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01 March 2010

The Commons People

Written by Published in Issue 20 - Get Real Read 2418 times
The Commons People ©jimkillock

People have grown tired of politics. But there’s one young London independent who is determined to relight our fire

Like many people, I started the year not exactly looking forward to the UK elections. The mess that was Copenhagen paid testament to the lack of any real leadership in modern politics – a professionalised generation of technocrats looking on as the machine they served rumbled towards disaster. And honestly, UK politics has never looked less inspiring. We have Gordon Brown and his party, whose only remaining value is a dogged desperation to cling on to their jobs. We have a Conservative party who seem to stand for everything that is nasty, selfish and grasping in British society, and a Liberal Democrat party who represent all that is insipid. Ever since the Iraq war, I have voted for the Greens, who I love to bits, but I just don’t fancy them this time round.

Then, a month ago, I got an email from a young activist I know saying she was planning something ‘a bit different’ for this election. I met Tamsin Omond a few years ago at the Howies Do lectures. She was just 23, and planning a restaging of the suffragette march on Parliament for a stronger Climate Change Act and against the third runway at Heathrow. She reminded me of a 1930s woman aviator – an adventuring, tomboy sort of spirit. She’s a Cambridge graduate who was intending to train as an Anglican priest, but broke this off after attending Climate Camp and realising there was a world in crisis to save, or at least bring to its senses, first. Since then she has led Climate Rush on a national tour – the media high point of which was the dumping of horse manure on the lawn of Jeremy Clarkson (TV car show presenter and renowned climate-change denier).

Tamsin lives up the road from me, on the other side of Hampstead and Kilburn. It turns out she is running as an independent MP, which instantly solved my problem of who to vote for. I assumed she would stand on climate, which is fine by me, but it would only split the green vote. Tamsin, though, has a bigger vision. She wants to reinvent British politics, taking it back from the big, dinosaur parties and creating something that people can believe in again. In many ways it’s a return to the world of guilds and commons, pre-Industrial Revolution; a self-managing world where people are involved as citizens, not passive consumers. That style of self-organisation is also the hallmark of 21st-century digital societies, the reason Wired magazine recently called for the internet to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Barack Obama’s election campaign succeeded in self-organising, or crowd-sourcing, an election win. But then they slammed the door to participation shut, once they came to power. Tamsin wants to change the ‘in power’ bit, too, by creating an open democracy where the whole constituency is able to get involved in how she votes in Parliament and what questions she puts forward, like a massive and constantly open MP’s surgery. She also wants to play an active role in the community (our current MP lives on the other side of London). She grew up in the area, and has been working in old people’s homes, church programmes and community centres most of her life. Tamsin is planning to forego fat-cat expenses, and give between a third and half of her MP’s salary to local community causes.

By now, you may have guessed that when I heard what she had planned, it took me about a nanosecond to volunteer to help Tamsin with her campaign. But I’m coming at this with a slightly different mindset. Tamsin has a charismatic, almost childlike belief that she will get elected. And why not? I think it is doable (so much of the research for my new book Co-opportunity concerns similar processes and shifts). I’ve already found out that there are enough under-30s who don’t vote in this area of London alone to win a landslide. Not that Tamsin will stand just for ‘young people’. Rather, she will stand as a leader in the making who happens to be young, and who doesn’t give a stuff for the old career politics and parties.

Of course, we would have to create a thriving and enthusiastic bandwagon of young volunteers, and really sweep the area off its feet, to get the non-voters voting. But that’s second nature to Tamsin and her merry band of supporters.

The other key factor in this election is the social media. If Twitter can challenge the #iranelections, we certainly ought to be able to get something exciting going in a constituency of around 75,000 voters. Mainly by bringing a creative and fun approach to it all – the same spirit which led Tamsin to dress up as a suffragette to mark their 100th centenary of rushing Parliament. A growing group of creative people – developers, entertainers – many of whom live in the area and felt exactly as I did are joining up.

We will aim to get real-hit online content – things people actually want to watch and share – into circulation. We also want to get people out of their shells; let them start to have their say. The internet levels the playing field. It’s not just a medium, it’s an electrified crowd, something we reckon most other parties will struggle to understand.

All this could come across a bit like a stunt. But Tamsin is dead serious about being an MP, and re-establishing The Commons in the UK. If she gets in, there will be a ‘Tamsin’ standing in every seat in the next elections. It would be the start of something new, Gandhi-esque – where the people finally get involved in politics again from the grassroots up. My son Cosmo has been coming to some of The Commons meetings and asked me the other day, ‘What if she doesn’t win?’ But if any of this gets people thinking again about politics, and challenges the status quo, then that’s already winning. Although we are in it to win it, too.

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