The party conferences, with all their policy announcements, pledges and sniping, raise the issue of what the public wants and expects from their government. They also bring about discussion on who exactly a particular government would favour. Segments of society are seized upon left right and centre by every party, and are either demonised or showered with promises of a better life.
Brown has stated that Labour sets out to satisfy the “values of the mainstream majority.” This though is wherer governments are going wrong; they shouldn’t embody the views or values of the majority; they shouldn’t embody the values of anyone. By taking a normative stand, no matter how populist it may be, a minority will be punished or sidelined. Vilify the bankers and they might stop creating taxable wealth so quickly. Cast bored youths as feral animals and they will bite back. Introduce supervising housing for young mums, and all stigmatisation of them seems justified.
In truth, the neglected but vital role of government is to protect the liberty of those governed by it. A government should uphold a legal system that allows individuals to live peacefully and safely, with their lives and property protected from the harmful actions of others. It can also have an important role providing public goods such as roads and national defence. Evidently, it is important that a government is not against the people. However, when governments try and act for some people, they are acting against others.
The UK is a network of communities, and people have different values, priorities and cultures. One of humanities’ great skills is our ability to work productively with one another, while new technology increasingly allows us to connect with each other and create solutions to problems in a way never before seen. Cameron talks sense when he speaks of the importance of Burke’s ‘little platoons’, and the way in which communities and groups are able to achieve their own goals and solve their own problems. While as a country we expect the governments to take up crusades and hand out solutions on a platter, there is much that could be done without requiring the values and priorities of one group, regardless of how large it is, becoming forced on another.
If governments stopped looking to change the course and values of people’s lives, we might just be that little bit happier, productive and more successful.