thoughts on our urban future

Can we grow the Good Society?

Security when entering the Houses of Parliament (seat of UK democracy)

As the Big Society in the UK continues to provide the foundation for discussion and debate, and as the government continues to define what it is (yet alone attempts to detail how to support it), how would you define the Good Society?

This week, as part of the audience, I was intrigued to hear the viewpoints on what the Good Society is and how it contrasts the Big Society. The Good Society could be loosely defined as the ideal direction and focus for society.

The event was held at the Houses of Parliament. Interestingly, issues about people’s availability to participate in the Big Society were key issues raised. These relate to individuals’ work and family commitments and how limited time and energy could limit their active participation in community decisions and in donating time, which appear to be key ideas to enact the Big Society to supplement reduced government services during our reduced budgets. Ironically, the event was over-subscribed and places for the event were limited (perhaps a small indication that there is true potential for some of the ideas behind the Big Society). In addition, the venue – as being the seat of UK government – demonstrated very tight security and precluded the feeling of an open event. Surely an open forum – either physically or virtually online – would have enabled a greater participation from society and promoted the intended spirit of the Good Society.

Nonetheless, with several MPs on the panel of five, there were some sharp critiques of the Big Society. This was to be expected. What seemed to be missing was what the Good Society could be and how it could better influence the development of local community decision-making and local change throughout the UK. It is very easy to identify issues and criticise the current direction of policy. It is much more difficult to determine a better path, yet alone to define one – which could take a generation to realise – within the typical political cycle of three, four or five years. Ideas were needed.

I did wonder, though, what should we expect from political leadership, especially understanding that a shift of political sway can occur at any time, and it typically changes every five or 10 years? What about a long-term contract between the government and the people? Should we be content with government policy that turns planning upside-down every 10 years? Should political colour have the power to make such big changes so easily? In an ideal world I would have to say no.

Perhaps there should be principles or themes that would ensure we – as a society – have goals and aspirations that any political party would have to aim to deliver? Could there be a 50-year plan, focusing on the big issues such as poverty, immigration, infrastructure, energy and food independence, manufacturing, technology and the like to guide (not dictate) policy? Should a national conversation help create such a plan that builds on all the great British attributes and makes a fairer, better society, maybe even the Good Society? I hope so. This would require true change, and challenge the status quo. I’d like to hear a debate on what people think a Good Society truly is, and ideas on growing the concept…

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1 Comment

  1. One of the things that the UK is missing is any sort of stable, hard to change legislature, like, for example, the US constitution. Oh, the UK has a so-called constitution, which isn’t actually comprised of any single document, or easy to understand or convey.

    Are not some of the greatest organizations founded on firmly placed and stated doctrine? The US constitution, the 10 commandments, you get the idea.

    Maybe the UK needs to start big. Start with agreeing certain inalienable rights. Perhaps once they have something they can all stand behind and support, without argument or debate, it will be easier to work on some of the finer grain detail? My fear is that with no basis for any written communal belief at the large scale, how can we possibly expect it to work at a community or local scale?

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