This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.
As Tim Jackson writes in his recent report for the UK Sustainable Development Commission, Prosperity without Growth?, policy makers “may be uncomfortable with the idea that they have a role in influencing people’s values and aspirations. But the truth is that governments intervene constantly in the social context”.
There’s a misconception that engaging social values and identity is something with which the political left feels more comfortable. A more individualistic perspective, it is sometimes argued, would not respond to the important ways in which political debate and public policy operate to shape social values. Far from it. Here’s something that Margaret Thatcher said in a Sunday Times interview on 3 May 1981, exactly two years after her election as UK prime minister:
What’s irritated me about the whole direction of politics in the last 30 years is that it’s always been towards the collectivist society. People have forgotten about the personal society. And they say: do I count, do I matter? To which the short answer is, yes. And therefore, it isn’t that I set out on economic policies; it’s that I set out really to change the approach, and changing the economics is the means of changing that approach. If you change the approach you really are after the heart and soul of the nation. Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.
So it can be hoped that we can move quickly beyond a debate about whether it is inevitably part of the role of politics and public policy to engage societal values and identity, and begin the debate about the direction of such influence.