Introduction

Welcome to Demos Quarterly.

This issue reflects a nation on the cusp of change, grappling with profound, looming challenges to our social order and democracy.

There are big questions to be answered about the role of technology in our society, our politics and our economy, and the need for citizens, governments and businesses to take a more proactive approach to mitigating its potential harms and harnessing its opportunities.

A timely piece from Jonathan Sebire confronts the ‘dark side’ of big data, while the Guardian Media Group’s Matt Rogerson calls for a level playing field between publishers and platforms. In turn, Shadow Minister for Digital Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP calls for Britain to step up its efforts to seize the transformative capacities of technological innovation.

Our writers clamour for constructive social and political renewal. Architect and academic Zoë Berman calls for a radical overhaul of the way we teach design and construction, to address a looming skills gap and unleash creativity. Our Director, Polly Mackenzie, urges Britain’s new city leaders to seize the initiative on gender equality, redesigning their cities to be more inclusive and empowering for women. Daniel Alphonsus calls for bold new ideas to help rank and rate the performance of news organisations, so crucial to our democracies.

Two new fascinating pieces of research explain the granular role of geography in our cultural and political identity. Examining the views of migrants to England from elsewhere in the UK, Professor John Denham finds the origins of our names, and where we live, influence whether we identify as ‘English’ or ‘British’. Author of The Predictive Postcode, Professor Richard Webber, then explains how the characteristics of the neighbourhoods we live in continue to shape our political preferences.

Another two of our writers explore the moral and practical dimensions of economic precariousness. Reflecting on the findings of his new research with Demos, academic Ben Baumberg Geiger questions the empirical and ethical arguments behind the Government’s approach to benefit sanctions for disabled people. Reflecting on her time as a journalist, Sacha Hilhorst shines light on the deep emotional strains of debt and financial fragility plaguing many European countries. Continuing the economic theme, Canadian ex-pat Nick Tyrone cautions against holding up the country as an encouraging model for Britain’s post-Brexit future, highlighting the realities of life as one of NAFTA’s smaller parties.

Finally, I have written about the electorate’s fragmented perceptions of where the ‘mainstream’ falls in British politics, and the debates around whether more voices from the fringes should be welcomed or excluded by the media. In a time of such immense change, so much of which strikes at the heart of our capacity to build a cohesive national identity and narrative, such questions feel more sensitive, and urgent, than ever.

Sophie Gaston
Editor, Demos Quarterly
Deputy Director, Demos