Architect and inventor Richard Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller once said:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
I think it’s one of the most astute quotes I’ve ever heard. I like it so much it’s on my LinkedIn profile. I think it’s a shame it’s not more widely known. It can be applied to any area of life, any discipline of work, any situation where people want to make a change. My focus for this particular blog post is going to be on politics – an area of society where change is constant. A disclaimer before you read on though is that I’m in no way, shape or form a seasoned commentator on politics. This is not a political commentary, it’s more of a behavioural commentary of politicians. And so, disclaimer over, I’ll get to my thoughts…
Pollsters made some tremendously bad predictions in the run-up to the 2015 UK General Election. A lot of my very smart friends, who have studied politics intensely for years, were miles off the beat as well. The weird thing for me, as a politics novice, was that the results of the election were pretty much exactly as I thought. I didn’t even need to guess, it seemed obvious exactly what was going to happen – okay maybe it was a bit of a guess and people will say that hindsight is always 20/20. But the pollsters and surrounding media have gone through rounds of introspection and research about it, drawing all sorts of different conclusions. But for me, I think the reason I was right and lots of other much smarter people than me were wrong, was that I was looking at completely different signals to the pollsters and political pundits. I think that more people should have been thinking about Bucky’s quote.
Not least, Ed Miliband and his campaign team.
What was the new model proposed by Ed Miliband’s campaign? I can’t think of anything at all that would constitute a new model for the UK in Labour’s 2015 vision. Ed Miliband’s entire election campaign centred around fighting the existing reality. It didn’t offer anything of its own. It didn’t have any character. Some people have said that it was a lack of clear communication, and while that’s probably true, what was there to communicate anyway? Not a lot. It basically boiled down to: “Vote for us, because we’re not Tory bastards or Lib Dem liars.”
It was doomed to fail from the start.
Do you know what else was doomed to fail from the start? And this is something I find more than a little difficult to swallow, given human lives will be lost because of it… The opposition to the airstrikes in Syria. The reality of that scenario was that we had already been airstriking IS in Iraq, and a number of our major allies had already begun airstriking IS in Syria itself. Contrary to how some may view it – the choice to extend our airstrikes in Syria wasn’t actually a change in policy from our point of view. It was going with the flow. Not airstriking Syria would have been a more significant change in policy. Jeremy Corbyn has a much better grasp of Bucky’s concept of change than Ed Miliband ever did, but he still failed badly when it came to that vote. It’s not all Corbyn’s fault though, although he should have been more mindful, then he might have raised rightful objections. Aside from the fact I disagree with airstrikes as a strategy to eradicate an ideology – that’s just my personal opinion. Here’s my major problem with the Commons vote… What were the choices our MPs voted for in the Commons on deciding action in Syria? Well, MPs could vote for:
Airstrikes against IS in Syria.
No action against IS in Syria.
What the actual f**k is that? Bucky’s teachings didn’t even get a chance. What was the alternative to airstrikes? Doing nothing? How about doing something else; something better? No, apparently not. That wasn’t even given a look in. Without sounding like a conspiracy nut, I’d almost view that particular vote as rigged, because the way it was conducted meant it was inevitable that the opposition would fail. People who heralded that vote as a victory for democracy need to educate themselves on false dilemmas.
Referendums of any kind need something special to dislodge the existing paradigm. In Bucky’s words, they need a new model that makes the old model obsolete. Scotland nearly managed it. The ‘Yes campaign’ actually did a pretty great job of articulating a new vision for Scotland. I suspect if they have another referendum in a few years they will actually achieve independence, so long as they stick to their guns.
Speaking of guns, now a brief trip across the pond. Bernie Sanders has swallowed Bucky’s advice on creating change hook, line and sinker. Despite being a 74 year old democratic socialist – the only socialist in the entire US Senate – Sanders is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Why? Who on Earth would vote for someone whom, if elected, would have passed their own life expectancy by the end of the first term in office? It doesn’t really make any sense… But it actually makes perfect sense when you listen to him talk – when you ‘feel the Bern‘ so to speak. Sanders is the only American politician in my memory who is actually proposing something genuinely new. He has captured the hearts and minds of people because, instead of tireless shots fired at the opposition (in this case the right-wing), he has focused on what he would change, he’s focused on developing and articulating a better model for America, a better model for Americans. It’s almost unthinkable that someone like Sanders could be POTUS, but there’s so much energy in his campaign. Despite the odds there’s still a glimmer of a chance. If someone more Presidency-friendly was behind the same campaign, they would be a run-away winner. But instead right now, Hilary Clinton is the default no-change option for the USA. Even Donald Trump’s bonkers gesturing stands a better chance than Hillary Clinton, because it promises (although stands absolutely zero chance of delivering) some kind of meaningful change.
So, this is my message to people working in politics, well Labour anyway because I don’t really want anyone else to win: Learn from Bucky. Learn from Scotland. Learn from Bernie Sanders. Maybe even learn a little from The Donald. You need to work on developing your concept for a new model for the UK. You need to state clearly what you will change and why. You simply cannot win just by fighting the Conservatives. I know this goes against a great tradition of Labour’s role in activism, but activism only works when you show what a new, better world could look like. Not just attacking your opponents. Get to it.