A British MoveOn – 38 Degrees – launches today

12:42 am - May 26th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    

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I’ve hinted in the past that a British version of the progressive campaign group MoveOn.org was in the works. Well, they finally launch today. To explain briefly, MoveOn launched about ten years ago as a petition site and then became an email-based campaigning organisation, counting over 3 million people as its members in the US. It has had huge impact on politics there, and spawned a copycat in Australia called GetUp and a worldwide group called Avaaz.org (from whom Paul Hilder blogs occasionally on LC).

Anyway, the British version is called 38 degrees, not a name I’m particularly fond of, but apparently that’s the tipping-point angle at which an avalanche begins. Unsurprisingly, 38 degrees will launch with a campaign focused on electoral change.

Their first campaign will mobilise the public to push for a new law giving voters the Right to Recall their MP – and be voted out if local people decide to.*

David Babbs, executive director, says:

We’re launching the recall campaign because people need new ways of holding MPs to account to restore trust in politics, shake MPs out of their complacency and halt a dangerous slide into all-out political disillusionment. Self-policing is not enough.

People must have the power to remove an MP who has disgraced themselves or flouted their electors’ wishes. But we know that only a huge groundswell of support for the campaign will overcome the entrenched political interests that will resist such a new law, so it’s vital that people show their support at 38degrees.org.uk now.

Obviously, they want to ensure the threshold for recall won’t be so low that it disrupts the work of constituency MPs. But I think its a worthwhile campaign to ensure there is this tool of accountability as a final resort.

Do go to their website and sign up, they will also be launching other campaigns soon.

* Recall laws operate in a number of countries to hold politicians to account, with safeguards in place to prevent its overuse or abuse. In the US, for example,the mechanisms and procedures for the recall of elected representatives vary across, with California providing the lowest threshold (12% of the registered electors signing a petition within 160 days triggers a recall election) and Kansas the highest (40% of registered electors within 90 days). Recall provisions have also recently been used in the Province of British Columbia (Canada), and in Venezuela on the presidential level. They also exist in a variety of trade unions, co-operative businesses and other organizations.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Media ,Our democracy ,Westminster

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Reader comments

You might want to correct the first link, which goes to a very different 38 Degrees, lol

2. Shatterface

Hopefully the recall figure will be closer to the California figure as 40% seems very high when we can’t get that many people to vote in the first place.

Voting should be like buying a time-share: you should be given a cooling-off period to change your mind when the salesman has left and the pressure’s off.

Thirty-eight degress – About us:

“Thirty Eight Degrees specialises in executing corporate transactions including mergers and acquisitions, reorganisations & restructurings, private equity and venture capital transactions, joint ventures, IPOs and other debt and equity issuances.”

Yay Capitalism !

Whoops! thanks for pointing that out, the link has now been corrected.

5. dreamingspire

In reply to Shatterface, ‘registered electors’ in the USA is very different from here – their voter registration is voluntary. Hopefully someone can tell us what proportion of the USA’s population (perhaps even analysed state by state) registers.

It looks like an interesting campaign to watch, one that has taken ages to launch but the people on their board (esp Ben Brandzel) are impressive so worth getting involved.

Something else those interested in participatory democracy should check out is the new campaign from Rupert Read, MEP candidate for the Green Party, Stand Up UK!:


Watch the video, fill in the survey, and get involved! Thanks

7. dreamingspire

And another one: can’t find on the 38 Degrees site the (legally required) address of the Registered Office of their company. The company number is there, but neither the registered name nor address, so from Companies House’s web check service, they are:
Name & Registered Office:
a company limited by guarantee without shares

9. Shatterface

(9): I thought to myself: ‘Any minute now, ‘field’ will come along and blame the McCanns’.

10. Shatterface

I might be more convinced by this campaign if it hadn’t been named by people clearly targeting those who go skiing.

This doesn’t look like my revolution.

9. Attempting to rebrand racism as not-racism is destined to fail, simple really. I’m all for people using more tact in arguments against BNP sympathisers, but it doesn’t detract from the fact their thoughts are resulting from either a racist or xenophobic state of mind. That they point the finger at people different from them first is the most telling sign.

There are quite a few questions here I think.

The terms of the campaign are very nice:

“If you have had enough of the way politicians and powerful organisations ignore your views on the issues you care about, then get involved with 38 Degrees. If we all act together, at the right moment, with the right message, delivered to the right people, then together we can make change happen”

But if they are modelled on Moveon and Avaaz, then I am sceptical.

The crucial questions are:

What is the agenda?
How will the agenda be set?
Who will control it?
How will the group be democratic internally?
How will the wider democratic process be strengthened?
How will 38 Degrees deal with questions where there is difference among the “members”?

13. Charlieman

Thank you, but no thanks. 38 Degrees is a top down organisation founded by a few cosy mates. The website lists those who founded and will run the organisation; there is no mention of how those who do the campaigning will be represented in the decision making processes.

From the 38 Degrees FAQs: “But the real leadership will come from 38 Degrees members, who set the organizations [sic] agenda and most importantly take the actions that change the world.”

There is no way to formally join this organisation (founders excepted) but “members” are somehow going to set the agenda. So if 100 “members” request that 38 Degrees campaigns against cosy government relations with Hugo Chavez (I deliberately picked a topic that splits the liberal left), how transparently will the decision be made?

And, please, if you are setting up an organisation that is supposed to attract support from civil libertarian lefties, make sure that your privacy policy is on display. Assuming that you have one.

Another load of centralised bollocks created by those who think they’re doing everyone a favour. Do these people never learn that these movements emerge from the grassroots; they don’t suddenly spring up from media luvvies or whichever jumped up upper middle-class wankers are behind this.

15. dreamingspire

There IS a privacy policy on the 38 degrees web site. And, since it is a Membership company (company limited by guarantee without shares), strictly the term ‘member’ is only for those who formally join the company as a Member (about which we need to see the Articles of Association and Memorandum of Association). Its a sloppy setup at the moment – keep clear until they tidy up their act.

So it looks like they are owned and linked to Progressive Majority. But what PACs like PM and MoveOn really do well at is electing progressive Democrats. 38 degrees aims to copy MoveOn etc but strip out the party politics – which makes it a jumped up version of the ePetitions bit on the Prime Minister’s website.

It does look like a bunch of snotty nosed NGO/Labourite wankers who will set the agenda for everyone else.

17. Charlieman

dreamingspire @16: “There IS a privacy policy on the 38 degrees web site.”

Thanks, I eventually found it. It’s the last link on every page. It should be a BIG link on the Contact Us page where I would expect to see it.

Truly crap name, uninspiring organisational structure, and less-than-impressive ideas.

Ho hum.

Still, managed to get themselves on Radio 4 today…wonder who’s mates with which producers?

(exits in a huff, muttering grumpily about “just another bloody London-centric, Blair-loving lobbying group”…)


What is the agenda?
How will the agenda be set?
Who will control it?
How will the group be democratic internally?
How will the wider democratic process be strengthened?
How will 38 Degrees deal with questions where there is difference among the “members”?

Whoa, calm down dude, it’s only the first day! I’m assuming the agenda will come in the coming days and weeks, as they start campaigning on issues.

I guess that’s fair enough, Sunny – but they were signing up people months ago, and I would’ve thought they’d have been able to answer those very basic questions from the get-go given all the time they’ve had to set up. It looks like a project with potential but my main two concerns – that it is top-down, and that it seems intent to avoid party politics to the extent that it could have defined progressive and then supported progressive MPs or political parties in particular election/legislative battles – prevent me from being too enthusiastic about it. MoveOn’s (and Progressive Majority’s, I’d wager) biggest successes have been to do with electing progressive Democrats and then ensuring those Dems stuck to the progressive agenda:


But it is just the first day, so I will give it a chance! I will personally stick to something more tangible, where the process of deciding what is on the agenda and how it will actually make a difference is quite clear:


Whilst StandUp! UK is linked to a Green Party politician, it’s at least making it clear what people are getting by being involved: dictating the agenda of someone who will hopefully soon be elected.

Obviously worth following to see what they get up to anyway.

I enjoyed the staff bios – almost spoofy.

Head of Capacity Building at Friends of the Earth = ordering the stationery?

Founder – Peat Fire Studios. Partner – Provokateur. Ex Associate Director of FiftyCrows Foundation in San Francisco. = coolest names or what?!

>Whoa, calm down dude, it’s only the first day! I’m assuming the agenda will come in the coming days and weeks, as they start campaigning on issues.

I’d expect at least most of that to be in place at the start for a big initiative 🙂

While I think that some of these comments are constructive and fair, I’m not sure people should be so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. There is definitely room on the UK progressive spectrum for a specifically Brit-focused online campaigning organisation, and 38 Degrees could be it. There’s no doubt that its credibility, and effectiveness, depend on effectively answering the questions raised above….and, most importantly, avoiding people who sign up for action feeling as if they are being manipulated into actions/campaigns/ideas with which they are not enthused. It has to be grassroots up, rather than top-down.

I’m really glad that they’ve chosen to go with recall as one of their first campaigns – I think there is an extremely strong argument for it, and its been part of progressive democratic demands for centuries – since the Paris Commune, if my creaky memory serves. Speaking as a member of the IWW, I think it’s pretty much vital for proper democratic accountability, and always have done.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I know one of the people involved with 38 Degrees, and that I’ve helped them flesh out some of their background research on recall provisions elsewhere in the world. My opinions on all of thise would be the same if that were true or not, though. 🙂


Had a look at the site and I’d say it looks good. The recall campaign dovetails nicely with the Referendum 2010 campaign just launched (dedicated website coming soon, apparently, see http://www.makemyvotecount.org.uk/news.html )

Note the guy’s last project was The Big Ask. (Can’t help noticing some of the visuals have been recycled – impeccably green practice I suppose…). The Big Ask had its pro’s and con’s but you’d have to be a fool like septicisle at #15 not to have noticed that that campaign did in fact succeed in its own terms.

#17 Rayyan’s acerbic comment is an interesting one, but, thinking about the Big Ask (which succeeded thanks to its endorsement by major mass-membership NGOs such as FoE etc), will 38 degrees’ lack of party political tie open the door to endorsement and publicity from FoE etc?

Wasn’t LibCon going to be a leading campaigning site…until it got diverted onto the Iain Dale project… 🙂

26. Charlieman

Strategist @26: “The Big Ask had its pro’s and con’s but you’d have to be a fool like septicisle at #15 not to have noticed that that campaign did in fact succeed in its own terms.”

I’m politically aware, read the political news sites daily and listen to Radio 4. Big Ask is absent from my political consciousness. Never heard of it.

#28 Charlieman. Tut, tut! That will teach you to rely on the mainstream media for your information.

The “Big Ask” was for a Climate Change Act with legally binding reductions in carbon emissions, given that New Labout had missed its non-binding target of a 20% reduction 1990-2010. Having got a Bill, the big ask became the target of an 80% reduction by 2050. The Big Ask was (mostly) pursued by mobilising members of environmental NGOs to send emails and postcards to elected representatives, and to encourage their friends to do so too. I think it was organised out of FoE, but the constellation of NGO logos at the foot of the Stop Climate Chaos website gives you a clue to its reach (the big prize is always supposedly RSPB with its million members) http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/

The Big Ask seems to have morphed into a Euro-wide campaign http://www.thebigask.eu/About%20the%20Big%20Ask

I assume 38 degrees is about the same concepts and methods, starting with a big ask for a recall provision for MPs.

#29 Oh yeah, and Thom Yorke of the popular beat combo Radiohead was its Bono equivalent.

I smell vomited clementines on the American walnut floating shelves here; initiatives put forward by Zone 1-dwelling Labourite quangonauts and luvvies tend to make me, er, move on. Quickly.

#31 That was a classic about the tornado, Tez, great to re-read it. But you don’t succeed in convincing me it has any relevance to 38 degrees, though.

I am not necessarily a massive enthusiast for 38 degrees (it’s too early to say), but I really can’t understand about the kneejerk reflex super-negative reaction from some here.

Is there anything about 38 degrees that prevents anyone else with a better idea doing a better job and having a greater success? So, why not put up or shut up?

Rayyan’s comments at #22 are interesting, and it is good to see that Rupert Read is at least having a go at doing his own thing in this area (www.standup.uk.com). But he also demonstrates it’s not easy to do this direct democracy stuff well. Binary yes/no answers to somewhat fuzzy and opaquely chosen questions are potentially interesting but up to a point only. And I would strongly diverge from Rayyan’s concept of fairly dodgy internet votes “dictating the agenda” of someone about to get elected. I think the recall concept is a much better one.

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