its democracy stupid

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  • 8/9/2019 Its Democracy Stupid


    Its democraan agenda for self-g

    Tom Bentley

  • 8/9/2019 Its Democracy Stupid


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  • 8/9/2019 Its Democracy Stupid



    The goal of democracy is self government. This is the root of the ancient

    democratic ideal, but i t has been lost from the twentieth century western

    models of polit ics.

    Our current political institutions are not up to the job: as a result, politics is

    disappointing citizens and forc ing politicians to make promises they cannot

    deliver. The disengagement of citizens from formal politics, which is going on

    across the developed world, illustrates the scaleof the problem. But twenty-first

    century societies are facing a series of challenges which can only be met

    through political action.

    Real politics- the power, ideas and influence of ordinary people- is the

    only route to real change. This politics is thriving in our homes, work places,

    communities, social movements, businesses and civi l society.

    We need a new era of grown-up government, which treats people as

    intelligent adults and expects them to do the same. It must distribute power

    with responsibility.This is the only way to deliver a new political agenda

    based on well-being and quality of life.

    Such an agenda implies radical restructuring of the state and public

    institutions.A combination of institutional inertia, short-term overload and

    political aversion to risk mean that politicians have so far only tweaked at

    the edges of the transformation we need.

    Better health, education and iobs, a higher quality of life and genuine socialinclusion can only be changed by persuading people to change the way they

    behave - government cannot deliver on behalf of the people.

    This means forging new systems of cooperation, innovation and learning in

    every sector. Democracy in practice must mean the chance to shape our own

    lives, through systems which al low us to meet collective goals in a more

    diverse, fluid and individualised society.

    The avenues for progress towards this goal are clear. But they depend as

    much on practical innovation in every sphere as they do on analysis and



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    >Labours first te rm of government has, by most conventional measures,been a success. Sowhy is it politics still surrounded by anxiety and disap-pointment? Why, even for those who are succeeding, does society still

    seem to fraying at t he edges? In shor t, why do we feel so bad?

    The reason is that the model of politics we have inherited is not u p to th e

    job. It traps citizens and representatives into outdated roles, and it forces

    politicians into making promises they struggle to deliver. While it may

    improve its own effectiveness at the margins, politics as a set of ins titu -

    tions, cannot provide th e transformation which politicians now feel com-

    pelled to offer.

    Its time for politics to grow up. After a century where politics has been

    marked by the struggle to gain democratic rights and freedoms for indi-

    viduals, a new challenge is taking shape. The challenge is to make demo-cratic participation mean someth ing. We need government which t reats

    people as grown ups and asks them to do t he same.

    This means a new political agenda. Not just electing a different party or a

    different set of leaders, but going much further . It means wholesale reor-ganisation of the institutions th rough which we interact with each other

    and make decisions. It means redistributing power away from centralised

    organisations and small elites. It means equipping people in practice with

    the responsibilities and the tools to shape their own lives.

    Disengagement is the problem

    The clearest illustration of t he problem is t he steady decline, across the

    industrialised world, of peoples engagement with formal politics. In eigh-

    teen of the worlds twenty most industrialised countrie s election t urnout

    has declined since the 1950s,on average by 10 per cent.At the same time,and with the same consistency, people have become far less likely to iden-

    tify strongly with a political party.


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  • 8/9/2019 Its Democracy Stupid


    In the UK, we are entering an election period in which most agree there is

    only one plausible outcome. But despite Labours dominance, and despite

    the wave of energy and enthusiasm which accompanied t heir election in

    1997, confidence in politicians and political institutions continues to

    wane. More people voted in las t years Big Brother TV polls than in th e

    Scottish, Welsh or European elections.

    The greatest challenge is now the divide between people and the political

    class. The sense of disconnection and disempowerment th at many people

    feel matters more th an t he divisions between left and right, and helps toexplain the streng th of reaction to apparent abuses of power or position.

    But there is also a deeper, underlying challenge. The world is changing in

    ways which require political responses and solutions. But the same

    changes are also helping to blunt the tools and mechanisms on which

    governments rely to do thei r job. The challenge of a new politics is not

    just to provide a language which can capture peoples values and aspira-

    tions and clarify th e issues of th e day. The real challenge is to connect

    those emerging values and priorities with systems of organisation which

    can make a difference to peoples daily lives.

    Is politics over?

    Some argue that, despite the hype, politics has less to do now, and this

    explains its decreasing relevance. According to thi s view, the tr iumph of

    market liberalism, combined with rising living standards, has ended th e

    great ideological conflicts and made politics a question of administrative

    efficiency and managerial competence. People are left free to get on with

    what really interests them, while party-based cliques compete for the

    chance to exercise what little power is left.

    But this thesis is not borne out by reality. Despite wealth, peace, freedom

    and technological progress, advanced industr ial societies face a degree of

    social fragmentation, environmental threat, economic uncertainty and

    cultural drift which undermines the ir ability to face the future with con-

    fidence. From global warming to personal privacy, genetic discrimination

    to financial instability, population movement to ageing societies, the

    twenty-first century presents a set of challenges which will only be met

    through politics in some form. The triumph of markets may have given

    business influence over more of ou r lives, but it has not eradicated the

    need for political action, even where it has changed the way in which th e

    issues are framed.

    4 Demos

    And while formal politics - the worlds of legislation, candidates and gov-

    ernment departments - may be struggling to deliver, political conflict is

    thriving in many othe r locations. From ethical consumerism to anti-cap-italism, family-friendly campaigns to fuel protes ts, new forms of politics

    have asserted themselves in every sphere of life. Politics now takes place

    in kitchens and classrooms, on street corners and in the media. Corporateboardrooms host discussions of environmental responsibility, and volun -

    tary organisations claim democratic legitimacy. The evidence is th at we

    want to believe in politics, but cannot bring ourselves to accept what politi-

    cians tell us.

    Just as politics, understood as a separate indust ry, a realm in which power

    is won by competing for the levers of control over other sectors, is losing

    its grip over what happens i n the rest of society,so politics is reappearing

    in every othe r sphere. In all these places, and more, a search is going on

    for new ways to reconcile the competing pressures of modern life, to allo-

    cate resources fairly, and to realise deeply held values.

    Despite the decline in peoples willingness to vote, or to identify with a par-

    ticular party, there is no reported decline in their levels of political inter-

    est, or in how often they discuss political issues. And there are other ways

    of having an impact. TheUK s leading eleven environmental organisationsboast 5.4million members between them. A recent survey in 25 countries

    found th at one in five consumers reported actively rewarding or punish-

    ing a company for its perceived social performance. Protest and alternative

    living movements are growing strongly, fuelled by the new forms of

    organisation made possible by networked computer technologies.

    The problem is not a lack of political issues. The problem, in a sense is

    that t here are too many. As societies have become more diverse, more

    complex and more open, the range of issues and social groupings has

    become far harder to corral into coheren t policy platforms or voter coali-

    tions. And as the channels through which people can effect change mul-

    tiply, it becomes harder to convince them that they should respect the

    options offered by formal politics. An increasingly heterogeneous politics

    is ill-served by a three or four party system.

    The new political agenda

    As values and culture change over time, the goals of politics must also

    change. While many still aspire to basic security and opportunity - secure

    homes. sustainable income and the chance to raise families- a new set of

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  • 8/9/2019 Its Democracy Stupid


    priorities is also emerging. Quality of life is becoming the new goal - the

    liveability of cities, a new balance between work and life, a radical shift

    towards environmental sustainability, opportunities for learning and cul-

    tural participation which go beyond the mass consumption and enter -

    tainment of th e twentieth century.

    This agenda is gradually emerging from a broader context of uncertainty

    and dis ruption. The bases of wealth and prosperity are shif ting, as part of

    the long transition towards and economy based on knowledge and ser-

    vices. Family structures and relationships are also in flux , and individualsvalue choice and freedom more now than perhaps ever before. In all of

    these areas, established routines have been disrupted and destroyed by

    technological change, competitive thr eat, or changing values.

    These new issues are headed towards the mainstream agenda of politics.

    Currently they are often treated as questions which can be addressed once

    the basic questions of jobs, health, education, transport and crime. But

    the new agenda cannot be separated from these well established prob -

    lems. In fact, the basics can only be delivered in th e context of the new


    People now seek forms of fulfilment and achievement which reflect their

    own sense of self. They can access an unprecedented range of cu lture s,

    ideas and lifestyle choices. Politics must go beyond material wealth and

    security and help to deliverwell-being if i t is to sustain its legitimacy and

    contribute to real progress.

    But to do so, our political systems will have to go far beyond what they are

    currently capable of achieving.

    Overall, we are seeing a huge increase in t he power and value of knowl-

    edge - knowledge used to develop and sell new products and services, to

    develop more complex medical treatments, to maintain diverse social net-

    works, to improve individual life-chances through education, to restruc-

    ture f irms and global supply chains and to keep records of peoplesbehav-iour.

    The difficulty is that th is knowledge creates new ethical dilemmas and

    political challenges. Creativity - using knowledge in new ways to create

    value - is now the key asset that societies possess. For politics to recover,

    creativity must be harnessed to promote quality of life and well-being.


    This means a new understanding of change -what drives it, how it can be

    shaped, and where power lies i n contemporary society.

    Institutions out of place

    The problem of delivery is not confined to government. Institutions i n

    every sphere are under pressure. Whether businesses, charities, broad-

    casters, professions or corporations, we are surrounded by organisations

    struggling to adapt to a changing environment. This struggle helps to

    explain the pervasive sense of stress and insecurity which affects more

    and more of us , especially at work.

    But the institutions of politics and government, central to maintaining a

    sense of order and reconciling competing challenges and demands, face a

    particular strain. Expectations continue to rise, driven by politicians

    promises, by the media, and by the growth of a more demanding, con-

    sumer-oriented electorate. Governments are t rying to meet new, more

    complex demands using tools and levers which have changed little in half

    a century or more. The organisational systems on which they rely are

    stuck firmly in t he past. The creative destruction and renewal ensured by

    market competition in the private sector is not matched by any corre -

    sponding impulse in the civil service, the church, local government or

    many areas of the voluntary sector. Our schools and universities retain

    basic structu res which are centuries old.

    As a result, th e potential for progress remains stifled by organisational

    structures, cultures and history. In too many spheres, change is

    approached through cautious incrementalism, building shakily on past

    structures, rather than transforming and renewing whole systems of


    The rhetoric of change and modernisation have been adopted by politi-

    cians across the world. In some cases they have led to concrete progress i n

    delivering specific objectives. But in general they have not connected

    with a more tangible sense of improvement and progress in peoples lives.

    Surveys show that while many people are optimistic about their own indi-

    vidual prospects, they do not expect society in general to improve. Too

    often they lack any connection to organisations which can give practical

    expression to the ir wider concerns or aspirations.

    In the UK we have seen a growing mismatch between t he command of

    media communication shown by the most talented politicians, and the

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  • 8/9/2019 Its Democracy Stupid


    halting, uneven progress which they can deliver through t he machinery

    of government. The effort to make public services deliver, expressed pri-

    marily through targets and central cont rol, is increasingly at odds with

    the complex, diverse and growing demands which public service organi-sations face. The reliance on targets as a means of control, and on themedia as a source of pressure and transparency, is in danger of

    paralysing the public sectors capacity to innovate and restructure.

    The truth is that public services cannot hope to meet the inevitable

    growth in demand witho ut more radical change to their basic structure.But the culture of experime ntation, learning and risk-taking required forthis to happen is held back by a combination of institutional inertia,

    short-term overload and political aversion to risk.

    Beyond market purism

    In the last decades of the twentieth century, the great shift which ani -

    mated change and focused political conflict was towards a view of society

    based on markets. Where collectivism had failed, the dynamism and

    diversity of market competi tion would provide new solutions . Individual

    freedom became th e paramo unt ideological value, and th e injustice and

    inefficiency of government and bureaucracy the chief enemy.

    But while the reforms of t he 1980s and 1990s cleared away much of the

    old order, they failed to provide solutions for the great social challenges

    taking shape. Parts of t he neolibe ral legacy are now largely accepted by

    left and r ight across the world. But tha t wave of change failed to influ -

    ence the basic nature , or even the size of government. More important, it

    failed to diminish th e underlying importance of th e social and the com-

    munal to achieving and sustaining progress.

    The story which th at era offered, of increasing freedom an d prosperity

    realised thr ough individual competitive effort, ended in failure. The inse-

    curity of a global economy and th e distress and anxiety caused by povertyand inequality undermined the optimism and energy which the new

    right had sparked around t he world.

    As a result, todays politicians are engaged in an attempt to humanise thesystems which neoliberalism left behind - to ensure fairness and opportu-

    nity in market-based societies, and to reduce the damage caused by sys-

    tematic social exclusion. They are trying to do this wi thout questioning th e

    basic struc tures of market-based competition and economic rationalism.


    The left has learned lessons from its past failures: above all th e need for

    pragmatism, realism and effective communication. And while it has dom -

    inated the landscape of politics, from Britain to North America, Brazil to

    Scandinavia, its radical aspirations are streaked throu gh with caution and


    The problem is that this cautio n holds back the potential for real, lasting

    change. Because in many cases, politicians can only deliver on their

    promises of better health, education and jobs, a higher quality of life,

    and genu ine social inclusion by being ready to overhaul completely thesystems of organisation thro ugh which government operates.

    The changing nature of power

    Where government and politics in the past have formed th e nodal point

    of societies, power and dynamism are now distributed far more widely.

    New ways of thinking, working and organising now flow from the com-merce, the media, and fro m the social sector far more reliably than they

    do from th e domain of politics and government. Ideas are generated in

    practice throu gh entrepreneursh ip and experimentation, and spread con-

    tagiously through a communications infrastructure driven by a global

    revolution in new, networked technologies.

    Social and economic change are increasingly driven by international

    forces, and policy problems do not respect national borders.

    The stable social classes and groupings on which government has focused

    its policies are more fluid and harder to communicate with. People are

    less ready to accept institutional authority, less subject to direct contro l.

    In this environment, not surprisingly, power is seen to have shifted to

    other places. Businesses are held u p as the drivers of real chang e, and

    increasingly expected to provide solutions which go beyond th eir tradi-

    tional role. Individual entrepreneurs and celebrities are revered andmedia power is equated with other, more tangible forms of co ntrol.

    But a network society still needs organising concepts and frameworks for

    coordinat ing collective effort and common resources. The decline of def-

    erence and hierarchy thre aten a collapse into formless chaos as much as

    they promise a new era of democracy and opportunity. The great danger

    remains th at th e political sphere will become narrower in an attemp t to

    defend its own territory, that politics will become cut off from th e cur-

    9/ Demos

    --- I

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  • 8/9/2019 Its Democracy Stupid


    rents which can renew and sustain its capacity to offer progress. Politics

    and politicians have to engage with t he very forces which are undermin-

    ing their credibility.

    Avoiding this danger, for leaders of all political colours, requires a con-

    stant stream of challenging and radical ideas. Governments must be

    willing to learn, and to accept vigorous debate as a necessity for identify -

    ing solutions. But ideas alone are not enough to produce change in prac-

    tice. Across whole societies, from industry to the media, religion to th e

    family, institutions are failing to keep up with the pace of change in the irexternal environment. The ability to connect new ideas and radical aspi-

    rations with practical, concrete outcomes calls for far-reaching processes

    of learning and transformation i n all areas of organisational life.

    Its democracy, stupid

    But if politics is to change, we must go beyond just t he recognition t hat

    its old manifestat ions are dead or dying. While we can criticise those who

    use outdated command and control structures in their attempts to

    achieve social progress, there is little point if we cannot suggest any con-

    structive alternative. This points us to one of the most important charac-

    teristics of politics in the twenty-first century: there are no predeter-

    mined solutions.

    Political action, for centur ies, has been predicated on the idea that a par-

    ticular source of knowledge can provide progress for the whole of society.

    Whether that source is science, or the market, religion or ideology, poli-

    tics has been dominated by narratives in which leaders have attempted to

    govern through certainty, drawing on their own access to privileged

    knowledge in order to make decisions on behalf of t he people.

    The great shift of contemporary politics is the realisation that the re is no

    one source of certainty - and that progress in a post-political age depends

    not primarily on the design or management of institutions, but on the

    ways in which they draw on and inter act with t he people they serve. In

    other words, politics cannot go forward without another wave of democ-


    Democratic progress is conventionally characterised in one of two ways -

    making those who govern more subject to those who elect them through

    various channels of accountability, and consulting people more often on a

    wider range of decisions, for example through focus groups or the internet.

    10 Demos

    But both of these options ignore the real foundation of the ancient demo-

    cratic ideal: that t he goal of democracy is not accountable or responsive

    government by representative leaders, but selfgovernment.

    Overcoming a false choice

    This realisation casts new light on many familiar policy dilemmas.

    Todays politicians are trapped in a contest between two inherently

    limited models of policy delivery. The left offers the promise of strong

    public services, developed and managed by a strong political centre, using

    new technology to customise and individualise t he service each citizendraws upon. This view depends on t he effectiveness of the state in a tra-

    ditional form - and it helps explain current efforts to make public ser-

    vices subject to performance targets and media-based accountability. In

    Britain, New Labour is trying to restore the legit imacy of th e state by

    proving its competence in delivering modest, relevant improvements to

    the public services people care about.

    The right, meanwhile, continues to offer the chimera of a minimal state,

    with social need met by private action - a combination of market-driven

    services and philanthropy, with t he rules and basic functions maintained

    by a state which returns the maximum possible wealth to citizens in

    reduced taxes. This position depends on t he fragile argument that social

    need can be met largely throug h private action, and th at markets are so

    responsive and self-regulating that they can eventually find ways of

    solving all major social problems.

    The striking fact is that both models continue with the myth that gov-

    ernment can deliver on behalfofthe people it serves. The tru th, of course,is that politics cannot change society unless it can persuade people to

    change th e way they themselves behave.

    For example, health and education cannot be improved indefinitely

    simply by increasing public spending-

    they depend far more on changes

    in lifestyle which engage the citizen actively in living more healthily and

    making use of learning opportunities. Carbon emissions cannot be

    reduced without changing t he way we choose to use cars. Jobs cannot be

    created without harnessing peoples own enterprise and imagination. The

    safety of public spaces depends not jus t on t he level of electronic sur-

    veillance or the number of police officers, but also on the flows of people

    thro ugh those spaces, and the ways in which they are prepared to inte r-

    act with each other.

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    Increasingly, government can effect real change only by working through

    partnerships and networks, and helping to inspire changes in culture,

    rathe r t han simply trying to regulate and control. Many of todays politi-

    cians are groping thei r way towards this realisation, often in response to

    intractable policy problems. It is crudely expressed in the desire to

    streng then peoples responsibility in specific areas like jobseeking and

    neighbourhood renewal and th e offer of par tnership from th e state. To

    work, it must go far fur the r than t his, defining democracy by the direct

    contributions which free individuals make to solutions which work at

    mass scale, whole systems involving millions of interactions whichnonetheless depend on ethical commitment and personal motivation.

    In other words, we must now move towardsgrown-up government- institu-

    tions which respect the intelligence and self-determination of individu-

    als, but which expect people to take active responsibility for producing

    collective solutions.

    But democracy in its curr ent form can easily be described as par t of the

    problem. For many citizens, the experience of part icipation is meaning-

    less, because the act of voting does not result in any real change. Our

    models of representative government reinforce political competition a t

    national level, when many of t he most significant problems require inter-

    national or local coordination and cooperation. Consultation and polling

    are often obstacles to progress, discouraging long termism and slowingdown the process of change.

    And the alternatives on offer still seem weak and unsustainable. While

    direct action may produce alternative sources of motivation and generate

    media coverage, it does not offer a lasting, positive agenda. Real solutions

    can only be found if they are built through systems of organisation

    which can operate in t he real world. The retreat into isolation or denial,

    whatever its motivation, is not a realistic option for most people.

    These conclusions lead us to a new political agenda. It is based partly on

    the need for leadership in thought - seeking new ways to understand andinterpret the world, and to use the power of ideas to shape futur e alter-

    natives. But it is also based on practice, and on harnessing innovation and

    entrepreneurship to create the organisational knowledge we need to

    make progress.

    There is now a clear agenda, focused on reshaping politics, and connect-

    ing people with the support and resources they need to shape their own

    lives for the better. It rests on seven avenues of progress, which inter link

    to provide a path towards sustainable twenty-first century societies in

    which well-being is a realistic goal for all.

    > Building new forms of democracyA bill of rights and responsibilities could form the foundation of a new,

    active role for the citizen. Compulsory voting would be the universal

    obligation towards a healthy politics, combined with more responsive andparticipative systems for involving people directly in public decision-

    making at every level. Citizens would expect to be called for a form of

    jury service, and given time from o ther responsibilities to allow for their

    contribution. A right of initiative would create the opportunity for

    groups of citizens to put items on th e national political agenda. New tech-

    nologies could be harnessed to create deliberative networks through citi-

    zens could debate and decide. New forms of democratic election and

    involvement would be developed at local and international levels. Votes

    could be issued at birt h, and held in trus t by parents until children reach

    voting age.

    > Reshaping the state into grown up governmentSuch democratisation could not take place without radical reform of t he

    basic structures of the state. Administrative discretion and decision-

    making power would be devolved towards th e level of service delivery,

    and th e central state reshaped into a core of information provision, and

    systems designed to promote innovation, learning and continuous

    improvement. New career structures and models of accountability for

    public servants would reinforce the drive to make real outcomes, not

    remote numerical targets , the test of th eir performance. Responsibility

    for solving problems and delivering outcomes would be developed to

    autonomous teams within the public services who would be contracted to

    achieve specific goals.

    > Reinvigorating civil societyThe institu tions of civil society would become more directly involved in

    producing social outcomes. Service delivery and new organisational

    models would be pioneered by a far wider range of social organisations

    and ent repreneurs. The media, in its new and old forms, would become

    more actively involved in responding to citizens and in providing the

    infrastructure for civic participation. Social entrepreneurs would be

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  • 8/9/2019 Its Democracy Stupid


    backed by investment and evaluation to create new ways of delivering

    social outcomes and involving people directly in civic life. Devolution of

    power and resources to neighbourhood level would take place at a far

    more radical level tha n anything yet proposed. The transfer ofEl00 billionof public assets and revenue streams to community organisations and cit-

    izens groups, over a period of seven years, by star ting with E l billion in

    the first year and doubling the amount in each subsequent one, would be

    one way to achieve such a shift.

    *Unleashing a new business agenda

    Businesses would be released from the competing pressures of share-

    holder accountability and social responsibility by reshaping the ir con tri-

    bution to sustainability and quality of life, while freeing them to use

    enterprise i n creating wealth. Corporations face many of t he same prob-

    lems as governments, in responding to increasing demand, more flui d

    and diverse customer bases, and th e need to deliver at mass scale. Their

    rhetoric of autonomous teamwork is often contradicted by the reality of

    author itarian management hierarchy. Companies desperately need t heir

    own forms of democracy and self government to sustain t he commit-

    ment and contribution of workers and customers. They increasingly rely

    on social infras tructure and the overall quality of life to attract and

    retain t he ri ght workforce. The ethical concerns of consumers are begin-

    ning to shape the markets in which businesses succeed or fail.A new role

    for business could begin with new opportunities for companies to deliver

    public and social services, and with a tax regime which taxed companies

    not on profit b ut on t heir overall contribution: to sustainability, learning

    and skills, and social inclusion. New cooperative institutions wouldenable businesses to collaborate, for example in specifying and delivering

    training and skills development.* Education for creativityEducation systems would be radically restructured to provide every child

    with a sound foundation for lifelong learning, and all adults withongoing opportunities to learn. Curricula would emphasise creativity and

    life skills alongside formal disciplinary knowledge, and a far wider range

    of organisations would provide learning opportunities. Schools would be

    open 24 hours, and investment would focus more on the under fives,

    where it makes most difference. Public investment in education would

    double over a decade.

    14 Demos

    > Towards environmental sustainabilityGovernments, firms and NGOs would collaborate to create new standardsof environmental performance, using innovation in every sector to

    achieve sustainability. TheUKwould set the goal of recycling 100per cent

    of household waste within a generation. International markets would be

    created in reduction of harmful emissions, while productivity would be

    defined more and more by improvements in resource efficiency. Tax

    systems would reflect the hierarchy of environmental impact of different


    * Putting well-being alongside economic growthGovernments would prioritise well-being alongside income as a measure

    of progress. New time rights would enable people to control their own

    working lives and balance t hem against other responsibilities. National

    accounts would measure well-being and ful filment along with economic

    growth. Stress and depression would become the focus of cross-sector

    public health strategies.A national competence account would be estab-

    lished, to assess the readiness of people and organisations to face the

    future with confidence.

    A chance to shape the future

    In the long run , this means a n entirely different political landscape, and

    a series of profound shifts in th e way we understand and relate to politics.

    But perhaps, most important, it means that there is a huge opportunity for

    politics to be reshaped by people and organisations which are prepared to

    test out in practice their responses to the issues which matter most.

    The forms of practice and innovat ion which can develop this agenda are

    already distributed across our societies. The challenge is to learn from

    them and shape them into new systems of self-government. We will need

    new examples of leadership, and new forms of ownership and organisa-tion, in order to meet it.

    With them we can reshape th e space in which public business is done, to

    create not just a new list of political issues, but also a new set of tools

    with which to resolve them.

    This is the t rue challenge for politics in the twenty-first century. It must

    create a new language which can capture and mobilise the aspirations of

    diverse, fluid societies, but it must also shape t he wholesale transforma-15 Demos

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  • 8/9/2019 Its Democracy Stupid


    tion of the organisations through which we interact with other s, accessresources, channel our energies and create wealth and knowledge.

    Achieving this kind of progress will be difficult in the extreme. It is a

    paradox th at living in an age of unprecedented knowledge, with t he tools

    and power to accomplish tasks unimagined by past generations, makes

    life more complex and daunting. Determining how we handle knowledge;

    who owns it: who controls it; who is able to protect knowledge about

    themselves is hugely difficult. The moral dilemmas become more

    complex, and the range of choices more bewildering, as we learn moreabout what we can do.

    Resolving these dilemmas will remain t he task of politics, because no

    other sphere can do the job. The frameworks for making such decisions,

    setting rules and solving problems across whole societies, can only come

    from institutions which reflect and draw on the diverse resources and

    interests of those societies.

    And in t he long term this definition also helps to show the depth of polit-

    ical challenge. The task is to go beyond just humanising the market, just

    trying to soften the consequences of capitalism, and instead align the

    economy and human needs so that the two work in tandem. Rather than

    politics running behind, it must help to shape the future, so that firms

    are motivated to train workers, protect the environment and support fam-

    ilies; so that innovation and cooperation reinforce each other, and so that

    the way people develop and express their own identities also equips them

    to contribute to wider social goals.

    This is the challenge which Demos is taking on. It has shaped a wave of

    change in Britain and beyond, but its long-term agenda remains unful-

    filled. It aims to produce th e ideas which will shape twenty-first century

    politics, and to stimulate practical innovation which can help provide

    hard-edged organisational solutions