FOR those of us who believe in an open, tolerant Britain, 2016 has been a depressing year.
Most shocking of all was the death of Jo Cox, a dedicated MP, killed while serving her constituents.
Decent people have been appalled by accusations of bullying and intimidation in the Labour party.
And regardless of how you voted in the European referendum, the rise in racial attacks and anti-immigrant rhetoric which followed it has been very worrying, to say the least.
Faced with this, it’s easy to become despondent, even despairing, about where the country’s heading.
Yet this week a new initiative started which might, just might, pave the way towards a brighter future.
At its heart is a very simple idea – that there is more that unites us than divides us. It’s an idea which Jo Cox expressed in her maiden speech when she was elected to Parliament for Batley & Spen in 2010.
Millions of us believe in a fair, modern, efficient market-based economy that closes the gap between rich and poor and supports strong public services.
We want a modern democracy that empowers citizens, rather than politicians. We worry about climate change and want a green economy that works to reverse it and protects the environment.
And we long to live in an open and tolerant society where diversity is celebrated in all its forms.
But, right now, it feels like the political system in this country ignores us and that moderate, progressive voices aren’t being heard.
Part of the problem is that the way the main parties are funded means they don’t listen – or can’t hear – the millions of ordinary voters who think like us.
So, rather than just sit around moaning, individuals like the tech-entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox and the historian Dan Snow have decided to do something about it.
We’ve launched MoreUnited.uk. It’s a new type of movement, one which aims to harness the power of the internet to bring people together, who share our values and want to provide a counter-weight to the forces in British politics which pull it to the extremes of left and right.
Here’s how it works. Using crowdfunding, we think we can transform the way politics is funded, making it easier for moderate, progressive MPs to get elected and creating a new centre of political gravity in the UK.
It doesn’t matter what party a candidate is from – or whether they’re standing for a party at all.
If they sign up to our principles – and they’ve got a chance to win against a candidate that doesn’t – we can help them, by providing funding and human support. If there are two candidates signed up to MoreUnited.uk’s principles beliefs in one parliamentary seat, our members will have final say over how we support them.
Some friends have asked: Is this a new political party? Absolutely not. We’ll never run candidates under our own banner. We welcome people from all parties and none who support the same things that we do. Any UK voter or UK based organisation can join. Even if you’re already a member of a political party.
We want to create diverse organisation that reflects modern Britain.
But we’re certainly a new way of making politics more responsive to ordinary people, who care about the kind of country we become, and who want their voices to be heard.
It’s early days – but the initial response has been phenomenal. Nearly 16,000 signed up to show their support in the first 24 hours. In September, if enough people have got on board, we’ll move to our next phase and begin fundraising.
So, if you share our fears, and our hopes, for our country’s future, this is no time to despair, it’s time to act. We don’t have to leave it to the politicians or the political parties.
We can make our voice heard and our country better if we unite.
Paddy Ashdown is the former leader of the Lib Dems and Jeremy Bliss is a lawyer and entrepreneur. They are founding members of MoreUnited.uk