Interesting feedback from the Conservative Shadow Cabinet Away Day on the 'post-bureaucratic' state. The appeal of David Cameron's new Conservative brand is that it combines social ambition with scepticism about the state. In a sense, this is Cameron's own 'third way' between Labour's traditional combination of social ambition and faith in the state on the one hand, and a neo-liberal indifference to social outcomes on the other.
However, my informant (who shall remain nameless on the basis of Chatham House rules) tells me that the more the Conservatives discussed how they would devolve power to the community and increase the capacity of civil society, the more they ended up feeling that they were creating more public sector jobs and functions. The fact is that capacity doesn't simply spring up from nowhere and, even if you pass responsibility to community and third sector organisations, there is still need for public accountability.
I wonder whether the Conservative conundrum is a reflection of the more profound problem I described last year as the 'social aspiration gap'. Ultimately, whether or not we use public, private or voluntary sector agencies, we will not give those agencies the resources and support they need unless we recognise that we must change the way we think and behave.
We may be dissatisfied with the state and thus amenable to the Conservatives' 'post-bureaucratic' message, but it would be wrong to think this will solve the really hard question: how are we to prosper and survive unless we are willing, each of us, to be more positively engaged in collective decision making, to live more self-sufficient lives, and to be more altruistic to our families, communities and strangers?
The Conservatives are asking exactly the right question but it will take political courage to provide the kind of authentic answers that the public is currently unwilling to hear.
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