Saturday, July 25, 2009

No Dumb Blond

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.


Mark Griffiths 'ideally speaking...' said...

Craig, I don't trust anyone who says we live in a 'broken' society (they usually blame the 60s, like Tebbit did). As soon as they get into power, they are then mending what is mysteriously broken. The rose-tinted view of yesteryear is a common Tory ploy. Who sent working class men in their millions to their deaths in WW1 a century ago? If anything, that was when the Tory controllers 'broke' the contract between the classes. Of course there is a difference in the way different generations have lived. As you say, technology has created a global culture. It's easy to feel connected when your world is a very small place. But now, the whole world is now closer, on top of us, without us ever feeling part of it. Over the centuries, Tories have always tried to wear different clothes (wolves in sheeps' clothing) in order to make themselves appear more reasonable than they are. Back in the 19th century, with Disraeli, they actually introduced the social reforms which laid the platform for today's educated society. They feared revolution. History shows us that Tories like Blond only ever make overtures of this nature when (a) they are in opposition and (b) when they are in power and fear being overthrown. But a Tory is a Tory is a Tory. Tax the poor to feed the rich.

Roberta said...

I like after dinner speakers who make a joke about politician and parties keep attention and let people think about real problems in our society.
We should have more events such as corporate entertainment where speakers or entertaiment are hired to talk about serious matter and wake up people about such popular and relevant subjects.

Ian said...

If you havent already, get your self a copy of The Orange Book ed Paul Marshall and David Laws. I think you'll find it an interesting read.

Vince Cable wrote "In dealing with the central preoccupations of modern British Politics, Liberal Democrats have no need for the elaborate contortions which are necessary to accommodate them within something called 'socialism', with its lingering distrust of markets, entrepenuers, property rights and decentralisation. Nor, like true Conservatives, do we have an instinctive disdain for the collective provisions of services for those in society who are less successful and less affluent."

Defining our personal approach to society, is as you say, far more difficult then it was 50 years ago. Closure of pubs, fewer amenities, greater cocooning of selves in 4x4 cars to name but three.

I do feel The Orange Book does set out an vision of the best of both worlds using resources from sectors best placed to deliver. Whether its the state for welfare such as for unemployed persons during a recession... sorry, "economic downturn"; third sector provision for niche services such as disabled people and and the private sector for goods.

Turning briefly to third sector provision, Im a union rep for the PCS union and the union policy is to oppose "privatisation" of work that my department do in particular with jobhunting for unemployed and disabled people.

A friend of mine run a company to help find employment for deaf people with Pathways to Work etc.

Seeing his work in action (in a personal capacity) means that I do see the value in that kind of provision, the Deaf Community and signers have a particular challenge with communication that requires niche intervention.

As a result, Im not slavishly following the PCS line in this instance as I feel its arises out of a long standing discredited socialist approach to helping the dispossessed in society.

The challenge for all of us, particularly with the recession and reduced tax take is how to balance that provision.

Anonymous said...

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