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Hay on Wye Conversation : Hope Over Fear



Fear was definitely high on the agenda at the Hay on Wye Campfire Conversation on Saturday night at The Old Electric Shop. But hope was also very much in evidence in what turned into a very positive first Hay Conversation. Here’s my own take on the key threads a packed house discussed and what directions can be drawn from the conversations, that might best be summarised as :

1 Living in fear as politics becomes more right wing and more extreme. Division is rife and disenfranchisement is being felt. Democracy is being eroded. What does democracy mean? 

2 Right now, we need a movement. But for what? And should be called a ‘movement’? Empowerment individually and collectively.

3 Local politics. This election has suddenly appeared and taken many by surprise. What can we do at local level to influence the result?

4 Young people’s voices need to be heard. Why are many not engaging with politics? Looking at diversity on all levels.

5 Community in its broadest sense. Connections and common ground

6 Health and the Individual. How we are all being affected by what is going on around us.

It was a lively meeting - 30 people with a lot to say and a couple of hours to discuss a variety of key issues, but it very clear that politics was in pole position as the major concern and probably would have been, whether or not a general election had just been called.

I kicked off with an introduction to Campfire. What had led me to start it, what I thought it offered, what the website was aiming for in terms of becoming a place where members could showcase their own interests around portfolios, organise specific interests by Projects, pool resources, join Guilds for specialised common interests, chat about issues and craft articles and posts for further discussion.

I talked about the importance of Campfire events, from the central Convention, to the Circle team meetings to these Campfire Conversations, easy-to-organise locally based initiatives that brought together people from their communities with an interest in finding common ground. Even though our site is still pre-launch, many people are already coming forward with an enthusiasm to host their own events, many of whom I’d not yet met. I sense that something is in the air.

The Trailblazer politics initiative is Campfire’s focus for facilitating the most effective ways of reimagining politics. I believe that a new kind of politics is needed which breaks away from the existing straitjacket party politics and offers a more independent politics, underpinned by a tag that is easily recognisable beyond merely being ‘independents’. I proposed the word ‘trailblazer’, a positive, dynamic and different name which doesn’t offer up too many preconceptions or tie its colours to any particular existing political persuasion.

I proposed the Campfire social network as a space that could continue the discussions and bring disparate groups together. The site is currently completing its ‘beta’ testing with a view to opening its doors in summer, with a ‘Pay What You Think It’s Worth’ membership ethos. It is currently free and Hay Conversation attendees would be very welcome to sign up and join us by going to


The format is just born and we can progress these meetings in any way we want to. We discussed how these meetings should take shape. Whether they should be the open-agenda discussion involving all of us that had already started, whether we should define the main issues we wanted to talk about and split into separate groups. A couple of attendees had experience of facilitating meetings. We talked around the pros and cons and made the decision to keep the meeting open ended. Surprisingly we did reach some resolutions 

 - To start a Hay Beacon (the Beacon concept already set up within Campfire for local or specialised groups to gather and to keep the discussions going online.

 - To gather for another Hay Conversation on Wednesday June 14th, the week after the General Election, when we expect a different political landscape.

 - To go out in and around Hay (especially before election) and talk to people, ask them why they are afraid, what might help overcome those fears and what benefits community initiatives might offer. 


This was a major thread running through the meeting. Several people felt an increasing sense of disengagement and alienation, prompted by events and directions in politics that they felt were a long way from representing their own morals and preferences. There was a sense that the rhetoric and actions of the current government was about playing up division - through the language deployed to describe the opposition as a ‘chaotic coalition’ through to the 'remoaners' subtext employed by supporters of the right wing of the party, all reinforcement by a mainstream media running headlines such as the notorious Daily Mail ‘Saboteurs’ warning - a strong suggestion that anyone who challenged the government’s viewpoint would be seen as someone trying to sabotage the national interest. Add in the increasing pressure and marginalisation on the less fortunate elements of our society - i.e. unemployed, disabled.. for example, to continually prove that they are still entitled to benefits. 

We have not known times like this politically in my own lifetime and we need to be reinforcing the value of community, alternative channels of communication and ways of empowering people and engaging them with the democratic process. It was felt that there is a growing appetite towards local involvement and activism and a real sense that ‘grass roots’ participation could make a difference for a properly functioning, healthy society. 

Martin Seligman, in his book Flourish shows functioning societies have five key elements : 1. People feel good about themselves. 2. They are deeply engaged in activity 3. This activity ensures they are connected to the greater good. 4. They work together. 5. And beyond their own narrow groups.

A ‘Movement’? 

@RICHARD GREATREX made the point that a movement may be desirable but what is it for?

Wikipedia describes a political movement as "In the social sciences, a political movement is a social group that operates together to obtain a political goal, on a local, regional, national, or international scope.”

You can’t force a movement. It obviously requires an element of viral engagement to take hold and gain traction and enough people need to feel a sense of pull and a desire to engage and participate. The advantages of social movements, as I see it, is that they can become more broad-based and less dependent on tribal loyalties. Trailblazer politics isn’t a political party - it’s about re-imagining politics as it should be. It places hope, positivity and pragmatic solutions centrestage, a national movement for change with potential to become international.

We envisage something way more exciting than dinosaur political parties. No longer Punch and Judy politics, which party to vote for, how to form progressive alliances.

The movement is wider than politics. It is about personal change and empowerment (‘I’), community involvement (“we”) and about recognising commonality, joining the dots but respecting the differences and moving forwards together, in many ways operating on a level that transcends notions of nationalism, walls, boundaries and tariffs. 

Our movement probably needs a manifesto at its heart. Here is my starter for ten, for discussion :

1 Progressive. A society run by all, for all, grounded in common sense and integrity.

2 Independent. Working outside the existing outmoded party political structure and tribal dogma.

3 Local. Respect for democracy at grass roots level, localised communities working within a global interconnected framework.

4 Empowering. Working for the good of all, creating and nurturing a participatory environment where people feel they have a voice and can make a difference through liquid democracy.

5 Humanistic. A greener, more empathic society moving away from materialism and profit as primary drivers, celebrating its spiritual elements and natural beauty, supporting renewables and working for peace through conflict resolution. 

6 Collaborative. Encouraging complementary skills and knowledge, bringing people together via mutual support mechanisms and initiatives which reward their own members through measured input. 

7 Diverse. Joining the dots but respecting the differences, bringing to the table a range of viewpoints and experience.

8 Connected. A self-sufficient networked community that maximises technology and networking, enabling co-ordination and exchange, supporting creative commons and open source approaches.

9 Resourceful. Building collective wisdom through learning and ideas development. Building life tools through accurate news formulation and dissemination. 

10 Fun. What’s living for if not to enjoy life and all it has to offer? People should value being engaged and feel good about themselves, focus on hope and reject fear.

We are collectively working towards a framework for real and radical evolutionary change. A framework is not easily formulated or agreed but we are actively seeking your involvement for discussion to realise pragmatic ways of making these changes immediate and meaningful.

Local Politics

It was noted that there are a variety of Hay groups, each ploughing their own usually worthwhile furrow (for instance, a group to campaign against local library closure, Fair-trade Hay, Sanctuary for refugees) but that many groups weren’t communicating with each other. It was suggested that Campfire could became a central space for connecting the different elements and creating more dialogue between them.

The point was made by Andrew and Louise that many independent politicians in the area has given a bad name to independents, as many had been self-serving and ineffective, often disguising their dubious interests as impartiality. It was suggested that the LibDems were the only hope for overturning the Conservative majority won in Brecon and Radnor in 2015 in the forthcoming elections. The Tory MP Christopher Davies hasn’t endeared himself locally. He currently holds a majority : 16, 453 to Lib Dems 11, 351. Richard reported that Labour are showing no appetite at all for any progressive alliance. 

Relating to the discussion on fear, many local residents are reported to be fearful of current political directions and unsure who to turn to for accurate news, resources or hope. The current climate seems stifling and based on division.

Other Voices

As a community that is largely middle class and white, Hay isn’t a diverse culture, although a very open one and, given its very small size, a place that has a huge variety of people passing through, especially during festival season. 

In terms of young people being encouraged to engage with politics, Campfire already has a Kindling initiative, set up last summer by @Lisa Sollett (Lisa-Sollett)@. Lisa has since moved to Spain most of the time so we are looking for someone UK based to take up this mantle and put together ideas for developing this.


@Pam McCarthy and others put this firmly on the agenda. How Campfire can develop as a community? What is its purpose? How can its members play a part and feel engaged? How can it facilitate and link with other communities?

Health and the Individual

@Ieuan Davies put forward the topic for further discussion. The idea that our health and wellbeing is very much related to politics and people feeling a strong sense of engagement and ‘social glue’. Much ill health is coming from notions of anomie and a feeling of disconnected from the democratic process. This realtes to Martin Seligman’s key elements of a functioning society (see above).

Wellbeing is very much on the agenda for some future Campfire Conversations - it is the theme of our forthcoming Glasgow and Edinburgh events in June.

For discussion : 

Education : "Why I should run our schools" by Caitlin Moran (Times article this week) "I'm convinced that semi-feral based library-based education is the route for everyone else in Britian..."

Economy : We’re trapped in an economic growth mentality which leads to imbalance. A new type of economics is required. If growth isn’t coming, we’ve ended up in economy we don’t want where we’re devouring resources and the 1% are the only ones reaping the benefits. We need to work constructively with the processes of the living world and build a new economy 

In conclusion, a very constructive meeting. The Hay Beacon was born.

Malvern was well represented and will form its own Beacon in advance of its Conversation on Sunday June 11th.

Conversations - guidelines to follow

Thanks to Hannah Burson and Ananda Hill at The Old Electric for hosting and to Black Mountains Bluegrass for the music soundtrack. See you for post-election analysis on Wednesday 14th June.

Feature Image : Hannah Burson




Lesley Arrowsmith

Sounds great - I'm sorry I missed it (being in bed with the Dreaded Lurgy).


Pete Lawrence

Boo :/ Sorry to miss you too Lesley, was hoping to meet you in person. Get well soon!

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