Thursday, 13 May 2010

Welcome to the Unofficial Ministry of Practical Political Education

We accept David Cameron’s invitation to join the Government of Britain as an Unofficial Ministry of Practical Political Education (UMOPPE, may be pronounced umph). The Ministry will not take any party line, but will be guided by Nolan’s seven principles of public life as essential elements of practical politics: accountability, honesty, integrity, leadership, objectivity, openness and selflessness , as well as the six principles of practical political education:

1. pragmatic: start from where people are and help them achieve what they want;

2. pluralistic in funding, forms of provision, content and values

3. participative to develop confidence, communication skills and critical thinking

4. practical, to include techniques, knowledge and analysis relevant to active politics

5. peaceful: all violence is a failure of politics

6. pro-poor: prioritise provision for individuals and areas on low incomes.

Society benefits from effective participation by all citizens in the political process. When some groups are excluded or neglected, their difficulities may become a burden on society or erupt in violence. The better off can pay for lobbyists, campaigners and pressure groups to promote their interests, but the poor, marginalised and disaffected also need an effective voice. Learning how to organise as citizens and influence decision is therefore essential for a truly democratic society.

David Cameron has said he will be honest about what government can achieve and that “real change comes when the people are inspired and mobilised, when millions are fired up to play a part in the nation’s future.”

People are more likely to be fired up when there is hope and real potential to make a difference, or when there is anger, a sense of injustice.

Three simple things which government can do to enable people to mobilise effectively are to:
  1. encourage and fund adult, community, further and informal education providers to run accessible and affordable practical political education so that all citizens can understand how the system works, get their voice heard and influence decisions;
  2. support community organisations, learning providers and local authorities set up local, independent ‘democracy hubs’ to provide information, training and support for effective participation in decision-making at all levels (thus carrying out the Duty to Promote Democracy in a more creative and cost effective ways);
  3. encourage all civil servants to become “civic servants”, in the words of the Conservative Party manifesto, so that they can respond positively to challenges from citizens and provide independent, impartial advice on how citizens can influence the political process better.

We welcome David Cameron’s letter to the Democracy Matters Alliance at the start of the election, and we will following this up with national and local government in due course (watch this space).

Meanwhile, I suggest three priorities for civil society and community educators over the coming year:

  1. find creative and imaginative ways of helping local communities and vulnerable groups to really understand what’s happening and learn how to influence decisions about spending, saving, taxation and innovation in services that concern them; 
  2. work together to share experience, skills, knowledge and learning materials to improve practical political education, using this website as a resource centre;  
  3. re-think assumptions and pre-conceptions and look carefully at what is actually happening, listen carefully to what people are actually feeling; and study how our global political economy actually works, in your local area, region or nation, the UK, Europe and across the world.
The UK is the world’s sixth richest country. It is not short of money. We spend more on pets and entertainment than most countries can spend on food, health care and education. The question is, how do we as a society create wealth, raise taxes and distribute income in ways that everyone can flourish without wasting our planet. These are difficult political questions, about which all citizens can have a say.

This Unofficial Ministry of Practical Political Education has no paid staff, head quarters, budgets or targets. We rely on the collective effort and inspiration of our members to make things happen – with added umph. But we are very happy to be an unruly and responsible part of the Government of Britain.

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