My 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.