How might we have better conversations?


York Big Ideas Festival report 5 (BETTER CULTURE AND CONVERSATIONS)

View the other York Big Ideas Festival reports HERE.

Chair: Adela Suliman, breaking news reporter, Washington Post


  • Tim Bale, Professor of Politics, Queen Mary’s College.
  • Claire Ainsley, director of the Progressive Policy Institute, former policy director to Keir Starmer,
  • Claire Hazelgrove, former Labour general election candidate for Skipton & Ripon and a Radix Big Tent board member.

We now live in a polarised society, even further distanced from unifying, open and informed political conversations by Brexit, (“would you like your daughter to marry a remainer?”)

Further, the big issues we face, such as climate change, are too overwhelming for many of us to see what to do or to know what to talk about.

Claire Ainsley felt that better political conversations were prevented because the working class are poorly represented in person in Westminster and that – in the way parliament conducts itself – there are few rewards for politicians to come to solutions together. What rewards are there are for those who won’t follow the party line?

The infrastructure around mainstream politics is weak and there is a lack of collaboration, such as between politicians and academia. Some voices are magnified and others are reduced and the media confirms the views of its owners daily.

Some of the panel questioned whether the media has the influence over people we think it does. People’s views may well be more nuanced than we think and everyday lived experiences more real to people than we imagine them to be. Their connection with others enables people to see past the stereotypes portrayed by tabloids.

That said, wealthy and powerful forces are deliberately trying to manipulate public opinion and to take control of the public narrative. (See the AI based “Life under Biden” campaign film by Trump supporters.)

Members of the audience raised the question again of how can we have better conversations unless everyone is sitting at the table? It does not help if we of sanitise our conversations – “it is difficult to talk about race with people who do not look like me,” said one.

The real challenge is to talk to those who do not engage in politics at all. To do this we need a wider section of people in parliament. And not symbolic representation but substantive representation.

Proportional Representation (PR) is seen as one solution, but – as Tim Bale said – “for PR to come in we would probably need a referendum. If so, who would lead us down that route?” 

He added that ‘compulsory voting’ could lead to better political conversations by involving young people more and combatting under representation. It might tease us out of our corners.         

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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