on “That good which is closest to us is that which is most common.” At Cambridge Conversation 4, Saturday 8th June 9.30-4.00 at Emmanuel College (Phillip speaks at 10.30). Also booked, Susannah Crompton of 38 Degrees and Sam Scharf of CAB. Plus lunch and plenty of time to network and lay plans – and watch out for the Sofas.
Bookings are now coming in for our fourth Cambridge Conversation at Emmanuel College on Saturday 8th June. We do hope that you will be able to join us for what promises to be a very interesting day of stimulating presentations and engaging discussion, continuing the theme of “The Common Good” asking what it really means to our everyday lives, who is talking about it and who is listening.
The topic will initially be opened up for conversation by our keynote speaker Phillip Blond, author of Red Tory and Director of the think tank ResPublica. A range of other speakers including Sam Scharf (of CAB) and Susannah Crompton (from 38 Degrees) will be giving short presentations, to stimulate debate, and we hope that the event will give delegates information, ideas and contacts to take into their own professional lives.
Our new Ten Sofas Ten Minutes project will be putting in a guest appearance with young people from South Cambs, and the latest delegate booking is from the Big Society Funding CIC who are working with the Greater Cambridge/Peterborough LEP, so the buzz is growing.
All are welcome. You can download a booking form here (Booking letter CC4) and the text of the letter/form is reproduced below .
What a fantastic logo Method Creative have made us for the Ten Sofas Ten Minutes project! Thank you so much to them. We’ll be ordering the publicity material pronto now, and a trial run with the sofas is just being set up with Jimmy’s Nightshelter in Cambridge.
So it will be all systems go very soon (and hopefully the sun will start shining too …).
And now is the time to contact Susan Bowden-Pickstock and register to hold a 10 Sofas event. email@example.com. We’ve got sofas located in five depots across Cambridgeshire, so there’s one near you!
And if you hadn’t heard: the Big Idea is put one or two blow-up sofas and publicity material out in a place near you, with a host or two and some publicity (and tea?), and invite friends and passers-by to stop and sit and talk for ten minutes about the sort of society they’d like to see, and what we could do to help it happen.
Video, sound or flipchart photos can then be sent in if you like (and with permission of course) to feed into the Cambridge Conversations.
Bookings are now open for our fourth Cambridge Conversation at Emmanuel College on Saturday 8th June. We do hope that you will be able to join us for what promises to be a very interesting day of stimulating presentations and engaging discussion, continuing the theme of “The Common Good” asking what it really means to our everyday lives, who is talking about it and who is listening.
The topic will initially be opened up for conversation by our keynote speaker Phillip Blond, author of Red Tory and Director of the think tank ResPublica. A range of other speaker will be giving short presentations, to stimulate debate, and we hope that the event will give delegates information, ideas and contacts to take into their own professional lives.
All are welcome. You can download a booking form here (Booking letter CC4) and the text of the letter/form is reproduced below the fold.
Around three dozen of the Cambridge Conversation participants met on Saturday 17 November 2012 in the Old Library, Emmanuel College to update on activities and start a discussion and debate on the theme of the “Common Good” which had emerged as a major interest in Conversation #2.
Conversation #4 is now booked for Saturday 8th June 2013 again at Emmanuel, and will be a larger event for 100-150 participants to dig deeper into the “Common Good” theme. Philip Blond, well-known author of Red Tory, political theorist (and theologian by training!) is confirmed as our lead speaker.
At CC3 we also planned a number of ways to open up the Conversation more widely So watch out next spring for 10 SOFAS, 10 MINUTES: IT’S TIME TO TALK, when all being well 10 inflatable sofas and accompaniers will spring up in various locations with a lollipop inviting passers by sit and talk for a moment about something that matters – with friend or stranger.
Here are the formal notes from the meeting:
SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS
Updates on activities arising from previous meetings
Northstowe/NW Cambridge (Ed Cearns)
Northstowe has planning initial permission. There is a meeting on 26 November – very short timescale, but time to give information to Tracy Mann for her to feed in to make sure community needs to be addressed.
NW Cambridge – at present people are talking about sustainability, but mean just environment when it is so much more. On 10 December there will be a Community Forum, and an opportunity to speak up for the full needs of the development.
In general, is consultation the best method or are there ways of securing more interaction? This is what we should now could consider.
Mill Road Project (Caro Wilson)
Stories are powerful and at the heart of the Project. The group has collected many from the last centuries on the web site. In the last 10 months they have built up a steering group with residents and experts and are applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund. Propose to engage community by helping people find things to share and celebrate, and to research these for themselves, eg. old workhouse, library. Groups such as churches can get involved. Pop-up ‘memory shops’ will be provided to collect stories.
Cycle Provision (Julian Huppert)
Cycling is a very healthy and efficient means of transport. The more people who cycle the safer it becomes for everyone. Cambridge is badly provided for cyclists, but better that most of the UK. The exemplars on are on continental Europe. Hope for Chisholm Trail (N to S by railway line). Lobbying for 20mph limit and more cycle parking especially at the Railway Station.
Nationally, it is getting higher profile – JH is vice-chair of All Party Parliamentary cycle group, which is launching an enquiry into getting more people cycling.
Ely Cathedral Business Group (Alistair Reid)
Aim is to get business people to put their heads above the parapet, and look at the wider world. ECBG is a non-member group. Have had an excellent response and very pleased that it’s not being seen as just another networking group, but has more purpose, for example, already providing career mentoring to students from Ely College. Next event in February, with a week-long exhibition in April. Have found enormous number of very small businesses in the region, but need more resource to draw them in.
Much more information is available from the ECBG website.
Sean Finlay announced an event in Wisbech on 22 November (Faith and the market), which he sees as a ‘localisation of CC’, and which others could do around the region.
Debate and discussion on ‘The Common Good’
This was introduced by short presentations:
Julian Huppert MP
All too commonly we assess economic performance by GDP. This doesn’t measure anything ‘good’ eg rich getting richer boosts GDP. Some things that are free, eg a walk in the park add to general well being (not necessarily the same as happiness). JH is Chair of All Party Parliamentary group “Wellbeing Economics”, and this will urge the government to do a “well being audit” on its policies.
Richard, Lord Wilson
Text of speech attached at Appendix A.
We haven’t cracked the Common Good – we need to review and change the nature of our institutions.
Three main points:
1. Policy comes as an intermediary between philosophy and action. the Common Good may be more a philosophical concept but its outworkings are part of everyday life. It’s important to keep a focus on the Common Good running through a whole project.
2. Fairness – some people think poor ‘deserve it’ – a moral underclass. Some think redistribution of wealth is the answer. Some think we must remove exclusion of some individuals – the ‘social inclusion discourse’.
Politics has let us down on addressing the Common Good, and so has business. Are they themselves a ‘moral underclass’?
3. Ontology of the Western World. We attribute values to things we can measure and see, eg money. We need to bring a different approach to values back into the conversation.
Corollaries are – should not use money alone as a measure of poverty; must use Social Return on Investment much more as a criterion; evidence-based policy must be anchored in the Common Good.
The Common Good is central to the thinking of Bahá’ís and to multi faith collaboration, such as supported by FbRN.The Bahá’í teachings are infused with and founded on the understanding that we humans, at a deep level, are all one family.
Spirituality is not just an individual matter, but has to do with collective well-being and changing the world through virtuous actions. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, eldest son of the founder of the Bahá’í Faith compared humankind to a tree, whose diverse parts – branches, leaves, fruit – are part of one whole. If all parts are to flourish, we must powerfully nurture and sustain one another: this is the Common Good.
Welcoming a diversity of views and working towards consensus are essential for the Common Good. Humankind is like the flowers of a garden, beautifully diverse, but all part of a single garden.
Justice and collective wellbeing are crucial to world peace.
Seva Mandir is a large-scale social action project in India whose manifest primary goal is to achieve the Common Good, which trustees and staff see as intimately related to the interconnectedness of all things, a principle present throughout all creation. It is clear that the means to achieve goals must be coherent with the goals themselves. If the goal is to empower, then the means must be empowering.
Seva Mandir is not a Bahá’í organization, but its philosophy and work exemplify key elements from the Bahá’í teachings relating to the Common Good:
· unity in diversity
· the interconnectedness of ‘the world-tree’ (to use ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s phrase)
· human solidarity and the need for us all to powerfully sustain one another
· spirituality has to do with collective well-being, not just individual well-being
· the importance of love, unity and trustworthiness in all that we do
· the alignment of means and ends – if the phrase ‘the common good’ is not to be merely empty rhetoric the way we work with our fellow human beings for the common good says as much as the words we use.
Andreas Whittam Smith
AWS has been trying to solve a problem that is summed up by the word ‘omnishambles’. The solution – Democracy 2015 – could be a contribution to the Common Good. He is focusing on the quality of MPs rather than on policy and constitution. Ministers in government are selected from a tiny pool of MPs – people who have spent their lives in politics. They don’t know how to manage, innovate, handle a budget etc. Having this ‘political class’ is a fairly new phenomenon. Also, we have had a tradition of a strong, independent Civil Service, but recently they have become less regarded by ministers, and undermined by MPs. MPs are too focused on gaining/holding power, so they are good at politics but not at governing. They avoid difficult questions, the real questions that are part of the Common Good. They also don’t listen to the electorate – focus groups are not about listening.
These ideas have led to the launch of Democracy 2015, to deal with incompetence and ‘not listening’. The movement wants to make policy by agreement, and support candidates who have done ‘real’ things in business, professions, innovation and so on – who would stand for one term only ie would do it for the Common Good, not for power. It would demand a government formed of such people if the concept were to really work. After this, natural party politics would re-assert themselves, but would have been refreshed and differently focused.
There was a very engaged debate, which included discussion of the following points:
- Question of ‘centre ground’ or ‘common ground’ – when politicians try to take the former they are seen as being manipulative, it’s interesting that some are now trying to take ‘common ground’ re Common Good.
- Things should happen more at community level – people need to be allowed to speak by initiatives such as CC.
- Effective representation at national level stems from local action. We need a sense of place at local level. The ethical challenges we face are in part, that we are tempted to base our own flourishing on reducing the flourishing of others – the old, demented etc. – when their flourishing is important to the well being of all.
- A local councillor’s role is about nurturing local communities.
- People need to recapture the idea that it is a good thing to have pride in their work and see it as a social contribution, rather than just connecting it to money.
- Central government takes on it more than it can possibly discharge, yet it still has a default to take back to itself, and finds subsidiarity hard.
- How can we discuss the Common Good in this country without reference to the rest of the world?
- A Princeton study on advanced economies showed that levels of inequality have increased rapidly. Idea of creating new communities from scratch is very new. How can we talk about stakeholders in eg Northstowe, when these people aren’t yet there? The institutions that have the best track record for community building – faiths – are being ignored by a new liberalism.
- Morality is face to face, not abstract. We need to talk also about virtues, which encompass the concept of competence.
- The modern world needs experts, but they tend to be too narrow, so you need groups comprising different expertise.
- Could we have a Cambridgeshire 2015 group and put to our own politicians the matters on which we agree?
- It’s pressingly important that we start to reduce inequality eg of income as it is rapidly eroding the Common Good.
- The question of values and virtues was discussed, and David Thomson (Bishop of Huntingdon) suggested we could re-figure the virtues in ‘new’ language:
Old Style New Style
Temperance Desiring Well
Prudence Deciding Well
Justice Distributing Well (fairness)
Fortitude Daring Well
which are resourced and effected by
Hope Proaction in
- This group seems to have common ground on what constitutes Common Good – no-one is taking a utilitarian approach whereby it is assumes that the Common Good means the best for the majority even at the expense of the minority – is this representative of thinking in the population generally?
- Sense of what binds us together, across inequalities, is being lost. We need to understand why this is.
- We will never reach the Common Good unless we confront very difficult practical points, which will create conflict. We need to build bridges, so that we can jointly confront matters that are ‘not right’.
The next Cambridge Conversations event will be at the same venue on 8 June 2013, and more information will be sent out to all on the list.
Text of presentation by Richard Wilson
I once made the mistake of putting in front of Mrs Thatcher a draft statement which said that ‘society’ had a duty to take action to improve our inner cities. She let out a yelp, as if I had trodden on her foot, and deleted ‘society’ so strongly that it went through the paper.
She then explained that the phrase, in her view, was woolly. Society consisted of individuals, acting alone or in groups. There was nothing else. If we conveniently put the duty for action on ‘society’ as an abstract notion without specifying which individuals or group of individuals were responsible for taking action, we were letting people off the hook. ‘So who are we talking about?’ she asked. ‘Central government? local government? Charities? The Church?’. So far as I can remember we put the whole lot in.
Her dislike of ‘society’ has become notorious, but I have remembered that exchange. I often ask myself when reading newspapers or reports where the power to put something right actually lies. Power is fluid. It moves around much more than people think. Prime Ministers are not powerful all the time, as they all discover. Similarly individuals are not powerless all the time, as they may not realise. It is part of the human condition that people often fail to recognise the power in their own hands and in the actions they can legitimately take.
I mercifully never put anything in front of Mrs Thatcher which used the phrase ‘the common good’ but I suspect I would have drawn a similar reaction. It was not that she was opposed to the common good but she would have felt that it lacked precision. ‘Good for whom?’ she would have asked. ‘Will everyone sign up to it? Why should they?’.
As with ‘society’, she would have missed the central importance of mobilising the good instincts of people in general, of appealing to the inherent wish which exists sporadically in most people to do what is for right for others. At the same time she would have been right to challenge me to avoid woolliness and to urge me to be more practical about who would benefit and how we would create a coalition of opinion which would last longer than a momentary rush of enthusiasm. She had an earthy realism about what would and would not mobilise people’s energies.
‘The common good’ is one of those terms, like ‘the public interest’, which one thinks one understands until one tries to define it. There is a reason for this. Our interests are not all the same, all the time. We have basic needs in common, for security, food, health, education and so on. But within those headings our circumstances and needs differ greatly, as do our views and prejudices. While we generally want the world around us to be run in a way with which we are all satisfied, there is a distinct limit to the extent that to which we are prepared to sacrifice our own interests, our views and opinions in order to achieve it. Try opening up an argument at a dinner party about taxation, for instance, or private education or the rights of cyclists against those of motorists. Even if there appears to be agreement, there will be people who will say ‘yes’ but mean ‘no’.
This is fundamentally what life in government and politics is about: dealing with the problems which confront us collectively and which almost always involve a multitude of different, conflicting interests and viewpoints, and attempting to forge a solution which people will broadly accept which goes at least some way towards solving the problem, to promoting the common good. The art of the possible.
There are many trends in our national political institutions which worry people. I have a fantasy sometimes of a national campaign of people of goodwill in a general election to put them right, on a platform which would include a commitment to stand down after two or three years and hand things back to the politicians, promising never to stand again. But I realise that apart from the expense it would be liable to be disrupted in practice by too many conflicting interests, too many disagreements. I am more inclined to believe that the solution lies in delegating power to local communities, and in encouraging local communities to assert their own power.
Let me offer you five conclusions.
First, time after time, when attempting to resolve disagreement on a contentious issue, it is a surprisingly effective to begin by establishing those aspects where everyone is agreed. Something in human nature gravitates towards disagreement, just as the wicked people in Dickens’s novels are so often more interesting than the good people. And yet, when one establishes the common ground it is often more extensive than one might imagine, leaving the hard points of disagreement standing out for concentrated debate and probably compromise. But this is a technique more easily applied within a local group of people than at a national level. The latter is often too complex to be truly manageable.
Second, people in large groups at some level usually know the truth about social ills. They may not want to acknowledge it, they may not want to look at it, but they know it. The art of true leadership is often to draw out the truth at a pace which people can cope with. People may want the public good but there is a limit to the speed at which they can move towards it (it has taken years for people to face child abuse). But here again this is more likely to be manageable within a local community than a national one where so many different interests and cultures are involved
Third, people are often more prepared to accept an outcome with which they are not entirely happy – or not at all happy – if they feel that they have had an opportunity to argue their corner and to be heard. What does the damage is feeling that they are powerless and have had no chance to explain their case. Here again this is more possible within a local community. Many local problems stem ultimately from differences of culture or diverse backgrounds or simply social change. A sense of helplessness in the face of change generates a determination to hold on to narrow self-interest.
There are limits to what central governments can do to identify and pursue the common good in local problems. It is simply not practicable always to resolve local problems from central government. Of course there are many things which are best dealt with centrally. But successive governments have tended over decades to draw power unto themselves at the expense of local government. They have also, for electoral reasons, tended to behave as though central government is omnipotent, able to resolve every problem, however local, in national life. But there are practical limits to what central government can do to take effective local action. Communities are not all the same. Central government does not do everything equally well.
What we need are local processes which allow people more opportunity to contribute their own thoughts and to advance their own interests in things which matter to them and where they want to be heard. They will not always agree on what the common good is. Their interests will not always be the same. But a process – a conversation – which identifies the common ground and which allows people to feel that they have truly had a chance to be heard is most likely to promote the common good. And this cannot be done by central government. Hence the importance of having Cambridge Conversations
17 November 2012
The theme of this evening, which starts at 7pm, is the proposition that ownership should be considered as a responsibility to nurture rather than a right to sell. Speakers will include Ali Parsa CE of Circle Partneship and Robert Hallam MD of John Lewis Cambridge. Entry is free but you are asked to register your interest at www. elycathedralbusinessgroup.org.
Sheena Pentin, posted on 31.07.12
I was recently invited to ‘champion’ a workshop around ‘relational economics’ at a gathering called ‘Cambridge Conversations’ at Emmanuel College in Cambridge. I was unsure quite what to expect, being in the knowledge that these sessions had been spearheaded by the Bishop of Huntingdon, Dr David Thomson, in conjunction with Jenny Kartupelis, MBE, Director of the East of England Faiths Council. It all soon unfolded and I learned that this was the second session where a cross-section of local people, including local councils, business leaders, faith groups, academia, and local community workers had been gathered together to engage in meaningful conversation about cross sector partnerships aimed at tackling a wide range of local challenges.
A series of roundtables took place that sunny morning, focusing on topics from health to education; from economy to law and order; from social infrastructure to physical infrastructure. High on the agenda during the latter was the Northstowe ‘eco town’ development, a proposed new town of nearly 10,000 homes in Cambridgeshire which was expected to provide an outstanding example of sustainability through the use of renewable energy resources and with a clear focus on reducing carbon emissions. It was evident during this particular Cambridge Conversation that those involved were keen to explore how to maximise the common good which would come from this development through inclusive decision-making. Just last week, on July 23, 2012 it was reported that the master plan for this new ‘eco-town’ has been approved. What will be interesting going forward is the extent to which social enterprises are engaged to deliver on this new project.
But it seems that social enterprise is not a new concept for the Cambridgeshire area; Food Cycle has been active there for some time, taking wasted food, preparing nutritious meals, tackling food poverty and getting young volunteers involved. Meanwhile, Wintercomfort supports the homeless in Cambridge and Aptivate develops ICT services that facilitate communication for unconnected communities around the world. There are many others and Future Business, itself a social enterprise providing business support across the East of England, is helping local social enterprises by offering affordable workspace to them, until the new education and enterprise park ‘The Hive’ opens in the summer of 2013. In fact, social enterprise also took centre stage at Cambridge Conversations in recognition that, indeed, it cuts across many of the plans being debated that day.
As the Cambridge Conversations got underway earlier this year, the business community also started to make a contribution through the Ely Cathedral Business Group which ‘believes that there is a strong correlation between the health of the business sector and the wellbeing of the communities in which those businesses operate’. So the ECBG was set up to drive forward best practise in business in the Cambridge region, promoting the positive social impact that business has the potential to deliver.
What next for Cambridge? Round Three of Cambridge Conversations will take place on Saturday 17th November in the Old Library at Emmanuel College, where plans will be set in motion for a further Conversation on the subject of The Common Good, a theme which is clearly standing out as different factions of the community engage in collaborative action for the benefit of Cambridge. If you are interested in joining the debate in Cambridge, please e-mail the Bishop of Huntingdon, Dr David Thomson, at firstname.lastname@example.org.