Localism: Coming to Cheltenham and a town near you | Factor 3 blog

Localism: Coming to Cheltenham and a town near you

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Funny isn’t it how ideas and thoughts that appear random can coalesce to form a new strand of thinking.

It began with a feature piece from the Sunday Times on the plight of the middle class, edited extract of which follows.

If we need an economy that actively supports comfortable, secure, independent lives for the mass of the population, and which does not encourage a hurricane of speculation to drive out everything we value about family and community life, the middle classes have to create it themselves – not by waiting around for the government to act or for the Chinese to invest, but by going out there and starting the businesses we need.

The middle classes need to be at the heart of a movement that uses local assets – land, energy and people – to rebuild local production and some measure of independence. We need new businesses to provide for our needs, new financial institutions, capable of underpinning the businesses, and new infrastructure to provide us with energy in a resource-constrained world.

It can be done. Bridport in Dorset is an unlikely place to choose as the capital of a resurgent entrepreneurial culture, but Dorset has one of the highest levels of self-employment anywhere in the country – plus the Wessex Reinvestment Trust, designed to use local savings to lend to local businesses. Go to Bridport and you will find a bustling town centre with market stalls, tea shops and butchers, delicatessens and bakers. It is no clone town but home to successful food companies such as Dorset Cereals, Organix and Olives.

The new middle classes’ spirit of entrepreneurialism needs to go beyond just starting businesses and embrace starting more new schools, inside and outside the state system and straddling the two. Finessing a place for their own child in a good school is not enough – it increases the sense of panic for everyone else.

And it is impossible to imagine a widespread, comfortable middle class if it takes on the task of paying for the infrastructure we all depend on with its taxes while the corporate world and the global elite do not. The middle classes need to use their political muscle to close tax havens, but also to use their economic muscle against the growing power of monopoly – by putting our spending money, as far as we can, with the human-scale, tax-paying businesses that we need.

So this is a call to action for the middle classes. They will have to create the businesses and institutions capable of clawing back some kind of future for a civilised life. They will have to take on the monopolies and the new elite, and create financial institutions they need to drive a new entrepreneurial culture – one capable of providing them with pensions and homes and all those other necessities for a civilised life. They are also going to have to do so not just for their own comfort but on behalf of everyone else.

The middle classes can no longer trust their existing institutions, political or financial, to look after their interests, because they are dedicated to looking after the interests of a different class altogether.

A political battle lies ahead, but also a practical one – and we are going to have to inoculate the new generation with the tools they will need to make the best of middle-class life possible in the future.

© David Boyle 2013

Extracted from Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes? To be published by Fourth Estate on April 25 at £14.99

Fascinating insight or socioeconomic tosh but it did chime with some other strands of thought. First were two talks at the Cheltenham Design Festival from Richard Seymour and Fred Deakin who, amongst many fascinating insights, identified a move to a new working model which is more collaborative, less dictatorial and a lot less linear – driven by digital, by the atomization of people’s communication networks and new models of engagement replacing broadcast media channels. We need to revise the way we work and think was the message.

Next my son. A fashion graduate from Kingston, he applied for menswear designer roles to get a ‘proper job’ because that’s the recognised, middle class way.

Having ‘failed’ at that he’s had the entrepreneurial spark to go his own way, create his own brand, find domestic suppliers and find support that’s local and aligned, from photographers and manufacturers to seamstresses and web designers.

At first this seemed the only way but now I’m thinking it’s actually a better way, not just for my son Ben (follow his progress at @BeeClothing) but for all of us.

Instead of complaining about the structure we seem to pay to support but not benefit from, like the banks, let’s collectively find a way round them that works for us and our communities. Factor 3 is looking into peer to peer lending as we speak to see if we can help local businesses in Cheltenham prosper beyond providing marketing services.

The small society has arrived.

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