph - Have you read The War Against Parents by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West? it's American but it helps to articulate what's been wasted for so many years


Ralph Pettingill : Hi Indra; you refer to the 2% who are party members; I've been a trade union activist and am currently as slightly ambivalent party member ...I suspect we have to rethink our ideas of "membership".  As an-trade union activist in the past we struggled with the entrenched idea of members as either something passive/ consuming a service from the union or over-excited hobbyist who loves committees (slightly exaggerating but not much..) .What do you think about how we considered 'Membership' of an organisation or network?

IA : It's an important question and not one that has been successfully met within politics yet. I sense there is a readiness for more people to step up to citizenship - whether as a trade union member or community organiser or just someone developing a social enterprise. Partly the problem is to do with our lack of time - we work so hard with very little time for our loved ones. We need to think forward to a time when this might change - or actively bring it on. The discussions on Universal Basic Income are on this territory - some people will choose activism over jobs better done by robots.

But even when people do participate - current politics is very top down. The Labour Party has some good structures, but in practise people are not consulted - policy is made at the top. In Europe there are a number of experiments with Peoples Councils and Circles - eg Podemos - but once the movement gives rise to a party that is taking active part in the parliament, the same hiearchy returns.

Alternativet in Denmark is genuinely different. As a party it is does not have a fixed ideology and its manifesto is crowd-sourced. It does have 9 seats in government - the fastest growing in the country - but it does not have a policy for everything. Uffe Elbaek - not a career politician, but the founder of a very successful leadership academy called Kaos Pilots - often answers journalists questions with 'I don't know' and apologises when he gets things wrong. This kind of openness at the heart of the party means that participants can own it - it's fluid.

But of course, Denmark is much more egalitarian than the UK and it has strong democratic traditions. The Alternative UK has to being its own process with laboratories - focussed more on devolved, even local power. We won't be operating at the national level for the forseeable future - but let's see how it evolves.


Sally Hughes : I've been asking for a while now 'how do we create sustainable enterprises that are based on values that are good for people and the earth?'. The values side of things is very clear in all Alternative UK communications, which is inspirational. For me, being at the start of building a new enterprise the question of how to fund it is the first I am asking. I've been interested to see how Campfire Convention is aiming to be sustainable through membership. I also know that so many folks are spending so much time applying for a diminishing pot of grant funding. How will Alternative UK be funded?

IA :  Important and live question! In the early stages we have been talking mostly to philanthropists that we know and trust. Tomas Bjorkman gave us money for the launch and others are watching and waiting for more to fall into place. Political initiatives are very rarely funded by foundations so grants are hard to come by. Much of what we do will be funded at the local community level. In addition we are looking at crowd funding for specific projects and a certain amount from membership and direct donations. 

However, The Alternative is also a 4th sector platform. When we have a significant crowd, we will become entrepreneurial - watch this space!


Kevin Short : Indra, does Alternative UK have any direct connections with, or share common interests with, the Zeitgeist Movement?  It seems there might be a lot of common shared objectives that maybe mutually beneficial to share, or form certain alliances, perhaps,  I don't know.

IA : Hi Kevin - Sorry I didn't answer earlier.. I lost your question not knowing there were pages! Anyway - not directly related with Zeitgeist or Anonymous, but as you say there are ideas and thoughts in common. I had a long conversation with a committed Zeitgeist activist recently and I think the difference is that while we are conscious of the controlling forces in our economy and society, we are not as clear as to their identity. We share the understanding that little of what we read in the media is as it appears - but we are more focussed on what can overcome this elite. We are in an age of people power - but the real work is organising.


Kimm Fearnley : Many of the women who have held these higher position in government are not, to me anyway, representtive of women generally (May, Thatcher being the obvious examples) I believe these type of female politicians do a huge disservice to women in positions of power. What can be done about this? Does it start in school? New accordion content

IA : Sadly, only women who can make it on male terms are succeeding in politics - with a few exceptions. For a while I ran a project called The Downng Street Project, specifically to get more women into politics (for balance) - but we had a lot of trouble getting through the eye of the needle: the selection panel. Even the women selecting were looking for those with traditional qualities ie male qualities. They literally were required to have the balls!


Louise Scrivens : How can we counter this increasingly narrow definition of education that exists in society today?
IA : It's sad and frustrating I agree. Your 'units' are lucky to have you - the most important thing is to have someone rooting for them despite the system and we all know that many successful people were failures at school.

The energy of The Alternative is to step outside the bubble and create a better model which can eventually be offered back to the system. It doesn't have to be the whole thing, it could be a series of modules that could create interventions. The current OFSTED emphasis on 'character' and 'resilience' - as you probably know - came from one school doing stuff differently. 


Read the entire forum thread



Kate Edgley

Sad I couldn't make this. I found Indra such an inspiring woman when I met her at the Brighton Conversation. My main thought, reading this, is that I'd never heard of Jo Cox until she died... and when I read about her I thought: THIS is who I want as Prime Minister

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