Monday, May 22, 2006

Cameron's revolution?


I am fascinated by David Cameron's acknowledgement that happiness - the thing we all, without exception, aspire to - and its attainment are more important than mere economic advancement and that a consideration to happiness - measured by something he (possibly flippantly) refers to as GWB - General Well-Being - might be an additional measure of a country's progress along with GDP. If he is serious about looking at happiness as a highly meaningful component of national life then this could represent as dramatic a revolution in mindset in our political governance as that of Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s.

The full speech is available at The Guardian. Here are some highlights:

GDP. Gross domestic product. Yes it's vital. It measures the wealth of our society. But it hardly tells the whole story.

Wealth is about so much more than pounds, or euros or dollars can ever measure. It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB - general well-being.

Well-being can't be measured by money or traded in markets. It can't be required by law or delivered by government.

It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and above all the strength of our relationships.

We also know that no country can take prosperity for granted.

In an ever-more competitive world, we have to be constantly vigilant in the battle to secure investment, create jobs, and spread opportunity.

But we should also acknowledge a vital truth that the pursuit of wealth is no longer - if it ever was - enough to meet people's deepest hopes and aspirations.

I think it's increasingly clear that the spirit of the age demands social values as well as economic value.


Mr Cameron hones in on the true nature of a conservative:

We hear a lot about the bracing winds of globalisation - footloose capital, buccaneering business, accelerating change.

And we are often told that we have to embrace the change, not resist it.

But that's too simplistic.

On one level, of course we have to be comfortable with change. But on another level, the human level, we have to remember what makes people happy, as well as what makes stock markets rise.

What makes us happy, above all, is a sense of belonging - strong relationships with friends, family and the immediate world around us.

That's about permanence, not change. It's about the personal, not the commercial.


Fundamental human values and aspirations have never - and will never - change. Mr Cameron recognises the inherent emptiness of rampant consumption:

We know there is a deep satisfaction which comes from belonging to someone and to some place. There comes a point when you can't keep on choosing, you have to commit.

If so much of our modern globalised consumer culture ultimately seems unsatisfying then it is because it fails to satisfy this deep human need.


Much of this speech concentrates on the world of work and how employment practise can fit in with human values as well as the need to make money. David Cameron points to examples of companies making their own decisions about providing flexible working without a need for the state to force their hands. He suggests that persuasion rather than regulation is the key to improvement - and also pre-empts the criticism his comments will undoubtedly provoke:

I believe that there is a role for politicians in using exhortation, rather than regulation, to talk up good practice and draw attention to bad practice.

I've already annoyed a number of companies by pointing out failures of corporate responsibility.

It's not done from a desire to pick a fight with business.

But I think it's right to say what you think when you see something that's wrong.

Advocacy is not a wishy-washy cop-out as some would argue.

It strikes the right balance and avoids the pitfalls of over-prescriptive government intervention.

Some will say that simply talking about changing culture is nebulous.

But let's be honest - who has done more for school food: countless government initiatives, or Jamie Oliver?

...what has had more effect on working life - the innovation of companies like Lloyds TSB, moving way ahead of government legislation or a box-ticking, lowest common denominator, one-size-fits-all piece of regulation?

It's vital to create a space in the national conversation which stands firmly between regulation and indifference.

Why should we choose between the intolerant impulse to right every supposed wrong by passing new laws and the coldly amoral refusal even to take a view on the actions of others?

As the philosopher Edmund Burke wrote as long ago as 1795, politicians "ought to know... what belongs to laws, and what manners alone can regulate. To these, great politicians may give a leaning, but they cannot give a law."


Mr Cameron has appealed to the natural, human instincts that make conservatism the fine thing that it is.

The point about happiness is, I think, that it's a by-product rather than a directly attainable attribute. To direct oneself specifically towards the goal of happiness leaves one grasping at smoke. Of course, one can learn useful strategies for improving quality of life; wise people over the centuries have made distinctions and observations about humans and their attitudes that the rest of us can learn from. But I think it is the general conditions of life - but, more importantly, what we make of them - which determines our general well-being. Government can assist but government cannot actually do. David Cameron has been quite brave in bringing up what is, for politicians, an unusual idea. It will be very interesting to see how he progresses it in the future.

Comments:
You have to hand it to him, his first policy is to make people happy! Now there is a vote winner. Which department will that fall under?
 
Gary, are you by any chance softening towards your leader?
 
PT,

I think David Cameron's observations are a little more profound than that. It's a philosophical stance he's taking and what he says I very much agree with. It merits serious consideration; philosophy can be discussed, argued about, amended and os on. The current diet of rubbish being fed us by our political class is made up on the hoof, as and when, according to perceive dcurrent need.

DE,

Well, I was never vehemently against him although I did vote - and several times speak out for - David Davis in the leadership election. But he really has hit the nail on the head in my view.

I will of course be interested to see how this philosophy translates into policy. But for now I am very happy to hear him recognise that, once economic needs are more or less fulfilled, it is our inner lives which influence our happiness - not government policy.
 
It's interesting to watch Mr Cameron feeling out ideas and policies that are, shall we say, not typically Conservative areas.

I must confess to watching a couple of bits of him on the telly and wondering if the Greens had managed to smuggle in a doppleganger - and as a Guardian reading liberal wishy washy type myself I'm all for it!

Just chuckling to myself though thinking about what people would be blogging if Tony came out with a speech about such intangible ideas as happiness and quality of life...
 
Good to see that Cameron can spot a fine trend when he sees one. Not very different to Michael Howard after all.

See how they really do it in Bhutan:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/4782636.stm

Other links to video on Bhutan, etc.
 
Chris,

I'm not sure that Cameron's speech is typically un-Tory. It may well be typically un-Thatcherite (ie it's not very libertarian) but un-Tory?

The lure of conservatism for me is its recognition that people set out their lives far better than the state can and that they, left largely (but not, of course, totally) to their own devices, will, over time, create a happier environment for themselves than any well-meaning government could. Unhappiness has any number of causes but in the UK I would suggest that endemic choice (particularly in the social sphere) coupled with the loss of many of the meaningful structures of society (specifically, authority) leads to aimlessness, fragmentation and disillusion.

Much of this is government-made (social experimentation, large-scale welfare and so on) and is caused by government undermining - or undoing - those societal structures which enabled contentedness. Now government's best bet if it wants to promote happiness is simply to retreat from all those areas it has so badly damaged.

For the record, if Tony Blair had said what David Cameron had said I would have nearly fainted but I would have agreed with him without equivocation - before, of course, lapsing into a sneering denunciation of a man who is an integral part of the leftist project to abolish my country and a prime cause of the wretchedness that we find ourselves living through today.
 
Snoop,

Bhutan is an example of a country that places sufficient emphasis on national happiness that it measures it. I am not sure David Cameron - or anybody else - would advocate that we emulate their methods. As for trends, Mr Cameron mentioned this happiness business in 2005 - before the Conservative Party's leadership election - so it's not something new for him.
 
When I say I don't see these ideas as "typically" Conservative, it's not a criticism per se Gary.

I find it hard to reconcile politicians concerning themselves with ambiguous ideas of happiness with the less government, less interference ideal that you identify as attracting you to the Conservatives.

Isn't the trad tory line "Let us strip away all this target-led nonsense, bloated government and simply run things well"?

That was all.

BTW, when you describe Tone as a leftist I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
 
Chris,

Well, I didn't really regard your remark as being critical. In fact, I think you're mainly correct in what you say because Thatcherism and Toryism are routinely regarded as the same thing nowadays. I made a poor job of pointing out that I think the two things have similarities but are not the same.

Regarding the relationship between happiness and less government I think it's less the case that happiness would increase due to less government intervention and social engineering but more that unhappiness would decrease. (Although in saying that I think one intervention - the promotion of marriage as the bedrock of British society - could make a meaningful contribution to general well-being).

Yes, our Tone is leftist - but please choose to laugh rather than cry! The belief in welfare as a form of income, social engineering to achieve theoretical aims, control from the centre, the dismantling of conservative (small 'c') norms and the lack of attachment to national sovereignty are all hallmarks of the left.

Some are hallmarks of the far right too - but that's a different conversation...
 
When will the happy pills trickle down to the little people and will it put an end to yobbery?? ;-)
 
If I'm not mistaken GDP is not a measure of the wealth of society but the sum of all the "value adds" in the economy. It only measures financial transactions. It does not include the "value adds" where money does not change hands, eg volunteers, carers, mothers, mates favours..... Worse it does include all the "cost of failure" mostly brought about by having to rectify all the mistakes made by governments and local administrations of which you are now part.

The economic growth, or growth in GDP over the last 40 years or so, that chancellors find so appealing has mostly been fuelled by reducing the numbers of those defined as "economically inactive". The reason they like this is simply because it increases tax revenue without having to put up tax rates, meaning more money to spend on their pet "social engineering" projects.
 
Well, it's an interesting speech. It wouuld indeed be good if we could get away from the idea that you need more and more money to be happy...

By the way, I've just linked to you so hurry up and get blogging again...
 
International surveys show that a key factor underlying happiness is "good government" so all policies should relate to happiness. The most positive feature of DC's leadership to date has been his light management which has motivated several big name Tories to come out from their bushels and form part of a broad attack on Labour. I think that Howard's lack of trust in others was a key reason for not coming closer to winning in 2005. I hope that DC can continue to resist the temptation to be authoritarian.
 
interesting slideshow at youtube concerning the global nature of the terror conflicts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yb_k3v5joIY
 
Love your site, I'm interested in linking up with some British Conservative bloggers.

Please check out my site and let me know if you're interested, feel free to email too.

JDS
 
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