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A crisis of civility

Adam Lent

 

New Labour's policies have proved inadequate to the task of slaying the contradiction between market individualism and social responsibility.

 

[T]he trouble with the neo-liberals is that they simply think in terms of the individual economic agent without any understanding of the institutions, values and ties which are not just good in themselves but are anyway essential for any real free market to survive.

This quote summarises not the views of a Marxist thinker attuned to the contradictions of ‘late capitalism’, but David Willetts – leading Tory moderniser, and now a member of the shadow cabinet. Willetts, writing in 1992, was driven by the realisation that while New Right reforms had effectively delivered the economic ‘freedoms’ the Conservative Party had sought, it was failing miserably to create a society informed by the traditional values so beloved of Thatcher. This was not due, Willetts argued, to some contingent policy mistakes; it resulted from the success of the economic side of the project itself. Thatcherism had unleashed a wave of market forces and strident individualism that was sweeping away the ‘values and ties’ which kept communities functioning and economic exchange possible. As a result, social fragmentation and disorder were deepening and, ultimately, the free market itself would be placed in peril.

Willetts found little real purchase in a party due to be convulsed by internecine warfare. As a result, the Conservative-supporting academic, John Gray (soon to switch allegiance to Labour), argued with prescience that this contradiction would sweep the Tories out of power for a generation.

Instead, it was New Labour that took forward a more socially responsible version of the Thatcherite project. Still fundamentally committed to the Conservative economic principles that were beginning to generate economic growth in the UK by the mid-1990s after the earlier recession, Blair and his coterie responded to the problems identified by Willetts by introducing Tax Credits, the Minimum Wage and New Deal programmes for the communities and individuals most ravaged by the market forces of the 1980s. And from 1999, Gordon Brown began to commit significant funds to public services, the weakness of which had damaged individual and community life across the UK. This decision proved one of Labour’s most powerful electoral assets.

The problem that has emerged in the New Labour decade, however, is that these laudable policies have proved inadequate to the task of slaying the ‘Willetts contradiction’. The market forces unleashed by Thatcher in the 1980s have grown ever stronger and until the ‘credit crunch’ appeared to have an unstoppable global momentum. As a result, the problems identified by Willetts and Gray of weakening ‘values and ties’ have only deepened.

And so Labour faces a very similar double problem to that which faced the Conservatives in the early 1990s: the combination of a society increasingly unsure of its collective moorings, and a market facing one of its periodic downswings in the wake of the collapse of a financial bubble. One need not spell out the potential electoral consequences. Indeed, the Conservatives are exploiting this with a dual attack on the government’s failure to mend our ‘broken society’ and prevent economic slowdown.

 

A crisis of civility

The first part of the double problem merits some further investigation. The weakened values and ties identified by Willetts might better be described now as a crisis of civility – indeed one might say that these weakened values and ties have over the last twenty years hardened into such a crisis.

‘Civility’ is usually defined as an acceptable level of politeness – a useful conception in itself given the analysis below – but it may be worth considering widening its meaning in the present social climate, especially as there seems to be no established word for the current malaise. Put in rather abstract terms, civility might be described as an individual’s capacity or willingness to orient themselves towards the social. Part of this orientation relates to an appreciation of and commitment to the public good which, it has been argued elsewhere, is particularly weak and probably weakening in Anglo-Saxon economies.

However, as is explained below, civility needs to be defined somewhat more widely than this. The current crisis is not simply about an abstract relationship to the public good but, more concretely, about how we relate to and treat others as individuals and as groups of individuals rather than purely as a whole community of which we may be a member. Most fundamentally, civility is based on an individual’s willingness to moderate or accept some constraint on their own desires in order to protect the well-being of others, both when those others are the individuals we may encounter in our daily interactions or when they exist as groups, large or small. It is a failure of this willingness to moderate individual desires that constitutes the crisis of civility.

 

A broken society?

This failure exists, for example, in the common paucity of the quality of human interaction in public spaces. Where daily life, particularly in large cities, can be punctuated at any time by the unconstrained desire of another to listen to music out loud, by the snarls of a motorist submitting to self-indulgent rage, and by the mass indulgence in drunkenness that blights town centres making them no-go areas for other residents on Friday and Saturday nights.

In many areas across the UK, the crisis of civility takes the form of the well-documented rise of ‘anti-social behaviour’ and more serious crime where the unconstrained desire to display machismo, to ‘rule the street’, to taunt the weak or different, or to noisily enjoy alcohol and drugs is destroying the lives of communities and the families that live in them.

Civility also plays a declining role in public interaction in the media where the tolerance for, or even the positive revelling in, cruelty towards others has undoubtedly grown. The boundaries of what can be said about public figures or celebrities in the media have receded. Indeed, it is now increasingly acceptable to make groundless but vicious claims about ordinary members of the public who may be thrust into the spotlight for no other reason than that they have been the victim of a crime.

This tone has extended into the normally more restrained broadcast media where, for example, it is now a requirement of talent shows that competitors – usually the most vulnerable – are subject to hostile and humiliating criticism. This may satisfy the egotism of those handing out the criticism but, more fundamentally, it displays a willingness to ignore the usual constraints on the treatment of the vulnerable in order to make money and achieve status by selling papers or driving up ratings. It may indeed also say something about the pervasive decline of civility, that these programmes are hugely popular and that their tone has raised very little popular outrage or serious comment.

We should be cautious here. None of this is to say that modern British life is characterised by a total loss of civility as some excitable tabloid columnists might have us believe. Life may well be ‘nasty, brutish and short’ for some in the most deprived communities but for most people life is still eminently liveable. And community spirit and selflessness still lives on as can be seen by the continuing high levels of charitable activity and the support that many are willing to offer to causes such as animal welfare and the environment.

But neither should the problem be underplayed as it is by some who see the raising of such concerns as either the pining for a long-dead spirit of class solidarity, or a stifling world of cycling vicars and warm beer depending on your political perspective. The truth is that a large group of otherwise ‘civil’ individuals can, on occasion, now feel justified by a pervasive ethos and culture of unconstrained self-centredness of behaving in an ‘uncivil’ manner while a smaller group feel justified in behaving in a perpetually ‘uncivil’ manner.

 

Civility and the tax revolt

Of greatest concern, however, may be the more recent way in which this decline in civility is beginning to fracture the national community. The increasingly heated political disputes over tax in the last few months have revealed a severe loss of civility amongst some of the richest and most powerful people in the country. The intense, hostile and very public lobbying over the government’s proposed changes to the non-domicile tax regime displayed how the fundamental liberal notion that all citizens and residents of Britain should contribute fairly to public funds and should be treated equally by the tax system had lost all resonance for the wealthiest elite. Their reasoning that any change would undermine Britain’s ability to compete globally in the financial services market and their warning/threat that masses of non-doms would leave the UK only served to highlight the accuracy of the claim that global market forces have undermined the basic values of civility and any sense of obligation to fellow citizens.

Despite all the propaganda, at its root, of course, is the unwillingness of already wealthy people to constrain their money-making desires in order to contribute some fair portion of their income to the public services that others less fortunate than them rely upon. A failure of civility that, it is now clear from recent studies, stretches well beyond the non-domicile regime to a profound culture of tax avoidance and evasion amongst the wealthy that denies public services many billions of pounds every year.

This specific failure of civility is particularly concerning. Potentially it is a serious fracturing which not only goes to the heart of the duties and obligations of British citizenship but which could also widen if economic slowdown sees the living standards and security of middle earners worsening. It is notable in this context that polling organisations now regularly register that around three-quarters of the UK population regard inequality as a problem and identify the ‘wealth gap’ as too wide. Recent polls have found that very similar numbers regard the tax system as unfair in its bias towards the wealthy. And it is notable that these issues are of equal concern to those on middle incomes and above as well as the poor. For example, in all the furore over non-doms, it is often forgotten that the original, and more radical, proposal to tax non-doms to pay for cuts in inheritance tax (which many on middle incomes wrongly think applies to them) came not from Labour but from George Osborne with noisy backing from The Daily Mail and other tabloids. Clearly the right are aware of the resonance of this issue for ‘middle Britain’.

 

Civility and the credit crunch

The first problem confronting Labour, that of declining civility, is intimately bound up with the impending economic problems. Just as Willetts predicted that the unrestrained free market would undermine itself as it swept away key values and ties, so the crisis of civility is also playing its role in destroying the very affluence that the market has proved so effective at generating over the last decade or more.

The liquidity crisis now afflicting the major financial centres of the globe and increasingly bleeding into the ‘real economy’ has, as is well known, been generated by the credit bubble which burst in 2007 with the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market in the USA. Bubbles are, of course, created by an insatiable desire for money on the part of the individuals and corporations that operate in the relevant markets and a loss of civility is a key feature a bubble’s development. In this case, a lack of civility played its part in a number of ways.

Before explaining this, it is important to explode the emerging myth that no-one predicted or expected the current economic and financial crisis. While it is true, that no-one could have predicted the exact timing or contours of the crisis, warnings about the growth of an asset price bubble in the property market closely linked to the rise of a debt trading bubble on the capital markets was widely discussed by commentators and economists in the years and months before the credit crunch finally broke. For example, the Bank for International Settlements – hardly a fringe voice – regularly warned of the great risks inherent in the patterns of lending and trading that were developing. Of course, it did not take a Professor of Economics to recognise that rapid market growth based on the existence of high liquidity and low interest rates could be threatened if those conditions rapidly disappeared as they had done in the past.

This is important because if it could be claimed that no-one was aware of the inherent problems or that no-one was pointing them out, then those who fed these bubbles and benefited from them could not be accused of a lack of civility. In fact, however, the inherent problems were well-known and widely discussed: the simple fact is those who were making very large amounts of money for themselves and their companies refused to heed any warnings. There were those who simply ignored them. There were those who actively denied that the risks existed. There were those who positively exacerbated the problem by urging greater debt on individuals and companies. And most commonly, there was a simple resistance to any attempt, no matter how tame, by governments or regulatory agencies to place constraints on the lending, borrowing and trading activity in order to prevent overheating.

The denial and self-delusion still continues, of course, with the widespread claim now circulating in the City that the real source of the current problem is the failure of the government and the Bank of England to act quickly enough to bail the banks out. Throw in the ‘incompetence’ of the credit rating agencies and the alibi is complete. While a tentative case can be made that these factors played a part, anyone with any perspective can see that these are clearly second order causes that fail to get to the heart of the matter.

The truth is that for all the sophisticated talk of ‘syndicated debt’, the benign distribution of risk and the need to maintain the UK’s share of the lucrative financial markets, the ‘credit crunch’ has pared the issue down to its bare bones: key decision makers in the financial services sector collectively created a system which took great risks with the well-being of that sector and the wider UK economy in order to generate very large amounts of money for themselves and their companies while resisting any constraint on their behaviour. In short, a vast individual and collective failure of civility.

Of course, none of this can deny that many benefited from the growth generated by such activity: millions in the UK were happy to take out the cheap car loans, use the zero per cent credit cards and watch their homes grow rapidly in value – all factors intimately bound up with the debt trading bubble. But the great majority of those millions were clearly in no position to either understand the financial dynamics behind such phenomena or to constrain the wider systemic risks involved. They benefited but they did not display the failure of civility exhibited by those in positions of economic and financial power.

 

The challenges of the future

As we look to the future, we can see that the crisis of civility bears potential risks beyond our immediate economic well-being. In two areas in particular this is the case.

The environmental challenge

The first is the huge environmental challenge confronting the UK and the wider world. The problem here, of course, is not just that the shift to a low carbon economy needs to occur but that it needs to occur rapidly. The scientific consensus is that the world must be on the road to significant reduction of carbon emissions within the next seven to ten years if the more severe impacts of climate change are to be avoided during the second half of the century. It is increasingly obvious that the quickest and most direct routes to cutting carbon emissions must be taken. Looking at the repertoire of policy techniques available to achieve this end, the most direct are statutory regulation, the use of state led financial penalties and incentives, rapid investment in green technology probably with a hefty contribution and underwriting from public funds and possibly the imposition of taxes if done with sufficient boldness.

As such, this problem will only be realistically addressed through a profound acceptance on the part of the government, individuals and corporations that desires (to make money, to enjoy modern luxuries etc.) need to be moderated to ensure the well-being of others living in vulnerable parts of the world and of those not yet born. So the popular acceptance of such a programme is entirely reliant on a flourishing of civility which currently does not exist in the UK.

The government and the EU are currently trying to evade this problem by aligning the cutting of carbon emissions with the making of money in the short term through the establishment of carbon markets. This may yet work but carbon markets have failed in the past. They are unpredictable, slow to establish, have already set different low carbon industries at each others’ throats and, as is widely accepted, will never generate the deep cuts in emissions necessary without wide use of the other techniques mentioned above.

 

The ageing population

The second challenge is the issue of our ageing population. We are living longer and will probably live much longer with a new wave of medical advances underway. In addition, older citizens are an increasing proportion of the UK population as the birth rate declines. The question raised by this trend is well known: how to provide incomes and care for this group given that the great majority will not want to work or will be unable to work. The established market solution of generous occupational pensions has already largely failed in very considerable part because of the strain longevity has placed on pension schemes; the result of which has been a major downgrading of the benefits most of today’s employees will receive when they retire. The state pension only offers minimal support and will obviously require considerably more public funds to be maintained at current levels as the older population increases.

The government’s drive to establish a mandatory occupational scheme funded jointly by employee, employer and the state (although only to a modest level in each case) is an early indication of the fact that the market simply cannot provide without significant statutory regulation and support from public funds. And, of course, the issue of how to provide sustainable care for the elderly has not even been seriously addressed in policy terms yet in England and Wales despite the Scottish Executive already opting for an approach based on significant public provision.

And the reason this is so significant is because it will increasingly move from being an important political and economic issue to being a central one. As people get used to living twenty to thirty years past retirement and as older people grow as a proportion of the population, the significance of this portion of an individual’s life to their own sense of self and well-being and to the economy will increase greatly. Thus, if the market cannot provide solutions as the evidence and direction of policy suggests, a flourishing of civility will be required if individuals and corporations are to accept that higher taxes and ever more burdensome mandatory pension schemes need to be in place to support the growing group of older citizens.

 

So, on this analysis, the decline of civility presents deep problems across a range of areas ranging from the short-term electoral prospects of the current government to the medium term prospects of the UK economy to the long-term viability of the tax system and the environment. Before looking in detail at what this says for government policy and wider political activity, it is important to explore why it has proved so difficult to move away from the economic policies inherited by New Labour from Thatcher and more specifically why they have led to the crisis of civility.

 

The UK’s economic model

The characteristics of the UK economy that were created by Thatcher, and maintained by Blair and Brown, are relatively low business taxes, an easy-going attitude to tax avoidance, tax planning and use of tax havens, limited regulation of business practices and even more limited enforcement of those regulations, a relatively weakly regulated approach to the hiring and firing of staff aided by a legally constrained union movement which makes it easier for management to determine terms and conditions and pay. This set of characteristics is also set within the UK’s well-established legal framework which gives primacy to the shareholder over all other interested parties in a business.

These factors have proved highly effective at attracting business investment, particularly in the form of the service sector, and most particularly in the form of financial services which has become an increasingly significant part of the UK economy and until recently was one of its highest growth sectors. Because the UK economy has been shaped in a way approved of by global businesspeople and institutions, it was better placed than any other major European economy to reap the material rewards of the ultimate decade of globalised finance characterised by cheap money, low inflation and expanding trade which existed since the mid-1990s. Unimaginably vast amounts of cash have flowed around the world since that time and a great deal of it was drawn to the UK.

The approach has delivered growth and affluence over a sustained period of time – clearly no government of any political stripe is going to risk these outcomes by tampering with the fundamentals of the approach.

However, there is also a self-sustaining logic to the approach as well which makes it particularly difficult to escape once a government has thrown its full weight behind it. The long-term decline of our export industries has meant that our balance of trade with the rest of the world went into the red many years ago. The credit-fuelled consumer boom of the last decade has raised demand for imported goods and made the situation even more severe. This places an irresistible pressure on successive governments to ensure that that debt can continue to be financed by attracting capital (particularly short-term investment or ‘hot money’) to the UK. It has also meant that governments have continued to encourage the growth of the service sector – including the high cash generating and highly global financial services – to ensure that even if we are not making money out of selling commodities overseas, we are making money out of selling expertise and contacts. This explains why even if the UK has a vast deficit in trade, its overall current account deficit (i.e. trade and services together) while still in the red is not nearly so large.

So the irony is that by implementing and then maintaining policies which wound down our export industries while strengthening those which favoured the City, UK governments have created a state of affairs which makes it extremely difficult to move towards an approach that does not favour the City. The current account deficit needs to be financed and it needs to be kept at sustainable levels – the alternative is a British economy heading for bankruptcy. In addition, the policy approach has an added element of inertia due to the fact that the attraction of large investment sums to the UK to finance the deficit ensures that sterling stayed high which was itself a major drag on export businesses. This history explains why New Labour continued with the Thatcherite approach: firstly it delivered the affluence and economic growth without which no government could survive and which has served many in the UK very well with regards to their material well-being; but also it created an economic policy mantrap for the government from which its has proved difficult to escape.

 

The price of affluence

A major downside, as documented here, has been the crisis of civility. In part this has resulted from the culture of single minded egotism which characterises the great entrepreneur and survivor of the ‘dog eat dog’ marketplace. This has created a tolerance of the view that ‘others’ often only get in the way unless their worth can be sustained by aiding the personal or corporate desire at hand. Indeed, if the disregard of their worth itself aids the project (such as writing stories to sell newspapers or creating conflictual television to win viewers) then that is a ‘fact of life’ to be accepted.

Clearly, the growing influence of a consumerist culture – which is of course closely linked to the economic growth and affluence of the last decade – is predicated on the immediate and ever more complex generation and satisfaction of desires as the key to the good life. While that view of the good life is repeatedly reinforced by advertising, popular culture, and the media, the notion that constraint of desire for the well-being of others is a necessary feature of a sustainable society will inevitably lose resonance.

But this decline in civility is not purely the result of some cultural tone or social ethos associated with the individualism of the New Right project, it also has its origins in a very practical outcome of the unleashing of market forces. This is the widely noted decline of the networks that provided socialisation around the values of respect for others and community solidarity. Organisations such as the Churches, the Women’s Institute, the Rotary Club, political parties, working men’s clubs and co-operatives played this role of generating and, even policing, core community values in British industrial society. They drew their strength in considerable part from their association with the strong working class and middle class identities of the industrial economy of twentieth-century Britain.

But the decline of the industrial economy in Britain which began slowly in the 1960s – as a result of changes in the market – and was hugely accelerated when market forces were allowed full rein from the 1980s onwards inevitably meant these networks also went into decline. The new British economy, based as it is now far more on the service sector, has created no new networks with a similar socialisation role and, as such, the ‘civility’ at the heart of the old networks has declined as well.

So the economic approach which has developed since the late 1970s, and which so effectively delivered affluence and growth for many in the last ten years is also the approach which has created a culture of uncivil behaviour and destroyed the networks which helped promote civility for much of the twentieth century. Ultimately, however, it has been the failure to accept constraint on desire – the hallmark of uncivil behaviour – which has led to the creation of a financial bubble, now burst, which threatens the very affluence and growth the economic approach once delivered.

 

A civil economy

The economic logic and cultural forces behind the decline of civility are very strong. This suggests that if there is any time to start effecting a shift towards civility and away from the problems created by the economic policies of the last thirty years it is now. The City’s political credibility is plummeting as it becomes clear that their vaunted contribution to the UK economy has been built on a credit bubble and can now only be sustained by the sort of vast public guarantee that the recipients would be squealing about was it offered to any other sector. Also if the economy is to slow and we are to find a way out of it, now may be the time to look to a more balanced approach, while financial services play a less central role, than simply riding on the wave of the next bout of City hysteria.

In short, we need policy dedicated to creating a ‘civil economy’. This means that economic, fiscal and monetary policy should not be designed to unjustifiably benefit the interests and desires without constraint of one section of the economy or one group of economically productive individuals. Instead, the eminently ‘civil’ principle behind this approach would be the recognition that all viable economic sectors, all regions and all citizens should both benefit from growth and affluence and be able to contribute to the generation of that growth and affluence.

To be clear, this is not an argument to prop up the unproductive at the expense of the productive. Instead, it is a plea to recognise that genuine productivity and growth can be generated by many sectors, regions and individuals who therefore need even-handed treatment to ensure that the economy is reaching its potential both in terms of fairness and efficiency.

The thoroughgoing application of this civil principle would have far reaching implications for the economic approach in the UK. For example, it would mean a significant recasting of the corporate and personal tax systems to reward hard work, innovation and growth throughout the economy and the UK rather than the capacity to avoid or evade tax. It would also mean a major rethink of the way the Monetary Policy Committee works to ensure it benefits all parts of the UK economy, as well as a serious look at the role sterling has played in boosting the City at the expense of other sectors and regions over the last decade.

Maybe the most fundamental shift would be a reconsideration of the way the UK’s company law prioritises the interests of shareholders over all others who are affected by the fortunes of any business. A legal framework that acknowledged the importance of balancing the interests of investors, consumers, employees and citizens would represent a clear shift towards a civil approach that did not offer primacy to the desires of one group at the expense of all others.

A civil economy would also require a state-led intervention to establish a free ‘national care service’ for older citizens and to shift the UK economy rapidly towards a low carbon economy. Both measures which would not only ensure that current and future generations can benefit fully from growth but which would stimulate the UK economy to greater growth and affluence.

Clearly, the City would react extremely negatively to such a shift towards a civil economy. As the response to the very modest proposal on the non-domicile tax change showed, the City is willing to mobilise media and political forces to humiliate and threaten political leaders to protect their interests. And their approach is powerful because it plays directly into a political and media discourse developed over the last thirty years which is very rarely questioned. That discourse is simple: in a globalised and highly competitive world business and, in particular, financial services will leave the UK if it no longer finds it amenable to its needs and hence will damage the affluence and growth that has proved so beneficial in the last decade or more. The discourse is in part powerful because it goes largely unchallenged but it is also powerful because, while often wildly overstated, it has an element of truth. A proportion of financial services almost certainly would leave the UK if the policies outlined above were implemented and this would raise economic challenges because the UK economy has been dependent on that sector both as a driver of growth and to finance the current account deficit.

But the civil economy idea is about creating just the type of balanced and fair economic policy which would allow a more sustainable approach to actually reducing the current account deficit over the long term by building export business rather than simply funnelling money into the payment of permanent debt.

This civil economy would do much to counter the unfairness and imbalance which has resulted from the uncivil behaviour of certain groups. And by bringing economic growth and benefit back to some regions and sections of the UK ignored over recent years, it may start to create more fertile conditions for a revival of civility in various communities. However, economics can only go so far in challenging the deeper set culture of uncivil behaviour which it has been argued here pervades too much of British life.

 

A civil alliance

Only an agent of cultural change rooted in civil society itself can challenge the culture of uncivil behaviour. Governments are particularly ineffective when it comes to promoting cultural change. Especially in the contemporary world when politicians are held in such low esteem, their ability to generate shifts in daily behaviour and outlooks is extremely limited. Instead, the creation of a new alliance rooted in real networks of community opinion formers has a much greater chance of influencing the way certain behaviours are viewed in daily life and in the media. In short, a loose movement to create that sense of civility which has been so seriously eroded in the last thirty years would constitute a major cultural shift in the UK. A credible voice that says what many feel about the cruelty and coarseness of so much popular culture and, increasingly, of normal human interaction, is undeniably needed.

This ‘civil alliance’ must draw on the plethora of organisations who share the belief that the decline of civility in the UK needs to be reversed even if they would not use such a term itself. At the heart of such an alliance will be individuals and groups within the labour movement, the churches and other faith networks, and the NGOs, charities and campaigning organisations. The uniting goal – of what are clearly disparate bodies with many wider disagreements – would be the promotion of that greater sense of responsibility to others no matter what one’s wealth or status.

Such a body could also be significant in offering a public voice of support to a government when it takes the right decisions to enhance civility. For example, as has been stated, the moves towards a civil economy would be deeply opposed by those who benefit from existing arrangements. Politicians alone are rarely strong enough to face such opposition down and, in the current climate and dominant media perspectives, few voices of support are often heard. A civil alliance could alter that imbalance.

A further benefit of such an alliance is that it could employ other techniques to deepen civility in a way that a government working alone never could. It couldbegin to mobilise one of the great untapped resources for delivering a greater sense of responsibility into the heart of the corporate world. This is to pressure the pension funds, banks and insurance companies that are the owners of British business but which very rarely engage with the companies they own to ensure they are respecting the well-being of their employees, are doing all they can to cut carbon emissions and are rewarding success rather than failure through remuneration packages for their senior management.

Many occupational pension funds, for example, are not closed systems – they are usually governed by boards of trustees which include members of the pension scheme themselves and are actually investing money on behalf of the people employed by the firms that behave irresponsibly. Similarly, banks and insurance companies are investing the money granted to them by depositors and policy holders whose views they cannot afford to ignore. A civil alliance could be a powerful force through which to bring pressure on the owners of UK plc to act as responsible investors and, if that failed, could potentially mobilise members and customers to demand such behaviour. Such a revolution in attitudes could inject a massive dose of civility into corporate Britain.

Finally, a civil alliance could do something that governments have consistently failed to do in the face of the destructive elements of the economic policies of the last thirty years, start rebuilding community links particularly in those areas that have never recovered from the shift to a service sector led economy. In league with an economic policy that might start to bring some economic hope to such areas, a civil alliance – especially one in which faith groups play a strong role – could work to build the neighbourhood networks that would reintroduce a sense of responsibility towards others that is so lacking in some of our most crime ridden and uncivil areas.

 

Conclusion

This is a bold agenda and one that is radically different from the broad thrust of UK policy over the last thirty years. That policy has delivered growth and affluence but it has not delivered civility in the broad way that term has been defined here. If the creation of a civil economy underpinned by a civil alliance is to be effective however, it is vital to keep that understanding of the last thirty years in mind, for it would be a sad irony if any shift to greater civility over coming years was to occur at the expense of growth and affluence. This will mean developing such an agenda without dogmatic fervour, but in a considered and pragmatic fashion.

However, if there was any time for action on this agenda, it is now. Civility must be renewed while the sponsors of the uncivil economic approach of the last thirty years and the culture that it has helped create are at the low point of their credibility and influence. This is a rare opportunity for all those who value civility to start developing the principles, policies and networks that could influence a generation.

Renewal