It is a new era. As regular readers will know, I have been told to keep political commentary to a minimum on this site but as it feels like a turning point for me too maybe I can be excused one more time.
Despite my own personal political affiliations it is difficult not to be excited by the idea of coalition government. After all this had been Tony Blair’s plan if he had faced a much smaller majority in 1997 – rather negotiate with Liberal Democrats than be in hoc to Labour’s left wing.
My instinct is that either things will go wrong very quickly for the coalition or they will, as the ruling Parties hope, last a full Parliament. This will depend on events, personalities and, as I argued on Monday, the relationship between leaders who want to stay in power and MPs and activists who may find the compromises of office very uncomfortable.
In terms of our political culture an important question will be how the LibDems and Tories handle their differences. If they are willing to be reasonably frank about them and invite the public to engage in the debate, we really could see a more open and elevating type of politics. If, however, the debates are suppressed only to emerge in hostile press briefings, then the standing of our representative democracy could fall further still. The Osborne Cable pairing will be particularly fascinating in this regard. In many ways, it reminds me of the ill starred welfare reform partnership of Harriet Harman and Frank Field between 1997 and 1998 - let’s hope it does a great deal better.
As for me this is the time to hang up my boots as a pundit and occasional political advisor (out of working hours I hasten to add). It will be interesting to observe the Labour leadership contest and David Miliband will hope history repeats itself (in leadership elections the person who starts favourite for Labour usually wins while Tory favourites usually lose). The one bit of advice I would give to all the contenders is politely to distance themselves from the New Labour old guard, whether that is big beasts like Campbell and Mandelson or small fry like yours truly.
As for the RSA I believe we are entering a really exciting period. Our non-aligned political position is not only in keeping with our traditions but just right for the times. At our Trustees meeting yesterday we had excellent presentations on our Peterborough and Connected Communities projects. The RSA doesn’t just talk about the Big Society - we are doing the thinking and innovation that aims to make community renewal and deeper civic engagement real.
So it’s kind of poignant to look back across the whole cycle, starting with my first canvassing session – for Douglas Jay (who had himself been MP for Battersea North for over 30 years) in the 1979 election, through the 18 years of opposition and then the 13 years of Labour government and back out again. But one of the lessons of all that time has been that real enduring social change is as likely to start from outside Government as from the plans of politicians. I don’t know how the coalition government will do but I am certain the RSA is going to make a big impact in the years ahead.
Matthew Taylor Anthony Painter
Instead of hoping for national politicians to solve our hardest problems, we need to ask them for the final pieces of a puzzle we have started to solve together.