Sep 282011

I’ve been gnawing away at the subject of trust this past day or two – most overtly here and here.  In the first piece I argue if politicians feel they should gain our trust, then business leaders need to consider doing the same – and that, in fact, the concept of the public interest ought to be expanded to the private sector.  In the second piece I wonder if the real problem isn’t whether we trust our politicians but, rather, if they are capable of trusting us.

Some commmentators have been saying that both David Cameron and Ed Miliband believe we are faced with a “broken society”:

One of the more interesting responses I had to Ed Miliband’s speech was that it also said Britain has a broken society.

The difference is that while Ed M pointedly said he did not want to dismiss parts of society as ‘sick’ and focused instead on how ‘vested interests’ were making life harder for Britons. Cameron of course prefers to blame people than institutions.

The two arguments are not incompatible though.  If we substitute Cameron’s “sick” bits of Britain with Miliband’s “vested interests”, then the two versions of the reality out there are really not all that different.

And again, it comes down to trust.  We do not trust the politicians.  The politicians do not trust us.  The politicians do not trust the business leaders.  Business leaders, by their very nature, do not trust anyone – except, perhaps, a supplier in terrible need of earning that contract and receiving payment within the agreed ninety days.

So our “broken society” isn’t so much a question of what we do: it is, instead, more a question of what we think about each other.

Any explanation anyone?  I’m beginning to think it might be what Ed Miliband described in his “something for something” soundpeck.  That is to say, the conditionality of big and small business.  Unconditional love?  This has no place in our modern scheme of things.  The state, whether right or left, big or small, supportive or couldn’t-care-less, is reaching – in some way – a consensus of sorts: whatever we propose, whatever we argue, whatever we disagree on, one point is clear: you can’t get something for nothing.  Or put differently: if you want to get something, the something you must give in return will be determined by quantitative values big and small business have spent centuries pushing. 

This is not a place nor world nor century nor state for altruistic peoples.  This is not a time for revisionist religions which drop with great care and intelligence their violent and destructive pasts. 

And Ed Miliband and David Cameron are far more similar than they would care to admit.  Those who criticise Ed Miliband’s speech yesterday (or conversation as I prefer to put it) would do well to remember another overarching objective of any Labour leader at the mercy of the autumnal sequence of political party conferences: the Tories always have the advantage of having the last laugh.  Miliband may have been talking to us and not speechifying Conference when he spoke – but he also must have had in mind how best to squeeze centre ground away from Cameron’s big opportunity and speech.

So it is that conditionality rules all our public discourse.  Whatever our party, whatever our belief system, when politicians look to enable our political endeavour, they determine it must be measured in terms they can easily quantify and compare.

But I do wonder if, once again, we aren’t measuring and comparing what is easy to do so – instead of measuring and comparing what is important to do so.

Ed Miliband has a strategy – of that I am sure.  It is based, as is Cameron’s, on the base assumptions of capitalism – that everything must be defined in terms of its price.  “Something for something” makes it clearer than ever.

In the early part of the 21st century, this is clearly the final death of all altruistic behaviours.

Is this what socialism was all about?  I think it was.  Is this a sign that socialism is now failing us?  I’m pretty sure it is.  Miliband may manage eventually to squeeze Cameron out of his toothpaste tube of supposedly “sensitive” Toryism – but only at the cost of acquiring a similarly flavoured, similarly abrasive and alternatively conditional socialism.

I may have to turn to God, after all.


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