Growing a civil economy through a civil society

One of the fringe meetings I spoke at during the Liverpool conference was ResPublica’s on the topic of “Growing a civil economy through a civil society”. Accompanying ResPublica’s fringe program is a pamphlet with pieces accompanying the talks we all gave and here is my piece from it.

Both a successful market economy and a healthy democracy require individuals from all walks of life to feel they have the power to change the future. The belief that you can make a success of your own business, that your firm can innovate and that existing suppliers are not locked into permanent dominance creates the vibrancy which generates wealth in a market economy. The optimism that your voice can count and your actions can alter your community gives life to a democracy, making it more than a token intermittent meeting of pencil and paper in the polling booth.

Our economy and our democracy, therefore, present us with a common challenge – to tackle that lack of confidence in your own ability to alter the future which suffocates far too many communities and far too many parts of society. Removing that malaise requires a mix of many policies, only a few of which I highlight in this piece.

One of the most important is improving education in people’s early years. Those formative early years leave intellectual and psychological marks that can be very hard to shift in later years. It is a tough question for government, because so much of the evidence shows that what matters above all is the commitment of parents to their children. That is a deeply private and personal affair which the state can only touch the edges of. Nick Clegg’s commitment to the Pupil Premium to channel extra funds to help educate the most disadvantaged children is one example of the exceptions to that where the government can take effective action.

A second strand is the sort of political reform the coalition government is embarked on, devolving power from Westminster to local councils, to the Scottish Executive and offering a referendum in Wales. Going too is the worst sort of insular political elitism –one of the two houses of Parliament still completely locking out the public from electing its members. It shows a fantastic contempt by for the public that when MPs are booted out at a general election, how does the political establishment react? By giving a good number of those defeated MPs a seat for life in Parliament courtesy of the Lords.

A third strand is – or should be – tackling the elitist insularity in the commercial sector. Whether it is the deeply lopsided rules that give the favoured company directors a huge head-start in elections or the widespread use of “commercial confidentiality” clauses to keep scrutiny at bay, what would cause outrage if tried by a politician is far too often par for the course by those who like to look down on politicians.

Tying the different strands together needs to be a stronger sense of how people can successfully work together, because so often the collective voice has the strength and skill to succeed where lone individuals are thwarted. Whether it is the Community Politics of the Liberal Democrats or the Big Society of the Conservatives, success will come not from seeing voluntary collective action as an excuse for cost-cutting but as a means to a vibrant and successful country.

The whole fringe meeting is also available to watch:

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