Saturday 21 February 2009

Change depends on convincing society, not just government

"You achieve enduring change by shifting the public and taking the public with you", says Tim Horton, Fabian Research Director, arguing at the Fabian/Webb Memorial Trust centenary conference at the LSE, that the progressive left has forgotten how it achieved its major successes in the early 20th century.

Tim quoted Beatrice Webb's diary entry of her 1909 encounter with Winston Churchill, a member of the Liberal Cabinet.

He did not altogether like the news of our successful agitation. ‘You should leave the work of converting the country to us, Mrs Webb, you ought to convert the Cabinet’. ‘That would be all right if we wanted merely a change in the law, but we want’, I added, ‘to really change the minds of the people with regard to the facts of destitution, to make the feel the infamy of it and the possibility of avoiding it. That won’t be done by converting the Cabinet, even if we could convert the Cabinet – which I doubt. We will leave that task to a converted country’

"Beatrice Webb’s insight was that successful campaigns need to be public facing. But when we look at political campaigning, despite some excellent examples, far too many progressive campaigning institutions are govermment-facing and argue to government for changes of policy. It now seems that the right understands that better than the left. The way the anti-European movement changed Britain from a more pro-European to a more Eurosceptic country: it wasn’t by targeting the government or the Conservative party, it was by shifting public opinion. That is how the Taxpayers’ Alliance drives anti-taxation sentiment

So we need public facing coalitions. But this is not just a message for campaigners. It is a message for politicians too. Margaret Thatcher knew this: 'The economy is just the means; the aim is to change the soul'.

The counter-example is Bill Clinton. He did good things in too office, but did not make public case to shift the argument. His policies could be easily reversed and were like footprints in the sand”.

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