Citizens

David Marquand

  • Citizenship and Community: Civic Republicanism and the Modern World by Adrian Oldfield
    Routledge, 196 pp, £30.00, August 1990, ISBN 0 415 04875 3
  • Community and the Economy: The Theory of Public Co-operation by Jonathan Boswell
    Routledge, 226 pp, £30.00, October 1990, ISBN 0 415 05556 3
  • Encouraging citizenship: Report of the Commission on Citizenship
    HMSO, 129 pp, £8.00, September 1990, ISBN 0 11 701464 8

As the enterprise culture crumbles, and a sadder and wiser society begins to count the cost, two connected themes – one novel and surprising, at least in its present form, the other a ghost from a half-forgotten past – have acquired an unexpected urgency. The first is the theme of citizenship, of civility, of membership of and participation in a community bound together by ties of mutual obligation. The second is the theme of the mixed economy or the developmental state, of a socially just and economically productive balance between market forces and public intervention.

The citizenship theme weaves in and out of the political debate, appearing and re-appearing in the most unlikely places, but in an extraordinarily confused and baffling way. On the right, Douglas Hurd and other ministers have extolled the ‘active citizen’ – by implication, at any rate, a comfortable suburbanite impelled to good works by his or her own public spirit. At the centre and on the centre-left, a disparate band including Paddy Ashdown, Ralf Dahrendorf, Raymond Plant and Julian le Grand have suggested that the state should be the guarantor of social-citizenship rights rather than the provider of services, in the old Beveridgean way. Charter 88 sees the root of our political ills in a culture of ‘subjecthood not citizenship’ and the cure in explicit guarantees of fundamental civil and political (but not social) rights. The Speaker’s Commission on Citizenship has warned that citizenship is ‘a cultural achievement, a gift of history, which can be lost or destroyed’, and set out an essentially Hurdian programme to save it, focused on voluntary service.

The mixed-economy theme is harder to detect. Citizenship is a hurrah-word, even among those who would hate the thing if they came across it. The mixed economy has become a boo-word, even among some of its supporters: that sad legacy of early Thatcherism is still in place. But although the term remains unfashionable, the thing is coming in from the cold. No one – least of all the Treasury – still believes that inflation can be controlled by monetary policy alone. No one – and certainly not the TUC – still thinks that wage levels should be determined solely by market power. As long as Mrs Thatcher was prime minister, the Cabinet had to pay lip service to the old free-market faith. At first the new Cabinet will probably do the same, but its deeds are unlikely to match its words. As a backbencher, Michael Heseltine was groping for a German-style developmental corporatism. Ministers like Chris Patten and Malcolm Rifkind were visibly at odds with New Right doctrine even before the change of government. John Major himself is, of course, an unknown quantity, but the opposition parties have succumbed to wishful thinking in assuming that he will be a carbon copy of his old boss. Thatcherism was always an aberration from the norm of advanced capitalism. Major may not know how to get back to the mainstream but I shall be astonished if he does not try.

On the left, Bennite siege socialism and even Bevanite Clause Four utopianism have disappeared without trace. Labour is now a social-democratic party, committed to a symbiosis between public and private power, in which the state guides, manipulates and, if necessary, supplements market forces, but does not dream of superseding them. In the early Eighties, only the Jenkins wing of the SDP and the Steel wing of the Liberal Party argued without inhibitions for the mixed economy. We are all – or nearly all – Jenkinsites and Steelites now.

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