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The Power Now Project was conceived in late 2019, as a collaboration between Compass and Labour Together, to explore the potential, opportunities and concerns around ‘new power’.
From the dark days of the first lockdown and throughout the past two years, we have been meeting on Zoom, in virtual seminars, workshops and one-to-one conversations, bringing together people with very different perspectives – academics, politicians, tech-specialists, activists, community organisers and front-line workers – to explore how people experience ‘power now’ and how it might offer a better way of governing.
These workshops spawned other working groups and learning communities and a spate of creative papers and articles. Colin Millar and Matt Scott led a working group on how power is experienced in places and contributed several papers; David Robinson from the Relationships Project and Iona Lawrence led a session on relationships; Hannah O’Rourke and Sue Goss authored a Compass paper on the Labour Party and New Power, while further papers were contributed by the likes of Sean Loughlin and John Denham.
We followed up this activity with interviews and conversations, tracking down examples of good practice and people with first-hand wisdom to offer. A regular email newsletter looked at how organisations at every level are exploring new forms of power and practice. Through this process of listening to many wise heads, we have absorbed many different ideas, not all entirely compatible, but almost all drawing on some shared values and pointing in the same broad direction. A consensus is emerging about the need to connect the energy and creativity of ‘new power’ movements with the strengthening and deepening of our formal democratic institutions. We are convinced that more fluid, open and trusting relationships between citizens, communities and government is a critical part of a sustainable and more equitable future.
Our immediate audience is the Labour Party and its members, officers, representatives, politicians locally and nationally and Shadow Ministers, because as the single biggest force on the progressive side of politics, we need them to take part in this shift of thinking and practice that exploring new power entails. But we are also wanting to speak to the wider group of civil society institutions, community groups and activists that are engaged in doing politics in more open and creative ways.
Some of the ideas in this book are not new – they have been accumulating over the past few decades and build on previous generations – but they bear repeating as they offer truths that must be heeded by any future progressive government. This is not a manifesto or a policy paper but a starting point, the beginning of a conversation we are all eager to continue.