The Practical Democracy Podcast. A podcast about practical change, with guests from public bodies and civil society.

Episode 9: Conservative Anarchism & Social Movements

Featuring: Simon Parker, Director of Strategy at the London Borough of Redbridge

Simon and host Ben Fowkes discuss 'Conservative anarchism, self-organisation and the future of government'. There's also some 90s nostalgia and even a bit of singing.

Simon Parker is the Corporate Director of Strategy at the London Borough of Redbridge Council, and something of a local government expert. His current job is the latest posting of a colourful and varied career in and around local governance, which has included positions as a journalist, director of the New Local Government Network, and a fellow at the Institute for Government.

Read Simon's 'Conservative anarchism here. Simon and Ben also discuss Self-organisation and the future of government', and what his vision for the future of local governance might look like. There's also some 90s nostalgia and even a bit of singing thrown in.

Episode 9 transcript

Here's a rough breakdown of timings:

00:00 Introduction

Simon talks and sings (!) us through his colourful career, including leading a think tank and a stint in local radio, and introduces his latest article, which has gained him A Fan.

7:43 On ‘the zombie ideology’ and its racist origins

Simon talks about ‘public management’, a way of running local government formed on the assumption that public servants are only in it for themselves. Public management involves extremely heavy monitoring and arbitrary targets, which necessitates central government clawing back control over an organisation and removing its autonomy. He discusses the ideology’s surprisingly dark origin story and its intrinsic links with neoliberalism. 

17:36 On staying hopeful and the real Lord of the Flies

Simon believes people are better than public management would have us believe. Our superpower is our ability to cooperate, but treating people as though they’re b****rds will wind up creating b****rd behaviour! He talks about some popular stories/experiments of human evilness that have since been debunked.

23:30 On systems thinking, service design, and how to fix the housing crisis

Service design, agile methodology and systems thinking are all the antithesis of public management. Simon discusses the benefits and limitations of agile and service design, and how systems thinking can fill those gaps. He talks about some of his work at Redbridge Borough Council and how that ‘big picture’ thinking can give holistic solutions to problems, rather than just treating symptoms.

35:32: On conservative anarchism and what a public service should look like

Simon talks us through his interpretation of conservative anarchism, a term coined by Taiwan's digital minister Audrey Tang, and what lessons we can learn from the Occupy movement when designing a new public service. He reckons it should be a lot less ‘top-down’ and a lot more ‘governing by consensus’, similar to what the Taiwanese government did with their deliberation platform

43:05 *90’s nostalgia interstitial*

  • Should Simon change his name to Brett or Darryl?
  • The 90s resurgence continues!
  • The secret behind Kelley Jones’ (from Stereophonics) massive guitar!

48:30 Right, back to it then: on a new world order

Simon advocates for a state that’s similar to a social movement, with crowdsourced and democratised processes. An example of what that could involve is Redbridge’s Climate Budget Simulator: a way of making decisions that brings people along with it and helps them understand the complexities of governance. In a ‘conservative anarchist’ state, communities would own and operate more services, with government acting as a facilitator for a state that’s self-organised on a local level.

59:30 Wrap-up and shoutouts

Some book and podcast recommendations, a lovely shoutout to Simon’s team at Redbridge, and some thoughts from Ben’s dad. Thanks, Ben’s dad.

Follow Simon on Twitter and check out more of his writing on Medium.