Being in the right makes us feel good, but it also makes it harder to resolve differences.
This is now the third year of RSA fringe meetings at the major party conferences. Every event we have put on has been packed out and all have been very well received. I have lost count of the number of people who have said from the floor, or at the end, that our meetings are more interesting than the average run of the mill event. The events have also been pretty successful in generating media interest which is very impressive given all the other distractions (I often say to people who hope to generate publicity at party conferences ‘there is one thing harder than looking for a needle in a haystack - looking for a needle in a pile of needles). This morning the Today programme contained two packages which came out of our event.
Part of the secret lies in our partnerships. This year we have the kind support of The Social Investment Business, which brings new funding into the third sector and helps the sector win public service contracts and whose Chief Executive, Jonathan Lewis, spoke on the panel last night. And because of our collaboration with IPSOS/MORI our events all begin with a vivid picture (provided by the always entertaining Ben Page) of the often contradictory and idiosyncratic nature of public opinion.
Our theme this year has been the Big Society but with a subtly different twist at each conference. Last week Sarah Teather and Simon Hughes were eloquent in explaining why they thought the Big Society could be a Liberal Democrat idea. Last night new Labour MPs Tristram Hunt and Liz Kendall agreed with the debate proposition ‘Labour should wean itself off the big state’. Next week we will explore with the Conservatives how to generate a big society in the most deprived areas, even while they are suffering cuts to benefits and services.
Hunt and Kendall were both very impressive. It occurred to me that David Miliband’s campaign has restored the self respect and self confidence of the ’New Labour’ wing (for want of a better term) of the Labour party. These are people who had felt undermined and even tarnished by the Blair Brown Mandelson soap opera, not to mention some of Labour’s failings in Government. Despite his defeat, the honesty and clarity of the David Miliband campaign has reinvigorated the section of the party that most supported him.
Which goes to show that feeling you are right is a big source of energy. It is why defeat can sometimes be more energising that victory. However, the same emotion can also drive people to be self righteous and even become embittered. As I have said before in this blog, I wish we spent more time in debate trying to agree what we disagree about rather than simply proving the other guy wrong.
Following Ed Miliband’s solid, but less than earth shattering, speech this afternoon some David supporters may have their sense of rightness reinforced. It will, I guess, be important to the Labour Party that this energy is channelled not into recriminations but into guidance and support their new leader.