Since writing this piece on Sunday, it’s been shared widely. I’ve since written a follow up on what the Citizen story would look like in practice, including links to an A-Z of organisations and individuals building this way of working. If you’d like to stay posted on my organisation, the New Citizenship Project, you can join our mailing list here.

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The immediate response to the government’s new Covid19 messaging has been a mixture of confusion and outrage. Commentators and academics seem bemused, the only possible explanation being that the government is incompetent.

But actually, I think it’s very deliberate — and if their ultimate goal is to retain power rather than save lives — very smart. …

I live in Sevenoaks, a constituency represented by Laura Trott, a Conservative MP. She is a woman with an impressive CV, formerly David Cameron’s Head of Strategic Communications. I first wrote to her in May after she failed to call for any action against Dominic Cummings.

UPDATE: Today, 8th November, the Conservative government performed yet another u-turn (BBC report here) on this issue, creating a £400m fund to support families through 2021. This despite Ms Trott’s insistence failure to challenge them, and her insistence to us, her constituents, in her newsletter and on Facebook that there was no problem.

Dear Ms…

After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (now famously Trump’s attorney) issued a call to all Americans. “Show your confidence. Show you’re not afraid. Go to restaurants. Go shopping.”

President George W Bush took the message on, world leaders followed, Tony Blair included. Consumption fast became the great contribution we could all make, to show we were unbowed and unafraid. Consumption was patriotism, westernism, anti-terrorism.

It worked. Media energy had been starting to gravitate towards awkward questions: why were there not better preparations for terrorist attack, given one was widely anticipated? Why did so many firefighters die, and did they need to? What could have been different, and what could be learned? All these were sidelined. An economy that had been slipping towards recession recovered. …

This is the talk I delivered at TEDxCardiff on 1st March 2020, a date that now seems a lifetime ago, but a message that I think and hope has only become more relevant. To be honest, when I gave this talk, I was not feeling at my best: I am probably (and guiltily) in better spirits now, as the future feels much more up for grabs now than it did then. I have written more about that here, and am now fully absorbed in working on the future we as Citizens could claim in this time.

I started my working life at 151 Marylebone Road in London, the offices of the advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, on September 25th 2003, two years and two weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center. …

In today’s Guardian, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says he wants a citywide conversation in response to the toppling of the Edward Colston statue.

I love this idea — and I’d love to think we could “stand under” (as my Bristol friend Liz Zeidler puts it), and help someone like Marvin really lead change. We’ve been working for a while on how a government might put together the various participatory processes and technologies that are out there to create stages of a conversation that would actually go somewhere. It feels like something like this could really help here.

We call it RAPID Democracy, because we’ve stolen with pride from Bain’s RAPID model for corporate decision making. The diagram they use is below, and there’s a little more on the theory of how the model applies to democracy here. …

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In Subject, Consumer, Citizen: Three Post-Covid Futures, we set out our understanding of this as a crucible moment, in which the story that dominates and defines the next phase of our lives is up for grabs. This could be the time in which a truly participatory future takes shape. Since sharing that view, we’ve been working to understand what the most important intervention points might be in making sure it is — and it’s become clear to us that local government is as crucial as any.

The surge in community spirit and action through Mutual Aid groups and other such initiatives is perhaps the most significant green shoot of this Citizen future. Local authorities have a vital role in nurturing and building it and could themselves flourish by doing so; or they could become the point at which this eruption of civic will is snuffed out, and likely continue to suffer themselves in the process. …

Update: Ms Trott’s response (a blanket sent in response to all similar contacts) is pasted in the responses below. I consider it to be far short of satisfactory and have been exploring routes to follow up. I would recommend contributing to the CrowdJustice campaign to reopen police investigations led by former Senior Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal; I have contributed.

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I live in Sevenoaks, a constituency with a Conservative MP who has so far backed Dominic Cummings. She is a woman with an impressive CV, formerly David Cameron’s Head of Strategic Communications. …

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Original photo location:

The evening news tonight will break from the latest Covid updates to look to China, and to Hong Kong. The Chinese government is moving to crush the localised democracy that has existed in Hong Kong under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework that came into place after the British left in 1997.

This will be portrayed as being outside of Covid; as happening on the other side of the world, albeit with a particular British interest; and probably, it will be portrayed as somewhat inevitable.

But actually, what is happening in Hong Kong today is absolutely happening because of Covid, and it matters because we are all Hong Kong right now. Nothing is inevitable in this time; we all have a part to play; and this is a wake up call. …

Two surprising things happened on Sunday. First, Boris Johnson changed the government message. Then the post I wrote in response went viral (it has now been read over half a million times). The diagnosis, which was rooted in the work we’ve been doing at New Citizenship Project since 2014, clearly resonated. So let me see if I can keep being useful…

On Sunday, I made the case that Johnson was shifting from the Subject story, in which the government had aimed to position itself as the rescuing hero, to the Consumer story, where the role of government is to step back and let us make the choices. …

What if I told you there was a country of 23 million people that had pretty much got Covid-19 sorted?

A country that had had just 6 deaths and 429 confirmed cases as of April 30th, despite the first of those cases being confirmed on January 21st, almost six weeks before the UK.

A country that had figured out how to do tracking and tracing in a way that was compatible with privacy concerns, and even increased the ability of citizens to hold their government to account.

A country that was right at the leading edge globally in the development of both tests and vaccines. …


Jon Alexander

activist / strategist / citizen / co-founder @NewCitProj / fellow @the_young_fdn @theRSAorg / member @CompassOffice @soclibforum

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