Last week, Hugo Rifkind wrote a great article (as usual) in the Times entitled “Stand up, Tories, and embrace your poshness” His point was, people come from the background they come from and there’s not much they can (or should) do about that; what counts is what they do rather than what box they fit into. His main point (3rd paragraph) is that privilege gives you choice, and it is choice that enables you to live what is seen as and felt to be a more fulfilling and more productive life.
This seems to me to be so unanswerably obvious that I wasn’t going to even mention it but it seems that Britain today – despite all the social and economic advances we have made – still thinks it has a problem with class. Then I went to the launch of Policy Exchange’s excellent Northern Lights report, where I was reminded of the following:
The reason that richer people feel or are seen as happier is that money enables them to buy choice. Current reforms to public services are aimed at extending that choice to everyone; having control over their own lives is what fulfils people and makes them more content. If we are serious about wellbeing – and we should be, because improving wellbeing has positive implications for almost all areas of public policy – we should redouble our efforts to extend choice in public services so that people have more control.
So – pace all those people who laugh at and deride the Big Society – the only way to make any sort of headway in this is by boosting the Big Society. I don’t care if that’s how we talk about it (in the same way that I don’t care how we talk about modernisation, as long as we keep at it). I do care about what it delivers.
The thing that people want is good services for them and their families; Labour demonstrated that hosing money into public services does not improve them (and indeed, can damage them). Instead, we need to ensure that accountability and responsiveness are the watchwords. And the way to do that is to devolve power so that decisions are made as close as possible to the people who use those public services, and so that those making decisions see the impact of their decisions.
One of the key findings of the Northern Lights report is that voters really do care about government performance in general – do they deliver what they promised, do they say what they mean, do they provide effective leadership, those sorts of things. Those perceptions are influenced by two things – firstly, what voters notice and secondly (and relatedly) what they take in. And both of those things need work. Delivering what it promised on public services, the economy, trust and change is vital for this government, and telling people about it is too.