The Return of the Public Meeting & Pamphlet

08 Pettifor

A few weeks ago I arrived at The World Transformed festival with a hell of a lot of pamphlets – 14 boxes, each containing one of the titles that together form the New Thinking for the British Economy series. The series itself had been commissioned and edited by Laurie Macfarlane of openDemocracyUK over the summer, and the whole collection can be downloaded as a free ebook from the openDemocracy site here.

I knew that Laurie had put some inspiring writers to work on developing plans for a new way of doing economics in the UK . Each title stood alone, and together they formed a treasury of proposals for reforms to the UK political economy. So I found myself arguing some time in August, digital technology is all very well, but wouldn’t the pieces make more of an impact, have more of a presence, if they were also available in print? And  might people pay a little for such riches?

And so there I was, after some generous help from the Democracy Collaborative, with a carload of pamphlets, and a vague sense that people who go to speaker meetings might be willing to part with £1 to take away a pamphlet by the speaker, or another piece on a similar topic, or something else that looked interesting.

With help from Laurie Macfarlane himself, his colleague at openDemocracy, Adam Ramsay, and Sarah McKinley of the Democracy Collaborative, we sold the best part of a thousand pamphlets over the course of the festival. Given that we didn’t really get going until the Sunday, and we were all busy with other things, this was pretty good going.

When we were in place at the end of a talk with a pamphlet by the speaker, or speakers, we found that around 30-40% of the audience would buy a copy. Hardly anyone who wanted one was put off by the idea of paying a pound for it.

As Labour and The World Transformed ramps up their programme of political education, here is a tested way to help cover the costs of organizing a single public meeting, or of a festival. If you want to organize an event on the current shambles in banking and how to fix it, you can invite Christine Berry and Ann Pettifor to come and give a talk. At the end, you can leap out at the exiting crowds and sell them some pamphlets.

Or you can ask Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn Langton to make a presentation on platform capitalism, and the possibilities for socialist intervention in the tech sector. How about Johnna Montgomerie and Laurie Macfarlane on the rising tide of household debt, and what to do about it? Or Adam Ramsay on the need for a new constitution? Susan Himmelweit on creating a new economy of care?

Organizers can buy the titles at a very steep discount, and sell them at informal events beforehand as well as after the talks. You can use them to start conversations in the workplace and the pub. You can leave the ones you don’t sell on public transport, or give them to your friends and neighbours.

There’s a hunger for new thinking out there, and the BBC and the newspapers aren’t that good at sharing it. And while social media can help, these are platforms we don’t control and can’t rely on.

Download the free ebook and have a read. If you think a particular topic would make a good event in your area, get in touch with me on Twitter, or via the Commonwealth website. I will try my best to help make the event a success, put you in touch with authors, and make sure you have pamphlets to sell.

This is the full list of titles:

  1. Towards a People’s Banking System – Christine Berry
  2. Democratic Ownership – Andrew Cumbers and Thomas M. Hanna
  3. Building Digital Plenty – Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn Langton
  4. Building a Wellbeing Economy – Katherine Trebeck
  5. Transforming Care – Susan Himmelweit
  6. Industrial Policy – Craig Berry
  7. A Progressive Vision for Trade – Ruth Bergan
  8. Financial Globalisation and Capital Mobility – Ann Pettifor
  9. Curbing the Debt Economy – Johnna Montgomery
  10. Work and Free Time – Will Stronge
  11. Media Democracy – Dan Hind and Tom Mills
  12. ‘Race’ and Racism in the UK – Maya Goodfellow
  13. Trying to Milk a Vulture: A New Vision for the UK Constitution – Adam Ramsay
  14. Beyond the Property Owning Democracy – Laurie Macfarlane