#idebate ? #idespair as #Manchester “future politics” event puts #climate in #memoryhole

istudentsdebate#iblame the parents. And the journalists. And, maybe just a bit – the kids.

For what, you ask?

For their utter (almost wilful) blindness to the numbers that matter. The numbers are not the turn-out at the Manchester Central bye-election last year (18%, since you ask, a level lower than anything since the middle of the war). The numbers aren’t the paleness, staleness and maleness, of the House of Commons, nor the House of Lords gerontocracy . The numbers aren’t even the low low numbers of 18-24 year-olds who vote (44%, less for females).

What the hell are the numbers, then? Well, the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (nudging 400, heading inexorably upwards). The number of MPs able to articulate a way out of this horrorshow (close to zero). And the chances of avoiding rapid and catastrophic climate change (closer to zero than Caroline Lucas’s chances of being joined by another Green in 2015).

Yeah, those numbers.

In over an hour of “#idebate”, with a stale format allegedly made down wiv da kids by a twitter feed on the big screen behind the four panellists and their compère, these latter numbers never got an outing. There was a single glancing reference to “environmental crisis” by Owen Jones, at the very end of the event.

That’s extra-ordinary at an event that – big picture – is about how young people are getting screwed over and what they can hope for from the future.

Four-hundred and twenty young’uns (and token #oldfarts like me and a Labour councillor hopeful – hi Mandy!) heard from 5 people, all of whom write for the Utterlydependent and/or its tabloidesque mcnuggets paper, the “i”.

At the outset the chair reffed various issues (youth unemployment, housing etc). And that nearby is St Peters Field, site of the Peterloo massacre (I think there’s a secret rule that says this must be mentioned at any political event in Manchester).

The four speakers introduced themselves laid out their stalls (two saying “don’t vote, but do other stuff.” The other two saying “vote, and do other stuff”). Each was supposed to do this for “two minutes” but this was loosely interpreted, especially by the first speaker, Amol Rajan, the editor of the Indie. Clearly starved of an outlet for his views, he ended up – through the course of the evening – taking up pretty much as much time as the other three panellists combined.

None of the four seemed worried that everyone was basically ego-fodder, and that energy levels sank through the course of the “debate”. Energy levels picked up near the end when the chair asked for a few shows of hands (“who would stand as an MP?” “why/why not?”)

None of the four panellists raised the issue that will dominate the adulthood and senescence of the 400 people in the room – the clash between ecological limits and the inevitable (?) and insatiable need for growth by our economies. (aka “suicide machines”).

Questions were pitched and caught on the usual stuff – compulsory politics lessons, disengagement, policy convergence, technology (that Cameron photo got a mention).

Owen Jones pointed out that proportional representation leads to horse-trading and coalition governments. He could have paraphrased Orwell- “Imagine Nick Clegg, stamping on a student face. Forever.” Maybe he will in the second edition of his new book (out soon) “The Establishment and how they get away with it.” You can have that one for free, Owen.

The best trick the devil ever played…
The “C” word never got spoken. Which one? There are so many. In this instance, capitalism. We should be dewey-eyed about this sort of thing. And by that, I mean John Dewey, the American philosopher –

  • As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.
    • Quoted in John Dewey and American Democracy by Robert Westbrook (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 440; cited in Understanding Power (2002) by Noam Chomsky, ch. 9, footnote 16; originally from “The Need for a New Party” (1931) by John Dewey, Later Works 6, p. 163. (Via Westbrook.)


What could easily have been done differently.
Get people talking to each other before the main event (“turn to the person behind you..”)
Get people talking to different each others before the q and a kicks in.
Crowd source the 2 minute limit by giving the speakers the clap they so richly deserve.
As per podcast suggestion – Have voting gadgets through the event (I am sure the Lord Mayor of Manchester will give a demonstration on how to use them)

Reasons to be cheerful
It was free
We were spared the spectacle of Johann Hari.
#i got to try to monkey-wrench the “vote” at the end, where you were supposed to hold up either a picture of Russell Brand (you know, the video) or “iVote”. #i scrawled “Guardian” on the back of mine, even though #i am an FT man. They’ll airbrush it out. (Last time I tried to monkey-wrench an Indie photo-op was back in 2006, with Drax in the background. So little has changed since then. (No, actually, we have gone backwards.) And the real danger is that – in the run-up to Paris 2015 – the climate movement will “recover”. And that the story it will tell itself of its previous failure is that it was the (undercover) cops; fault. Or the COPS‘ fault. Or the media’s. Or Westminster’s.  And we will repeat the same old mistakes.  Watch this space.


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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