Last Friday morning an angry woman from Hartlepool rang the BBC; ‘we voted out but I’ve turned up at my hospital and there’s no sign of any extra money’.
Seventeen million people, many of whom were already disillusioned and angry are starting to realise there will be no more money for the NHS and that most migrants have no intention of ‘going home’. Low paid people in the UK have seen no rise in their living standards since 2000 and over the last six years the fabric of public services has started to come apart. The likelihood now is that things in the short and medium term will get worse.
A vote inspired by the dream of British people having more power will, for the foreseeable future, leave our country and its people with less control over our destiny. Even if Brexit is somehow negotiated, over which of the following forces will a newly independent Britain exercise the most sovereignty; global capitalism, climate change, international crime, conflict, terrorism?
Yet, put almost any cross section of British people in a room together and ask them what kind of future they want for themselves and their children and a remarkably similar list will emerge; a country which offers opportunity for the ambitious but also decency for all; a country that combines tolerance with a strong sense of belonging and shared purpose; a country where leaders in all sectors earn and receive trust; a country that is a force for good in the world; a country where the quality of our lives and relationships matters more than the quantity of stuff we consume; and, most of all, a country where everyone has a chance to become the best person they can be.
Here at the RSA we talk about ‘The Power to Create’ by which we mean harnessing the opportunities provided by the modern world – most obviously technology – to enable people to live a full and creative life. It runs through all our work. On government and public services, how can we best support citizens to develop their own solutions and initiatives? In education, how can we support teachers and schools to enable every child to grow up a confident and creative learner? On the economy, how can we ensure that work is meaningful and that citizens feel the economy is something that can serve us not a system beyond our understanding or control?
Symbolising our approach we today launch our Citizens’ Economic Council. This is a two year national initiative which will show that ordinary, thoughtful citizens can understand economic ideas, enter into informed debate and explore urgently needed new ideas. After the 2015 general election we concluded that the low level of economic debate and awareness had become a major barrier to citizens making informed political choices; something grimly confirmed by the referendum debate. We spent a year designing an initiative aimed to address this issue in a fresh and powerful way. The Council will feature a diverse group of fifty to sixty citizens chosen through stratified random sampling to engage with diverse perspectives across British society, but we hope that hundreds of thousands of people will follow its work and become more confident economic citizens.
When the gap between what is happening around us and what most of us want for our country is huge and getting wider every day there is a burning question; how can we make change happen? This question rumbles like a drumbeat through all our work. As an agent of change the RSA has a unique collection of assets. Our online content and major social media presence gives us a rapid and global reach. Our research and on the ground innovation enables us to develop new ideas and test them out with our partners. And, best of all, our 28,000 strong Fellowship of like-minded, creative, committed people are working with us to be change makers themselves.
In the face of the abject failure of our political establishment the yearning for control can lead to delusion and rage. We have to believe that same yearning can be channelled positively. Across the country and around the world RSA Fellows and staff are getting together, imagining a better future and developing the practical next steps we need to take. Our belief is simple: it is not hope that leads to action but action that leads to hope. The RSA aims to be the kind of organisation the 21st century needs.
We’d love to tell you more.
A new CEO, a new format and new ideas – Andy Haldane marked his first day as head of the RSA in September with our first virtual Fellowship Townhall.