Accidentally being part of a movement

QUITE by accident I am a man with one foot in the future. I discovered this in an article in last Sunday’s Observer, headlined “12 ideas that could help save the Labour party” (13 if you count scrawling out all memory of Ed Miliband, 14 if everyone promises never again to mention Ed Balls and 15 if the next Blairite in the room to suggest being more like the Tories is hit over the head with the Ed stone).

Anyway, I come in at number four. This isn’t boastful pride or anything. It is simply that I have become part of a social movement. Who knew that could happen?

Charles Leadbeater, who came up with the 12 ideas, says that Labour needs to “stand up for the social self, where the desire for individualism and choice meet an appetite for collaboration and sharing”.

And number four? That is the sharing economy and one of the platforms mentioned is Airbnb. In my non-collaborative life before redundancy, Airbnb was nothing more to me than a puzzling advert encountered at City Screen. In this a young woman was seen popping up all over the world while she nipped into other people’s houses in an odyssey of overnight stays. What on earth was all that about? Well now I know.

This summer of reinventing myself (as described here two days ago) has included a new role as a B&B host, thanks to the internet service Airbnb. We rent out our daughter’s bedroom to people who want to stay in York. And, yes, we have told her so she won’t be coming home from university to find a visitor in her bed.

Our house is on the website and anyone who wants to stay sends us an email through Airbnb. After that we decide whether to accept or decline their invitation. This week we are accommodating our sixth visitor in little over a month. Last week was particularly busy, with one visitor from Sunday night to Friday morning, then one night off. On the Saturday night we put up two young Japanese women, on the Sunday a young Chinese woman and her friend. O the Monday these visitors were replaced by our guest of the moment, who is in York to visit her postgraduate student son. Next weekend has been blocked off as a guest-free zone. The website lets you put up the equivalent of a “No vacancies” sign. We fancy a mini-break from guests, but we are enjoying the company of different strangers in our house.

In his Observer article, Charles Leadbeater says that Airbnb is “creating a relationally rich economy, which helps those with limited resources find better solutions”. Well, it’s funny how you can be part of the solution without having a clue.

Other suggestions in the article include diverting education away from teaching children to diligently deliver the right answer to instead preparing young people to be “adaptive, persistent, collaborative problem solvers, capable of coping with uncertainty with only limited resources”. That sounds exactly right for Labour or anyone else, instead of being locked into a sterile tussle over standards and university degrees for everyone.

There are other sound ideas, including the creation of a Fair City Movement, designed to ensure the development of cities doesn’t only benefit the highest paid. The article is worth seeking out online.

Sadly, such suggestions often float in on a raft of idealism, and then float back out again by the same means. Oliver House in York might be seen as an example, due to be sold by City of York Council to a builder of retirement homes, when one proposed ‘fair city’ solution had been a more creative one of a grassroots social housing group taking over the place. In the end money speaks, partly because that’s what money does, and partly because the system is set up that way.

Must dash, it’s nearly breakfast time.

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