Why I'm Trying to Start a National Conversation - About Politics

17/10/2012 08:14 BST | Updated 16/12/2012 10:12 GMT

Today - with some friends - I am launching an experiment in democracy called the National Conversation. Here, I want to give you a behind the scenes view on the campaign as we roll it out. As I say, this is an experiment. You'll be the first to find out what we are learning.

The idea for the National Conversation grew from a number of boozy late night chats towards the end of last year. Again and again - and whatever our political allegiances - we were finding ourselves return to the same theme: politics had turned into a cozy closed shop. It was something that happened in a bubble around Westminster and had less and less relevance to people's lives.

We weren't the only ones thinking that way: at the start of the year a YouGov survey found that 15% of people believed MPs did not represent their wishes or interests. Which is a problem in a representative democracy.

Just as people were losing faith in Westminter politics, we saw a parallel collapse in confidence in the country's leading institutions. First to go was parliament, in the expenses and cash for access scandals. Then came the banking crisis and the LIBOR scandal. Then the Leveson Inquiry saw the press smeared. And in the last few days we see even the BBC come under scrutiny.

So those are the negatives. But those of us who came together to start the National Conversation also had more positive influences. The Occupy movement - exactly a year old yesterday - gave us a sense that politics could be lively and relevant. We didn't all agree with Occupy's politics: but we felt that, even accidentally, this protest had touched on something important.

The irresistible energy around the Olympics and Paralympics also spoke to us. London was a brilliant place to be over the summer: and this optimistic spirit leaked into National Conversation (I think that explains our unofficial slogan Cynicism is Evil!).

We don't believe Westminster politics is broken beyond repair. We are pro-politics and pro-people. We believe we can help mend the gap between parliament and the country. And we believe the National Conversation is the way to do it.

Over the next week we are going put to our optimism put to the test. From today, we're organising a range of face-to-face and online activities to bring people together for grown-up conversations about the future of the welfare state.

Some of these conversations will be quite traditional in format, such as the York Conversation. This will see 30 people come together on Thursday night for a face-to-face conversation moderated by Claire Fox from the Institute (and Battle) of Ideas.

Other conversations are more unusual. On Wednesday, we'll be using Lego to help people explore their ideas about politics and the future. It's different - but we think it will work and we've got experts from a company called Change the Conversation to make it happen.

Tonight - and next Tuesday - we'll also be trying to make meaningful conversations happen over the web. Mick Fealty - the brains behind Slugger O'Toole (one of the UK and Ireland's most influential online political forums) - will host these National Conversation 'moots'. His goal is that these Moots will give people access to real and powerful conversations - and all from the comfort of their laptop.

By tomorrow morning we'll have been able to digest the first pieces of press coverage. With hope, we will understand better whether the country really is ready for a National Conversation. Fingers crossed...