The third way in the UK Part Two: this time from the left

Diggers 1649My last post on the UK and the third way began with this sentence.

What do you do if you’re a ‘third wayer’ and things don’t seem to be turning out all that flatteringly for your vision?  You just keep talking in pretty much the same way, slap a coat of Web 2.0 paint on the vision and press on.

That was actually in preparation for the content of this post. I also contrasted the way in which it isn’t just politicians that campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Consultants and spruikers for the latest fads do it too. You don’t get lots of attention, which in some ways is a precondition for having influence if you’re always “on the one hand this and on the other hand thating”.

So proselytisers for the third way – and for most other ways – end up proselytising in poetry.  My mind goes to the difficulties too. In fact having read my share of ‘innovation in government’ manifestos, I hunger for the acknowledgement that successful innovation in government – like successful innovation in most places – is hard, really hard.  And certainly high levels of successful innovation is very rare in almost all established organisation for a reason that’s similar to why we have so few very good Prime Ministers.  Because the task is essentially impossible to formularise. It requires much more than raw intelligence, though it requires some of that.  It requires a kind of qualitative nous, a sensitivity to context, some basic understanding of people and what motivates them – which is a complicated and tricky subject.

Anyway spruikers can’t be agonizing saying it’s all very hard.  They have to entertain their audience indeed they are about the business of producing a stream of fascination which somehow leaves their audience leaving the presentation a little like the believers at an Anthony Robbins motivational show, thinking that at last they’ve got it and if only they can keep their focus on it, perhaps they’ll start leading The Life They Always Could Have.

Another characteristic is the piling of essentially different agendas onto each other – like third way ideas on social policy and environmentalism.  No problem with backing both agendas (though I have to confess that a fair bit of environmentalism irritates the hell out of me), but they’re mostly distinct or so it seems to me one can be more democratic, and more environmentalist – but it ain’t necessarily so. But somehow they get lumped in together.  I think the advocates of this would call it ‘holistic’.  I call it soft headed and faddish. It’s also a sign of a kind of ‘in’ speak, where one lot of people think they ‘get it’ and that the connections between all their favourite things can somehow to be assumed from sympathy with their comrades rather than from some understanding of the issues on their own terms.

On top of environmentalism we get ‘localism’. What’s good about localism?  I’ve never been able to figure it out.  Be that as it may let’s get the most irritating thing about the pamphlet I’m about to cite out of the way, this quote from Frijof Capra:

We should arrange our industries and our systems of production in such a way that matter cycles continuously, that all materials cycle between producers and consumers. We would grow our food organically and we would shorten the distance between the farm and the table, producing food mainly locally. All of this would combine to create a world that has dramatically reduced pollution, where climate change has been brought under control, where there would be plenty of jobs because these various designs are labour intensive and as an overall effect there would be no waste and quality of life would improve dramatically.

Bollocks. To quote Lord Wellington, “If you believe that, you’ll believe anything”.

Anyway, I came upon this seasoned third wayer, about whom I’ve offered a jaundiced aside or two before who has just put out this third way/ Government 2.0 pamphlet on the significance of Gerard Winstanley to our current woes.  Who was Winstanley?  He was a millenarian, agrarian communist who surfaced with his ‘diggers’ in the English civil war. Since he wasn’t a violent man, there was a lot to like about Winstanley’s vision, as naïve as it was. I was naturally intrigued with the pamphlet because I know quite a lot of about the period having studied it at Uni getting the only real education I ever got – in history.

There was, as you may know, an incredible ideological blooming of a thousand flowers in the period of time when power became contestable in the increasingly desperate civil war that raged in the 1640s and early 1650s. At around the time they chopped the king’s head off there were Levellers, True Levellers, Ranters, and Diggers all exploring the variations on democratic governance all in the wake of the New Model Army having uncovered the power of democratic decision making (well more democratic decision making) in running the military.

Anyway, here’s what being more like the diggers might do for us:

The New Levellers – social entrepreneurs, open source hackers, grass roots political campaigners, civil libertarians and environmental innovators – operate in the margins. Yet, even so, a synthesis of ideas is emerging that could redefine mainstream politics based on a series of fundamental corrections to ultra free market, environmentally unsustainable financial capitalism, governed by an enterprise state with declining legitimacy and a welfare state of declining efficacy. Those corrections would mean shifting:

›› from a prime focus on attracting entrepreneurs and financial capital, to seeing the life chances of the poorest as the prime measure of social and economic progress

›› from a welfare system based on services that maintain dependence, compensation after the event and cheques in the post, to one that invests in capabilities, focuses on prevention and engages as many people as possible to be contributors in seeking solutions

›› from the private exploitation and hoarding of knowledge, to sharing and collaboration as the engines of innovation and growth, based on the presumption that all knowledge and culture should be available for sharing

›› from propping up the exhausted, low energy parliamentary politics, to a high-energy politics based on a new constitution of the state which itself is based on high levels of citizen engagement

›› from linear industrial, high-energy systems, based on doing things to the environment, to circular, low energy and low waste systems, designed for zero waste working with natural systems

›› from the ultra individualism of “I want”, to the collaborative individualism of “We can”, in which the quality of relationships rather than units of individual choice are at the heart of a good society

›› from the constitution of the individual through self-willed choice, to a conditioned freedom in which people are made by the relationships that connect them

›› from the idea that we are what we own and control, to the idea that we are what we share

›› from financially driven, shareholder value capitalism, to a variety of ways in which organisations can own, connect and trade, in a more plural, social, democratic and innovative economy.

Got that?  Seems easy really now it’s pointed out.

Anyway, as you might imagine, I had my irritations with the pamphlet. Those of a stroppier bent might like to interpose the standard anti-communist lecture here (but like I said, Winstanley sought to propagate an essentially non-violent approach to politics, so I think the anti-communist lecture would be a bit overblown.)

Anyway, I realise coming to the end of this post that I’ve been a bit more critical than I wanted to me. I still recommend you take a look at the pamphlet.  Winstanley’s naïve millenarianism (sadly, the movement dissipated pretty quickly after some of the diggers colonies got beaten up) is still a remarkable thing and worth reading about. And I think the author makes some good points about the parallels between his New Labour (or Old Demos) agenda and modern concerns in opening up government and power structures.

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Don Arthur
14 years ago

“…campaign in poetry and govern in prose.”

I couldn’t resist this. Hilary Clinton borrowed this from New York Governor Mario Cuomo:

We campaign in poetry. But when we’re elected we’re forced to govern in prose. And when we govern – as distinguished from when we campiagn – we come to understand the difference between a speech and a statute. It’s here that the noble aspirations, neat promises and slogans of a campaign get bent out of recognition or even break as you try to nail them down to the Procrustean bed of reality.

Mario Cuomo, Chubb Fellowship Lecture, Yale University, Feb. 1, 1985

derrida derider
derrida derider
14 years ago

Well, I’ll be the first to kick the Communist can.

Winstanley was made popular in modern times by Christopher Hill. Hill was very much an old-fashioned orthodox pro-soviet Commo (I’ll not use the term “Stalinist” because it has become a fairly meaningless term of abuse), as well as being a fine historian (“The World Turned Upside Down” influenced me in my youthful Marxism). He naturally read quite different things into Winstanley than the “New Levellers” do – though given the radically different context of Winstanley’s age I’d be willing to bet that both are pretty tendentious readings.

At least the old-syle Commos understood some economics – especially that a “labour intensive” economy is not a good but a very, very bad thing for human happiness.

What is it with these soft lefties – why do they want us all to become peasants again? The silly bastards have never got past Rousseau.

Madeleine Kingston
Madeleine Kingston
14 years ago

Nicholas (Gruen)

Meanwhile, may I please say that I do like the staggeringly frank way in which things are expressed here, since I am all for calling a spade a spade.

Nicholas, I congratulate you for so graciously saying

“….having read my share of ‘innovation in government’ manifestos, I hunger for the acknowledgement that successful innovation in government – like successful innovation in most places – is hard, really hard.”

I also appreciate your remarks about politicians “campaigning in poetry” whilst “governing in prose” in prose.”

I tend also to agree that consultants and others get away with a lot on the basis of “on the other hand this… and “on the other hand that” as you have put it.

Having plowed my way through a good many dozen commissione4d consultants reports I have gained the distinct feeling that if disclaimers as to access to “adequate date” or other qualifiers were removed, many reports would become meaningless in terms of policy guidance. This is not to say that the skills of presenting what the client wishes to hear have not been perfected in these arenas.

I will return to this topic as I really do feel that the time has come to get to the heart of things in determining why things may not have been working so that some solutions can be devised that are sustainable., Tall order of course, and easy for those providing armchair comment to those ruling the country representing the “Faceless Bureaucrat” of Mia Garlick’s wordless article. Will Gov2 ever live down that title – or more to the point, will I ever let them?

I have just posted the following comments on Gov2 directly since I am not sure if the exclusive team at Club Troppo will go there to read everyday stuff. Since I enjoy a bit of directness with minimal moderation, I am hoping I can be more myself here.

Within the constraints of respect and so on I do believe moderation policies should be liberally interpreted if there is a genuine wish to obtain real time feedback from stakeholders.

Some like me can be direct but still courteous. If policies are not working they need to be highlighted in a timely manner.

The ACCC use naming and shaming techniques to deter unacceptable behaviour. It often works.

A good part of the public service is privatized through incorporation. Despite this many of these bodies are acting in a public role. They have accountabilities that they do not always recognize understand or admit to. Frequently decisions that are complex and inter-related are made in vacuum conditions without intra-body and inter-body collaboration, let alone effective collaboration with the stakeholders to whom services are being provided.

Where effective dialogue or other problems are identified they should be transparently highlighted.

As someone who has, despite all efforts, phenomenal stamina and persistence endeavouring to communicate withy government services in formal consultative dialogue over the last four years, I have been more than disappointed with outcomes. I should be able to say this openly, even naming the agencies where improvement is required, or for that matter where policies are seen to be harmful.

Waiting to respond to the often inadequately cushioned narrow Terms of Reference of many consultative processes may mean waiting till it is too late.

Finally how about something more concrete for community-based bloggers as stakeholders to provide better guidance about moderation policies. I often just do not know why a post is moderated or delayed when posting publicly. If a post is rejected something beyond an auto no-reply message without explanation should be provided in order that the poster, who may be a regular like me can better understand what to avoid on a future occasion.

May I suggest a more secure posting site on matters that are sensitive and should remain confidential but would nevertheless be useful information for top governance bodies or personnel to have? If for example a post is rejected for such reasons, perhaps it does belong somewhere else, and the poster should have the option of re-posting to a more secure part of the arena.

This of course does raise the question of transparency and accountability.

My view is that if something is worth attending to, it is worth being stated publicly. If you were to examine as many public submissions as I have in the past four years you will see that some stakeholders are unrestrained in terms of frank inputs about poor policies and decision-making by bodies that need to address those deficiencies in the public interest.

At the end of the day balancing public interests can be a delicate and challenging matter but leaning towards too soft an approach may be hampering the central goals of addressing policies in a timely manner and encouraging frank input from stakeholders so that community expectations of service delivery can be examined and addressed.

Elsewhere on the AGIMO linked to Gov2 (Where are we at with the WPG Review? #comment-205 17 April), and on other Gov pages I have mentioned the issue of “toughening-up” those who feel vulnerable and insecure over negative feedback.

After all it is the negative experience from which we learn most. Searching questions, challenge to policies and decisions are part of the process of developing optimal service delivery.

Learning to deal with the challenges presented by transparency and honesty in open consultation is part of the process of becoming a better service-provider.

How does that sound? Too harsh? Too scary? Should we be looking at dealing with how best misgivings about these issues can be addressed rather than limiting the quality and frankness of inputs?”

This is really just to enforce a stakeholder’s perspective that the chance to spell things out in direct terms is terrific. Judging from the frankness with which views are expressed here, this seems just the right place to be.

Just chanced on this as I was flitting past, so haven’t digested or read earlier parts, but will return when things are quieter and I can just enjoy reading without the threat of formal consultation deadlines looming over me. This is more fun of course.

Must dash for now