Book Number 18 is on its way. Number 17, Living Better, has been moved to the books section of the website, and ‘BUT WHAT CAN I DO?’ is now here on the front page … and though I say so myself, I think the central message is needed more than ever. It is that our politics is a mess, but we can change it. It does however require us to engage with rather than turn away from politics.
I chose that title, because it is a question I get asked so often, by people who know something is wrong, but don’t know how to help fix it. Who find politics inaccessible, incomprehensible even, and so turn away from it in frustration and disgust. Who feel that it is impossible to make a difference, so they stop trying. Who feel such a lack of connection with the top politicians paraded across the media the whole time that they assume there is no place in politics for ‘people like me.’ Who have so much struggle going on in their own lives that the thought of getting involved in politics seems overwhelming, or frankly pointless when the liars, chancers and charlatans seem to get away with so much.
But if good people walk away, the bad people win, because we leave the field wide open for them.
The book is part call to arms, part practical handbook.
I’ve written it in three parts. The first is an analysis of how we got to this state of affairs, with the global financial crisis a key moment, and the 3Ps of the modern age, populism, polarisation and post-truth politics, exploited by opportunistic politicians around the world to change the nature of political debate in a way that threatens to undermine democracy itself. Chapter 5, The Threat of Fascism, underlines how seriously I think we need to take the danger. Chapter 6, on the perils of disengagement, acts as a bridge to Part 2.
The second part is more about what we as individuals can do to address the problems that have made politics such a mess. I stress the importance of resisting cynicism. I try to dispel the myth that it is impossible for one person to make a difference. I highlight the importance of role models; the importance of confidence and optimism and how they can be developed; how to turn setback into opportunity, and how to develop resilience; how to develop a campaign mindset; what it means to be a leader, and a team player; what a strategy is, and how you develop and deliver them.
The third part is more about how to get your message across, how to campaign and, finally, how to get into politics. It is not the only way to change the world, but it remains one of the most important.
The populist leaders who have been dominant at home and abroad are a symptom of rotten politics and media cultures, as well as a cause. People with values, passion and real commitment to others are the cure. We must all do what we can to find such people, inspire them, build them up and get them into the political arena so they can deliver the massive kick up the backside it needs.
When I started writing it, Boris Johnson was in Downing Street. Two prime ministers later, the mess the country is in is greater than ever. But though the UK is the country I know best, I try to range far and wide in showing how the trends doing such damage to politics here are having a similar corrosive effect elsewhere. And while I do not hide my distaste for the Tories, I genuinely hope to offer ideas and insights that help people of all political persuasions and none, including those who are unsure what they believe in as yet. I hope, too, that current politicians read the book, and reflect that they, and the way they do politics, are a big part of the problem. They need to change, or be changed.
‘But what can I do?’ It’s the ‘but’ that signals the sense of powerlessness. So many people seem to be saying: ‘I really care, I want to make a difference, I just don’t know how to do it.’ There is so much fear and anger about the state we are in. Yet whenever I look at my inbox or visit a school or college, or chat to fellow passengers on a train or plane, I also sense so much energy, so much commitment, so much passion for better causes and ideas. I want to do my bit to help channel that somewhere good and positive. The book is part of that. It is out in May, can be pre-ordered now, and I hope you enjoy it. More than that, I hope it inspires you, whatever you do to engage in politics, to do more.