On the SIMPOL initiative (2): interview with the founder John Bunzl

We presented the International Simultaneous Policy Organization as P2P Movement of the Day on October 8.

Interview of John Bunzl, conducted by PCDN’s Maha Hilal :

On Simpol

* Can you talk about the concept of Simpol and talk about the types of policies that fit within the Simpol purview?

Sure. The whole idea of the Simultaneous Policy (Simpol), is all or sufficient nations implementing policies simultaneously. The whole idea, then, is to break this vicious circle of destructive international competition.

The kind of policies that could be included in Simpol’s range of policy measures is actually incredibly broad. In principle, it could include any policy that’s desirable, but which a single nation or a restricted group of nations like the EU cannot implement for fear it would make its economy uncompetitive. That could include policies to solve climate change, Tobin tax, corporate regulation, corporate tax, regulation of the financial system, and so on. In fact, Simpol could include just about everything the global justice movement is calling for.

In fact it’s because the movement has not spotted the vicious circle of destructive international competition, and so has not developed any response to it, which explains why it has not been successful. Because, without simultaneous action, no really substantive reform is possible. So Simpol, potentially, could be a global movement builder in that respect—if NGOs and others start thinking world-centrically. But anyway, that’s just the policy side of Simpol.

The other side is how you actually get all those policies implemented? And this is where I think Simpol is really exciting. Because, when citizens sign on to the Simpol campaign, they write to their Member of Parliament or Congressman or, at election time, to all the competing candidates of all parties, saying to them: “I’m going to be voting in future elections for ANY politician or party – within reason – that signs up to Simpol. Or, if I have a party preference, I want my party to sign up to it”.

Now, the point about saying “ANY” is incredibly powerful because there are many congressional and parliamentary seats, and even entire national elections, now being won or lost on very low numbers. And that means it won’t take many citizens supporting Simpol to make it in the vital electoral interests of all politicians to support the campaign.
Indeed, elections are often on a knife-edge because it doesn’t make much difference anymore who you vote for. Why? Because all politicians in power, of whatever party, have no choice but to keep their economies competitive! The result is what I call “pseudo-democracy”: we still have the mechanics of free and fair elections, but it doesn’t mean much anymore, because whoever gets in, they all have to implement pretty much the same policies. So even if you voted in the Green Party, it would have to abandon most of its cherished policies because they would inevitably cost business more and so make the U.S. economy uncompetitive.

So that’s why, with Simpol, a relatively small number of citizens can have a huge impact. They can turn the tables 180 degrees, firstly by making their own global policy agenda – an agenda we’re calling the Simultaneous Policy – and by telling politicians that we’ll be voting for ANY politician or party – within reason – that signs up to Simpol.

Using that process, at the last general election here in the UK, a tiny number of us who were active on Simpol got 200 candidates from all parties to sign up and, of those, 24 are now sitting in parliament. The number of us it took to do this was, maybe just 5! In some parliamentary electoral areas, we actually got all three main competing candidates—Labor, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat—to sign up. So whichever one got into parliament, we won! So, in a way, you could say we’re turning the whole political system on its head. We’re actually turbo-charging party-political competition to produce its very opposite: global cooperation. The leverage we have is incredible.

I’ll give you another example: in one electoral area, in the West of England, the sitting Conservative MP at the previous election, had won the seat by just 150 votes. Then, at the last election, one of our supporters wrote to him and said, “I’ll be voting for ANY politician or party, within reason, that signs up to Simpol”.

Now, you can kind of imagine what went through the politician’s mind. He probably thought, “Holy cow, if there’s a few more of these Simpol supporters in my constituency that I don’t know about, I could lose my seat! So I’d better sign up quick because if I don’t, and my competitor does, I could be out”.

Now, how many of our supporters were actually in that constituency? Well, just one! But we never tell politicians precisely how many supporters we have in their area, so we keep them guessing. So you can see how, with Simpol, citizens can once again make their vote into the most powerful force for global change.

Although pseudo-democracy is making a sham of conventional party politics, Simpol is appealing to people not to run away from politics altogether, because we surely won’t solve global problems without politics. So the question is how do we come back to politics, but at a higher level where we no longer engage at the nation-centric level of choosing lamely between one party or another, but come back at a world-centric level where we make all politicians compete to do what we want them to do. Simpol offers us exactly that. So, I believe we have a powerful opportunity – a very powerful proposition – to offer the global justice movement.

But the global justice movement will not understand this all the while it continues to think nation-centrically. So its consciousness—its way of thinking—needs to move up to that world-centric level. And that lag in consciousness, I think, accounts for the fact that, even though I’ve been at this for 13 years now, we’re still at a very early stage. So it takes time and patience.

How are individuals empowered in the Simpol process?

Well, let me come back to that example in West of England and that single supporter who got the Conservative candidate to sign up. Because after the candidate signed up, that supporter rang me and said “John this is great because now I know we’ve got them all in the bag. Now that one’s signed up, the others have got to sign up too!”
What was so wonderful, then, was the feeling of empowerment that our supporter had. The feeling that “gosh, yes I can come back to politics and I can actually call the shots”. So that’s the feeling I would love to convey to people; that Simpol allows each of us to come back to politics at this higher, global level; a way we can actually use our votes in our national elections to drive a global process of global cooperation. If we could get that message across, we could change the world tomorrow.

I don’t know if you remember Live Aid and Make Poverty History rock concerts that went on some years ago in Tony Blair’s time as the Prime Minister. If, instead of putting on a silly white wrist band, half a million people had instead signed up to Simpol and so effectively turned round en masse to politicians and said: “We’re going to be voting for ANY politician that signs up to Simpol, politicians would be running around like scalded cats! They just wouldn’t have any choice but to sign up or else risk losing to their political competitors.

Of course a lot of people will say, “Politicians will sign up to anything but then they’ll only break their promises later”. But if I may say so, they’re not thinking straight. Because what you have to remember, firstly, is that Simpol doesn’t get implemented until all the sufficient nations are on board. So for a politician, there’s nothing for them to renege on, until that time comes. So for them to sign up to Simpol only to cancel it later wouldn’t make any sense. It would only be saying to Simpol’s growing voting block, “please don’t vote for me”. So if there’s enough of us, any politician that reneges would just be cutting their own political throats. So there’s absolutely no logical reason for a politician to cancel their pledge at any point until the date for implementation arrives.

And by that time, I think global problems are going to be even more acute than they are today. So, by that time, and because simultaneous implementation would be in everybody’s interests anyway, why would they want to avoid it? By that time, even people like George Bush will support Simpol because it will be the only way to survive!
I’m actually a businessman myself and business people are not stupid, they know we’ve got big global problems. And they want to be in business for the next 20 or 30 years, not just the next two. So, ultimately it’s got to be in everybody’s interest to sign up to something like Simpol, which, because it’s implemented simultaneously by all, means that nobody loses out unduly to anyone else. It’s a level playing field proposition. So, although, for example, a corporation may have to put up with lower profits in a post-Simpol world, the point is that all other corporations would be in exactly the same boat. So the relative profitability—and the relative competitiveness—of all corporations would stay the same.

I think that’s the whole point, because what corporations and business people fear most is not lower profits as such; its lower profits that they’re subject to but not their competitors. So these are all good reasons why, as time goes on and people’s consciousness starts to move to a world-centric level, Simpol or something like it will take off very strongly.

Can you talk about the two parts of Simpol with respect to democracy? That being the political process and policy development?

In terms of policy development, I said earlier that Simpol could include basically any policy that nations can’t implement alone for fear of becoming uncompetitive. But the important thing is that these policies would not be decided by me, or by any officer of Simpol or by any council of wise elders or anything like that. It would be decided by citizens; the citizens who sign up to Simpol.

So Simpol, if you like, is a global, bottom-up direct democracy initiative. It’s a form of direct democracy in the sense that, because of our voting power, politicians effectively become passive tools for implementing the policies that citizens decide upon. You see, they don’t have any choice in the matter effectively. If there’s enough of us willing to vote one way or the other, then politicians have no choice but to sign up regardless. The policies, then, are totally in the hands of citizens who support Simpol and we are developing a process to allow our supporters to participate in that process. And so that side of Simpol is entirely democratic.

Now when it comes to the political support side of Simpol, the process by which citizens tell their politicians that they will be voting for any politician or party that supports the campaign, that is also democratic because, even though a very small number of people can drive politicians to support Simpol, in our Founding Declaration we state that Simpol cannot be implemented without citizens in all democratic countries having had a referendum to say that they support it.

So although Simpol’s political support process is quite coercive because a very small number of citizens can drive politicians to sign up, ultimately nothing can be implemented unless everybody agrees. So ultimately it is completely democratic insofar as nations themselves are democratic, because Simpol can only be as democratic as nations allow.

But that brings me on to another question which I guess you were probably going to ask, which is how do we involve non-democratic nations in Simpol?

The answer is that we would only invite them to participate at the very late stages of the campaign. If, for example, we had been very successful in democratic countries and this whole movement became global and incredibly powerful and it became a question, not so much of if Simpol would be implemented, but when, at that point you would invite China or any other non-democratic nations to participate in the process. And they of course would realize that any policy they propose has to be agreed upon by everybody else, otherwise it just won’t happen. So it’s not that China or any other country can force its views onto any other country. In fact, with Simpol, every country has an equal stake and power. But again, with global problems getting worse, the pressure for cooperation gets stronger and so every nation will realize, I think, that whatever it wants, it’s got to be agreeable to everybody else because, without that, you can’t have global and simultaneous implementation. So I think that’s important.

Where has Simpol been put into practice to date? What have been the results and how do you measure success? I know you talked about a couple of examples where it’s been put into practice.

Well, Simpol is about putting global policies into practice and of course that has never been done before! So, to that extent, we can’t point to any success in terms of implementation. But in terms of the political support process, like I said, a very small number of people in the UK managed to get 200 candidates to sign up of which 24 are now sitting Members of Parliament. We also have some pledged Members of the European parliament and MPs from one or two countries around the world who support the campaign. In addition, we have one or two small political parties who have made Simpol a part of their official party policy. We’ve got supporters, individual citizen supporters, in about 70, over 70, countries around the world.

So it’s very early days, but its growing. We’ve launched a campaign recently in Germany, another one in Austria and we’re hoping to get more active campaigns going in the USA and Canada shortly.

The only other thing I should perhaps say is that the idea of simultaneous action is actually as old as the hills. Because if you think of any governance community, whether it was tribe, a Middle Age small-state or a nation-state, every law that was decided was implemented “globally”, in the sense of applying to the entire community concerned, and simultaneously because it comes into force on a certain date. So, you know, if the U.S. Congress and Senate pass a new law or an amendment to a law, it comes into force on a certain date and it applies to all states in the Union. So it’s “global” and simultaneous. If you want to ban smoking in your house, you make it apply globally, that is, to every room in the house and to every person who comes in or out of the house, and you apply it simultaneously because it applies on that date onwards. You wouldn’t apply it to one room today and to another tomorrow because otherwise, you’d still get a smoky house. So the whole idea of simultaneous policy implementation is actually nothing new and there are references in biology and in other disciplines and walks of life which attest to that.

What is the business model for sustaining Simpol?

The business model at the moment is that we are operating hand to mouth right now. But when consciousness rises sufficiently, I think there will be some very big people with some very deep pockets who will see that this is something worth supporting. So I’m hoping that we’ll get some major funding soon. But right now, we don’t have any. But in some ways, to actually communicate a project like Simpol, we have the internet, we have videos, we have various tools and they don’t necessarily cost a great deal of money. But ultimately, to really push the campaign strongly and globally, we will need serious funding. But as of today, that isn’t yet available.”