Back to Number Ten this morning to discuss ‘the progressive consensus’. With only an hour for discussion, four presentations and 30 very clever people (plus me) round the table it was hardly surprising that the conversation comprised little more than the identification of a list of issues. But looking at what I found the most interesting points there is a line of connection.
• We are at an important moment in history. The goal must not simply be to mange the crisis and get back to business as usual. It is important to talk about what we might call the national ethos. In the face of uncertainty will people opt for greater individualism or greater social solidarity?
• Policy matters but so does culture - in institutions, in communities and in nations. Fascinatingly, research on values indicates that, despite globalisation and immigration, values are converging within nations but diverging between them (despite the event being under Chatham House rules I can attribute this point to David Halpern who is soon publishing a book about it). To take one small example, what Brits and Germans mean by equality and social justice is very different.
• One characteristic of contemporary British values is that we are hostile not just to the state but also to the market, or at least to big business. The over-riding national mood now is one of powerlessness in the face of events and big power of various forms. Adding to this, the credit crunch and the Government response may cement oligopoly in key markets - banking, supermarkets, mobile phones, energy companies.
• Government likes to talk about empowerment both as a good in itself and as a means towards more efficient and more responsive public services. But it is not clear the public want to be empowered (if this means transferring more responsibility to them) or that central Government has any clear account of who, realistically, is to do the empowering
• In all of this, conventional politics and the jargon-laden language of economic management and public service reform leaves people cold. Politicians need to find a way of speaking to people’s worries but also to their resilience, to their aspirations - and to their altruism. This is a time for leadership, people are open to new understandings and possibilities but leaders are not using a vocabulary people can understand, let alone be inspired by.
Not that this is what I will remember from the morning. Before we went into the seminar one of the directors of my old haunt, the IPPR, said to me: ‘we all have a good laugh about your blog – it’s all me, me, me’.
Can this be true? I am shocked. I have decided to spend a lot more time thinking about whether it is true that I am obsessed with myself. Maybe it’s something I should blog about? I have also resolved to stop talking so much about myself, for how else can I create the space for other people to say what they think of me?
Despite this terrible blow to my frail self esteem, I was given some comfort when David Aaronovitch (whose column today is particularly brilliant) told me that my pals over at the Times Comment pages enjoy my blog.
It’s the stuff on the brain they like best so they can rest assured that with Elizabeth Gould here tonight and Norman Doidge (whose new book is stunning) here tomorrow, it will be the brain and not progressivism, nor even me, me, me, that will be my focus over the next couple of days.
As we begin to imagine the post-pandemic world, we need to challenge our use of old metaphors to allow for new narratives and better futures to emerge.
With the post-Christmas resolutions looming, when we try to address the worst of our seasonal over-indulgences, the question remains: how can we give up bad habits for good?