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2014 : A year for community, collectivism and collaboration?

John TizardIn spite of modest economic growth, personally, I doubt that 2013 will be remembered by the majority of the population as a great year.

Rather, it will be recorded as: a year of further cuts to critical public services; harmful changes to the benefit systems; political and media stigmatisation of those in need and poor; dangerous media and political scaremongering about immigration; high levels of long-term youth unemployment; a growth in poverty, especially amongst those in employment; more part-time and ‘zero hours’ employment; a significant increase in food banks and pay-day loans; excessive personal remuneration, profits and anti-social behaviour by some prominent companies; further and extended inequalities between different places across the country; and the benefits of such economic growth as has occurred not been fairly or evenly distributed.

It would be fantastic to believe that 2014 will be different. While it is very unlikely that the government will significantly alter its policies in 2014 or that the economy experience a massive recovery, it could, nevertheless, be the year when a consensus begins to emerge for a new political, social and economic settlement.

Such a consensus will be best achieved if progressive voices across the political spectrum, the trade unions, socially responsible companies, the voluntary and community sector, faith groups and place focused local authorities can put aside any ‘super egos’ and self-interest to find common cause. Of course, it will be difficult (if not impossible) for such a catholic group to agree on everything but there could be values and objectives around which they could coalesce.

These would, I hope, include:

  • a re-affirmation and the promotion of the values of solidarity and community, based on both collectivism and individual responsibility with the state, communities, voluntary organisations, employers, trade unions and volunteers all playing positive roles
  • a pro-active state with strengthened and re-invigorated democratic involvement and accountability; and a state which creates the conditions and intervenes to both ensure and enable the following objectives, but not always on the basis of direct state provision or any presumption that only a state solution can work or will be best
  • social justice and fairness based on greater equality; the elimination of poverty and the redistribution of wealth, income and resources between individuals and place
  • localism based on autonomous and well-resourced and locally accountable local government, ‘Total Place’ type local strategic management of public resources, and devolution to communities and neighbourhoods
  • a strong vibrant civil society with independent and active social, faith, community, voluntary and trade union organisations that are supported to develop, serve their beneficiaries, and offer voice and campaign
  • progressive social security and tax systems
  • investment in public services (and service redesign) that contribute to both economic growth and sustainability, equality and social justice; and which are user and community focused, responsive and innovative with more co-production
  • economic growth strategies which combine a national, regional and local approach including some local control; and which are integrated with and core to strategies designed to build community capacity, address poverty and secure environmental and social outcomes
  • decent employment standards and rights for employees including greater involvement in decision making, the ‘living wage’ and an end to enforced ‘zero-hours’ contracts
  • a reform of the business sector to ensure it is accountable, successful, has access to affordable capital, and contributes to the public good and the wider economic, social and environmental agendas; as well as investment in co-operatives and other forms of social enterprise
  • zero-tolerance of discrimination based on ethnicity, place of origin, gender or sexual orientation

Looking out at the bleak landscape of the last few years, I recognise that it would be easy to dismiss this agenda as idealistic wishful thinking. Of course, promoting such an agenda will be challenging. Given that there will be public expenditure pressures for the foreseeable future the challenges will be even greater but the need for such change will also be greater than ever before. There will need to be excellent, passionate and brave cross sector and political leadership at national and local level.

However, conversations with colleagues from across the sectors including the business sector and recent opinion polls would indicate that a small but significant shift is occurring in public opinion towards a new collectivist approach.

An increasing number of local authorities through their role as community leaders are influencing others to put the interests of place above self-institutional interest and actively engaging local communities, businesses and the voluntary sector. Others are using their procurement to drive social outcomes.

Trade unions (as exemplified by Frances O’Grady in her recent Guardian article) are recognising the need for solidarity, change in their own behaviour and structures, and collaboration with other elements of civil society. The voluntary and community sector may feel beleaguered but there is much resilience, innovation and determination to work with others and to promote the interests of communities and beneficiaries. Social responsibility is rising up the agenda of many large and smaller businesses and some institutional shareholders.

The current social, environmental, economic and political challenges facing communities across the country will not be solved by centrally-driven policies alone, any more than they will be effectively addressed by individual agencies, or by either markets or state only solutions. Cross sector collaboration is required, as is commitment, resolve, a willingness to share, change attitudes and behaviour and the use of the language of relevance. These requirements to change apply to the public, social, voluntary and business sectors alike.

Three words all beginning with the letter ‘c’ are going to be required to address these issues, especially if they are to be addressed in ways that are fair, equitable, just and sustainable. These three ‘c’ words are: community, collectivism and collaboration. And personally, I believe these are as, if not more important than the three ‘e’ words of entrepreneurship, energy and effectiveness.

In 2014, if we can forge a coalition based on these three ‘c’s, I truly believe it has the potential to be a happier new year!

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leigh Harwood
leigh Harwood
9 years ago

Why anyone would think that collectivism is a good thing is beyond me.

Collectivism has been at the root of all humanity ills since the dawn of civilization. It views people as members of groups and this has all sorts of negative implications and consequences. Take racism, for example, one of the most ugly forms of collectivism that views people strictly as members of a group.

Collectivists believe that the group is more important than the individual, but what then is the individual supposed to make of this word ‘group’? What is a ‘group’? Can you ‘see’ a group? Can you ‘touch’ a group? NO. This thing called ‘group’ does not really exist. It is a mathematical concept in the mind which represents more than one individual. You cannot see a group; you can only see individuals. Only the individual is real; only the individual exists.

Take the word ‘forest’, for example. You cannot see a forest. You can only see TREES. There is no such thing as a ‘forest’. It’s an abstraction of many individual trees. Words are used to describe our thoughts – but in and of themselves they do not really exist. They represent images in the mind.

If collectivists give rights to the group – they are essentially giving rights to something that DOES NOT EXIST over individuals who DO REALLY EXIST. In doing so, they commit a terrible intellectual error that sets in motion the progression of an ideology that is fundamentally detrimental to the welfare and happiness of the individual.

The same principle applies to words like the ‘state’ or ‘society’ or ‘the team’, etc. Again, these things do not really exist. They are abstractions. Individuals make up society. Individuals make up ‘the state’. Individuals make up ‘teams’ and so on.

Collectivism is a deeply flawed ideology and one that refuses to acknowledge reality. It therefore seeks to create it own reality because the real one has a completely different face. And that face is the one of individualism.

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