At an evening bash I went to the other week, the after-dinner speaker was Philip Blond of the think-tank Demos. He was so good that I waved away the banofee pie. Superstardom surely awaits.
So what’s Philip Blond all about? Well, he is the catchingly titled 'Red Tory'. With compelling confidence, Blond lambasts not only Brownite statism (which we all expected) but also rampant individualism, materialism and monopoly capitalism (which, frankly, we didn’t). Both left and right get it in the neck.
As a third-sector person, a lot of what Blond said resonated. He argued that the `vertical lines’ between citizen and state have, over time, rubbed out the `horizontal’ ones which bind us together as a society. Where once we looked to each other, we now look to the state.
Or, alternatively, we seek personal liberation in possessions, easy sex or a kind detached `self-realisation’.
To support his case, Blond cited studies showing that the least cohesive communities of 35 years ago were more cohesive than the strongest ones of today. Think about that.
As he was speaking I thought about the pre-1945 world of mill-town Lancashire that my grandparents used to tell me about. The Co-op. The club. The penny insurance for the doctor. The immense pride in self-reliance.
My grandparents contrasted this lost world to the isolation, fear and humiliation they felt in old age.
I found myself attracted to a lot of what Blond had to say. We do need to regenerate the kind of social capital and community cohesion which many of us so crave. On which the health of society and our organizational missions depend.
And the public sector has, I agree, diminished our society rather than formed its highest expression, particularly in the last 12 years. It now feels less about public service than public servants.
Does this make me a Red Tory too? Probably not. I wasn’t entirely sure that Red Toryism is actually, when you strip it down, actually much more than Wet Toryism. There was one other big question. Can we, in 2009, push the toothpaste back in the tube and return to the more mutual world of my grandparents?
I say not. The atomization of society today is a product of a host of unstoppable technological and social economic factors – not all of them bad. Give me my life over that of my grandparents, any day.
Finally I am not sure I buy Blond's theory that our society is actually broken, though I see his point. Few places in the world, outside the UK, have struck such a sensible balance between individual self-determination and powerful bonds of care and obligation between its citizens. Bonds expressed most powerfully indeed in our own third sector.