2014, but who will have a place in the sun(shine)?


Where will the inspiration come from? And a challenge for all of you at the end

I’m starting this blogpost with a saccharine advert from the late 1980s – a time when society, like today was also very divided between the haves and have-nots.

A strange time those days from what I remember of childhood. It never occurred to me that there weren’t more people in the media/on telly that looked like me. I was more worried about not looking like them. Why did they have white skin and me not? Growing up in south Cambridge, which was far less diverse than it is today, such things were never discussed. Yet there was never a day in my childhood for example where I remembered ever feeling “young and beautiful” (as sung in the lyrics of that song).

Fast forward to the year 2000 and we have this bouncy number

On the ballroom side, it’s been a popular jive track for years. But at the same time I don’t recall ever feeling as upbeat as the song for any extended period of time. Short, sharp, unsustainable highs followed by long depressions were more the order of those years.

“Young people say they have nothing to live for”

So says a recent study by the Prince’s Trust. In the same article, the Government’s response?

“The government commented that it was doing “everything possible” to help young people find work.”

My one-word response to that breaks Puffles’ house rules so I won’t quote it here. I’d like to see what the full response to the study is, because for a start that response doesn’t actually answer the question. Having a job alone does not automatically equate to having something to live for. The debate on reducing unemployment is far more complex and poisonous as it is – see my thoughts here. All too often, the mindset of politicians and policy-makers is to see the statistics, not the people. Unemployment rates, claimant counts – not whether people are content in their jobs or whether the skills that they have match the jobs or careers that they are in. And nothing about involuntary instability in their workplaces – short, fixed-term contracts or zero hours. You cannot plan ahead in the face of such involuntary instability.

Is the Government doing everything possible?

What the bailout of the banks showed us all is that anything less that what the banks got is not ‘everything possible’. You can see what the banks got via the National Audit Office – see here. And what were the banks compelled to do in return for the benefit of society and the greater good? I’ll leave you to answer that one.

The politics of happiness

It almost seems laughable given what’s happened to so many people that this announcement was made back in 2010. (See here). Interesting from a public-policy-wonk perspective. Yet the entire policy area feels like it’s an interesting topic of conversation for those that go to dinner parties in affluent parts of London but of little connection to the day-to-day existence for the rest of us.

This brings me onto Frances Coppola’s latest blogpost about happiness (see here). One of her points is that happiness is a subjective state of mind – therefore in itself cannot be a policy objective. I also agree with her points comparing material affluence vs strength of relationships. During my year out between college and university, I remember at the time being materially better off, but being very unhappy about both my work and the lack of a decent social life – very different to the early part of my time in upper sixth/year 13. I had far less money but I had the social life built around college friends. Yet during year 13 I had a strong feeling that I wasn’t ready to leave home in the way others were. By the summer of my year out, I definitely was ready. With hindsight I should have quit my job in banking earlier and gone travelling before university. But lack of courage stopped me.

Community stability versus flexible labour markets

This is something I touched in in the latter part of this blogpost. One of the reasons I never settled in London was the transient nature of the population. I later worked out that London has a population turnover of about 10% per year – which is massive. (See here). How can you possibly build strong relationships in a new place when people move on so regularly?

Little co-ordination at a policy level, little inspiration at a personality level, no positive vision for the future

The above has been my take on the political class ever since the banking crash. I can’t think of a single senior politician (by that I’m looking at front-benchers & heads of policy) who I find compellingly inspiring. None of the party leaders are offering anything like a credible, inspirational vision of the future, let alone any idea on how to get there. Nick Clegg’s former adviser Richard Reeves predicts a very ‘lacklustre’ election battle in 2015 – see here. My view is that we cannot and should not let the political parties and the mainstream media give us this. I still remember the phrase:

“Today, the election campaign will be fought over the economy as David Cameron visits…while Gordon Brown is in…”

…ringing in my years from 2010. My reaction at the times was:

“Says who?”

That was probably the first time I really started thinking about who was controlling the media debate during the election, and what people could do to get around this control. At the time, I couldn’t do a thing because I was in the civil service. My only contribution locally was firing off a series of questions to each of the candidates, giving them all a blank slate and saying that my decision would be based entirely on their local manifestos and their answers.

Some of us lead lives of quiet desperation. Sometimes that desperation can no longer stay quiet

To mis-quote a line from the Japanese version of the ballroom dancing film ‘Shall we dance?’ In one sense, this is the stage that I’m at – and have been for some time. Perhaps there’s a strange honour in going down fighting rather than imploding hidden away out of sight. Hence wanting to make 2014 different locally.

Doing things that have not been done before

I’ve stated both in my previous blogpost here and also in the one before that here that me and several others are going to be trying some new things in 2014. We’re still at the scoping and planning phase at the moment. What actions we’ll end up doing remains to be seen. But my take is that at some stage, some of us have to take risks – risks that will involve stuff not working or ridicule more than anything else, rather than violent stuff like death, injury or arrest. It’s seldom a good idea to put people with anxiety disorders in the face of violent confrontation. The fallout can emotionally paralyse us for months afterwards.

Being active and creating that sense of purpose

For me, it’s being active – and active with a plan and a purpose – that will make or break my 2014. What’s been really nice of late is that people locally are expressing appreciation for the time, effort and thought I’ve put into this. More importantly for me, it’s kicking off things that they are doing. The atmosphere for the people I’ve been talking & listening to is genuinely ‘How can we help?’ – which has also been my response when they’ve shown me their ideas too. As I’ve stated previously, making a real difference is not something I can hope to do alone.

Linking up with those outside your geographical area

One of the great things I’ve seen with social media is when people who have been corresponding for quite some time meet up face-to-face for the first time. It’s fascinating to see conversations take place between people who have met for the first time but talk as if they’ve known each other for years.

And that’s my hope for 2014 for all of you: That you’ll all try and meet for the first time some of the people that you’ve been corresponding with on social media. It doesn’t have to be a 1-2-1 – it can be a self-organised gathering such as a pub lunch, a protest march or even a summer picnic. I’d love to see those of you outside of London and the South East putting on such gatherings and inviting those of us in London and the South East outside of the bubble that we live in. Introduce us to your communities too. Chances are we’ll learn something new, become more aware of something previously we’d heard little of.



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