For some years now, Together for the Common Good, along with other advocates of the common good, has been signalling that the current UK settlement is no longer fit for purpose.
In the past couple of years we’ve seen a decline of trust in institutions, failures of leadership and social, political and cultural division. Expressions via the ballot box have been symptomatic of a fundamental shift across the western world – a profound discontent with the dominant economic and cultural liberal consensus of the last thirty years. People are crying out for community, belonging, purpose and meaning.
But the dominant culture of individualism drives people deeper into mutually hostile echo chambers, and we are coming to a point, perhaps a watershed like 1945 and 1979, that requires a serious and ambitious plan that transcends party politics. We believe it will need to be undergirded by the principles and practices of the common good. A time like this is an opportunity – and we may yet, through the struggle and with faith, see the emergence of a new settlement. Patience is needed.
We may ask: how will we live together when we disagree about so much? How will we rehumanise systems that have lost their soul? How will communities of the left behind regain pride and prosperity? How can businesses remain free to generate wealth and jobs while also delivering on social purpose? How do we avoid burdening future generations with our debt? What needs to be done to build relationships where there is suspicion? What is the right balance for the role of the state?
So not only patience, but also perseverance is required, because how a new settlement emerges will affect its longevity. It may need to be more slow-burn than revolutionary, and more ‘bottom-up’ than ‘top-down’ – the task is cultural as well as political – and way too big for government and legislation alone. How it turns out depends on each of us, taking responsibility.
The creativity of the Christian tradition comes from the certain knowledge that God is a great deal bigger than the state or the market, setting us free from the limitations of any man-made philosophy. But this is counter cultural, and in the so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’ it’s important to be vigilant and resist being swept along by political ideologies dressed up in persuasive rhetoric and retail promises. We must be clear about our centre of gravity.
A solution that endures will build bonds of reciprocity between currently estranged groups: between the socially conservative and the liberal progressive; between old and young; rich and poor; rural and urban; people with abilities and disabilities; management and workers; business and unions; shareholders and employees; people of different ethnicities, people of different faiths and those of no religious faith…
Each of us will be able to spot points of tension – in neighbourhoods, workplaces, institutions, organisations, systems and policy: we can become attuned to the fractures that need healing and take action.
The common good is not a utopian ideal to be imposed by one enlightened group upon another. God created us with great love, to be free and authentically ourselves, not to be the same, nor to think the same. To build a common good, everyone must be included and no one left behind. It requires being willing to ‘stay in the room’, to listen and learn from each other, recognising each other as gifts.
This is the opposite of an identity politics that defines the human person through difference, like a commodity on a supermarket shelf. There can be no ‘deplatforming’ in common good thinking, no silencing because views are unfashionable. As the old saying goes, ‘do you want to stay together, or do you want to be right?’ We are in danger of reaching a point where ‘being right’ has the power to wreck our common life.
People across the churches who are engaged in the ‘bottom-up’ work of transforming society are doing so with patience and perseverance. Through building relationships between the mutually suspicious, living alongside abandoned communities, innovating good business models, bringing ethics into finance, rehumanising systems that have lost their soul, and more, they are laying the groundwork for what may become a new settlement for the common good.