Based on things that have actually happened around the world in the past few weeks, here are some ideas for improving accountability in British politics.

Why Don’t You Just Switch off Your Mobile Phone and Go out and Do Something More Politically Inspiring Instead?

In the early seventies — before the combination of 24/7 and on-demand entertainment ran rings around us, the BBC aired a programme which encouraged children to turn off their television and go and do something more interesting instead.

Why Don’t You (WDY) used crowdsourced — only it wasn’t called that then — material, showcasing a collection of ideas for how you could spend your time, if only you turned the television off. And what fun they had, who wouldn’t want to stop what they were doing and go do exactly that fun thing they had just watched on tv?

An oldie, but a goodie: opening lines to BBC’s ‘Why Don’t You’.

I think most people at the time, intended audience included, realised the irony of this program. But what if this was the only television you consumed, would it be so bad to be a viewer? What if it was just a sample of the television you watched, would it be so bad to use the medium in the event you were inspired to take action?

Isn’t that, but for the evolution of technology, what you are doing right now?

So in the spirit of this oft-forgotten but the dear sweet irony of a children’s program; using crowdsourced ideas for world events over the past few weeks, let’s take a look at three things that* could genuinely have a positive impact on the state of British politics.

* if only would switch off their mobile phone and go do something politically inspiring instead.

Why Don’t You #1 … be a politician that makes difficult topics really easy to understand

This seed of thought was cast whilst watching a speech made in the UK Parliament by MP Jess Phillips. To a near-empty chamber, she spoke sensibly around issues raised by the Brexit Immigration Bill. Making good points, clearly. Holding her fellow MPs to account. Just as she should.

Jess Phillips MP for Birmingham Yardley, schooling fellow MPs on what it means to live in a diverse community. / YouTube - The Guardian
“…it sticks slightly in the craw of a person who grew up in Birmingham to listen to people who don’t live amongst migrants, who don’t live in diverse places, talking about how difficult it is for communities who have to live in places with high migration. Well, it is not difficult. It is not difficult at all. It is a total pleasure…”

Deftly establishing credibility in the debate on post-Brexit immigration policy at the same time as dismissing the opposition, Phillips is a tonic for anyone searching for a sensible voice.

“… so it is for my city that I stand here and I want to defend migration.”

How could this improve accountability?

In any other week, this would not be news. But it feels like we live in unusual times. It was nice, satisfying even, to read about parliament working in the way we all hoped it might: MPs making sensible points in the debate of upcoming laws and policies, inviting people to support them and contribute towards making better laws.

If you support people like Phillips then you help everyone else understand what a sensible MP sounds like, making reasonable points, just as she should. And that is a big fat +1 for accountability.

Why Don’t You…

…read more than just the headlines: She probably isn’t your MP, but Phillips made good points that might resonate with you and yet not be featured in an article. Support the people you like, shout out about them, appreciate them. Check out WDY #2 and #3 for more ideas.

Need another fix?

Reforming US campaign laws is a complex and not-so-hot topic to tackle. But as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez deftly shows us in a hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, it is possible — with a touch of gamification — to break down the problem to a set of fairly understandable points. And if you can understand how campaign laws are facilitating undesirable behaviour, it’s easier to keep a check on them … +1 for improving  accountability.

Why Don’t You #2 …stage an intervention

Some called it reckless. Some called it foolish. Some called him a genius. But Donald Tusk, President of the European Council staged a much-needed intervention. And it was for our own good.

YouTube / The Guardian
“Today  there is no political force, and no effective leadership, for remain. I  say this without satisfaction, but you can’t argue with the facts.” — Donald Tusk, Press Briefing, 6th February

And in case we didn’t see his not so subtle approach to reminding the 229 MP’s who represent a remain voting constituency that they could — as 35% of the House of Commons — constitute a political force*, he went straight for the jugular;

“I have been wondering what the special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely” — Donald Tusk

* if only would switch off their mobile phones and go do something politically inspiring instead

How could this improve accountability?

Like a lamb to the slaughter, this was tabloid fodder that didn’t do much for holding anyone to account for their actions.  British leaders & politicians condemned his words as ‘not brilliant  diplomacy’ which if you follow one of the ‘what the British say versus what they really mean’  guides, roughly translates to ‘we insist that you resign from being EU  Council President immediately and that your shoes are filled with  someone who is predisposed to dramatically more public school taught  etiquette than you’.

Meanwhile, his EU colleagues assured us that no, he really did mean it...

But step outside the UK and look at the bigger picture: the remaining 27 member states were probably very happy to see Tusk say what we’ve all been thinking, unafraid to mince his words, and hold British politicians to account for their actions. So -1 for British accountability, +1 for the EU.

Why Don’t You…

…nope …not much you can do here. Unless you’re a world leader. But read WDY #3 for what you can do if you’re not.

Need another fix?

Climate change has long struggled to make its mark in everyday life. Until that is you listen to straight talking climate advocate Greta Thunberg; not a world leader but a 16-year-old addressing global leaders on truly global stages.

Telling the audience at Davos in 2018 like it is; “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.” That’s a clear -1 for the global business elite, and +1 for cleaner air, water and less plastic in our world.

Why Don’t You #3 …. stage an intervention (when you’re not a world leader)

On the opposite end of the accessibility spectrum, look to the LedByDonkeys collective for some good old fashioned why-don’t-you style activism. It’s smart, funny and thanks to a growing legion of fans, is driving itself into a town near you.

“The Brexit predictions of our leaders, rendered as tweets then put on massive billboards” — LedByDonkeys, Twitter bio

That’s pretty much all you need to know. That, and they put them up in places around the UK that voted to leave the EU. Helping people compare what was said in the past, with what they say now.

How could this improve accountability?

Well, this is a tricky one as accountability like this means different things to different people. But let’s take a look at things that might indicate this campaign is going well;

💎 68 billboards around the UK (and counting) repeating tweets and public statements to draw attention to the hypocrisy of the current political class. And just for good measure, one in Brussels to honour a visit by Prime Minister (for now) Theresa May.

💬 78,000+ people talking across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, researching and voting for the next great tweets to use, crowdsourcing pictures of the billboards, creating their own media and products (and me — I did my bit by quite literally putting them on a map).

💰 6,254+ people donating their hard earned money to the tune of £173,000 and rising...

🗞 Lots and lots and lots of national and local media coverage across the UK … as well as mentions in France, Netherlands, Belgium, the US, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Spain …. so far.

🙊 Did they really do that moment #1: a potential Prime Minister-in-waiting thanks to 4 months as Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab (bless his little-imported-through-Calais-socks) blocked them on Twitter. Because why engage when you can block?

🙊 Did they really do that moment #2: Islington Council (whose MP happens to be opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn) ordered the removal of a #BrexitBillboard quoting Jeremy Corbyn because …. <insert spurious reason because nobody actually knows> …

Why Don’t You…

…read a The Guardian article about them here, check out this thread to see the billboards in action, and if you live in the UK, keep your eyes open for one of their billboards. And next time you and your mates have an idea …*

* why don’t you switch off your mobile phones** and go do something politically inspiring instead
** unless you’re conspiring the next accountability heist via whatsapp, that is...

Need another fix?

Around the World, students are marching against climate change. Inspired by the Greta’s, Jamies and Marinels of this world as much as the failings of world leaders and global  corporations to respond to the advent of climate change, youth groups  are mobilising. And they are making themselves heard. This isn’t a rebellion, it’s global movement and it’s coming to a place near you.

So there we have it. Three ideas for improving the accountability of politicians in the UK, during this most tumultuous of times. But I’ll leave you with more of Greta’s own words, who at 16 has captured the art of saying what we are all thinking.🔷

“Since  our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the  responsibility they should have taken long ago,” she said. “We have to  understand what the older generation has dealt to us, what mess they  have created that we have to clean up and live with. We have to make our  voices heard.” Greta Thunberg, addressing the UN’s Global Climate Change conference, December 2018

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(This piece was originally published on PMP Blog! | The author writes in a personal capacity.)

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(Cover: Flickr/Glenn Halog - Angry Pacifist, Occupy Wall Street One Year Later. | 17 Sep 2012. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)