Less Demos, more lilo

Does harbouring a secret longing for an inept successor, possibly unpleasant, maybe even scarily una

I knew on Sunday night that the week ahead would hold a touch of the Fellinis - a combination of Amarcord and were firmly on the agenda. And I wasn't wrong. It really should have been shot in black and white.

On Monday I resigned from my post as director of Demos. I can't say that resigning was a walk in the park - I've passionately loved my time at Demos and working with some of the brightest and most dynamic people one could wish for as colleagues. But the hard lesson is that, no matter who's in an organisation, organisations seldom love you back as much as you love them. They are strangely, in this respect, less than the sum of their parts. And so it's time to move on. Let's be honest, two sets of feelings dominate. On the one hand, the thrill and anticipation of being able to focus more exclusively on the issues that matter to me. On the other, a darker brew of jealousy and protectiveness.

I wish Demos nothing but the absolute best, but a sense of après moi, le déluge has a certain appeal when you've been slugging your guts out for a couple of years. Does harbouring a secret longing for an inept successor, possibly unpleasant, maybe even scarily unattractive, make me a terrible person? Well, this is only a measure of my attachment to the place. And in any case, I have a feeling this is not to be - Demos deserves the best and the clean slate it needs to thrive. (I've wrestled my evil twin Skippy to the floor now, can't you tell?)

So, 99 per cent of the time, I hope it lands in the right hands. And I have little doubt that it will.

Politics in the sun

As a part-Corsican, I've always thought that any political problem is both more resolvable and less urgent if you tackle it from a lilo in the sun. Nick Clegg and I tested this hypothesis on Tuesday when we took part in an event organised jointly by the London Festival of Architecture, EXYZT (a French architectural collective) and Demos.

We were there to talk about how to "reset" political settings; we wanted to see if, by having a conversation in a public space that was both unexpected and temporary (the "Southwark Lido" installation on Union Street, SE1, complete with paddling pool, sauna, deckchairs and beach-huts), we would be prompted to think and speak differently about politics. To the extent that a four- year-old took up the roving mike and told us about her community garden and why she loved it, we think we're on to something. Gordon, a little less Heights, a little more lilo! Kudos to Nick Clegg for enthusiastically agreeing to come. And to Southwark Lido for the little glimpse of summer (and the best T-shirts this side of the river).

A semantic maelstrom

And finally, the joys of Facebook in an era of cultural strife. As we neared the weekend and the two Demos events at IslamExpo, a string of blogs took me to task for participating in what was referred to by some as a "far-right" gathering. I ended the week with Martin Bright (yes, of this very magazine) asking me to join a Facebook group called "IslamExpo is a front for Hamas". It may be a sad comment on my life, but that actually cheered me up no end. And the dark humour in that invitation was in stark contrast to both the lead-up to the event and the event itself.

I won't go into a detailed exposé of why Demos refused to pull out of IslamExpo; suffice to say that the events we held were challenging and pandered to no one. Nor are we blind to the political complexities of such gatherings and the difficulties involved in discussing strands of political Islam in such a context. Which is more than can be said of many of the people who turned up (including someone on our panel). Trying to get any kind of consistency (never mind coherence) on how we talk about political Islam feels like a losing battle, and the semantic maelstrom we've created really doesn't help. This isn't about being pedantic - but in this context words matter: proof of that (if any were needed) was that we made no headway in our main discussion, in great part because we talked completely past each other. One of the American panellists, Robert Leiken, was so disappointed and frustrated that he shared his depressed surprise with the entire audience. The lido beckons, methinks.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Tyranny and tourism