By Jo Colman
When neighbourhoods in this country are entering into a third generation of worklessness, we have a problem. When one in five children enter secondary school almost unable to read or write, we have a problem. When 27,310 children are taken into care in the year up to March 2011 alone, we have a problem.
These are not political issues, they are social issues. And more important they are issues that Society has to face together.
Social issues with political implications.
Politics and politicians have the ability to harness the good work of communities and champion issues that need public engagement, but what they don’t do (most of the time) is start something new.
Take the great William Wilberforce. Did he start the campaign for the abolition of slavery? No.
But he did take seriously his role as an elected representative of the people and the important need to highlight and challenge the evil that was the slave trade.
They highlighted the dramatic effect early intervention can have on some of the poorest children in the UK by intervening early and earnestly. The booklet did not skirt around politics, but rather challenged it and create space for a political consensus.
When addressing issues of poverty, it should not be a point scoring exercise of the ‘Progressive Left’ nor a triumphant call by the ‘Compassionate Conservatives’ but an issue that should both break our hearts and push us into action, no matter what our politics.
Learning the hard way
Compassionate Conservatism has much to teach the left. It can reaffirm the fundamental role which families play in creating a healthy society. It can help highlight the expertise which communities and the voluntary sector hold, and that often allowing space for them can lead to helping those which the state is unable to reach.
The Progressive Left too has much the right could learn from. It shows that sometimes you do have to forget about how much it costs and just concentrate on the cost to the person. It can lead to a more accepting and tolerant starting point when it comes to intervention and it can foster a sense of celebration in the difference.
However we seem to have reached a point where any move that is made by the opposite party to address these issues of poverty is called out and meets vehement opposition before the changes have even begun.
It may be hard to believe for some but David Cameron does genuinely and passionately care about turning around the lives of the most deprived in this country. Some may not agree with his beliefs, but by denying his values and adamantly standing against all his government does we risk the chance of missing out on some exciting and effective tools to help those who most need it.
The same goes for Ed Milliband, some may find it hard to believe that he has any desire to help individuals beyond his own electioneering, but I am reliably informed he does care, and passionately so, about these same people.
So how do we move from this tiresome and shallow debate to help turning round the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our Society?
Where to begin
Moving to a place of agreement obviously has its difficulties. And I think that we can’t expect this to begin in Westminster. It needs to start in our communities, on blogs like this, in debates with friends and colleagues.
We are in danger of moving to far towards a poisons politics of ‘us’ and ‘them’. One which paints the opposition as the enemy rather than a tool of democracy which can create a better, fairer and more honest debate.
We need to get past the differences of opinions to find what we agree upon. Let’s start with agreement and muddle our way on from there.
What was impressive about Iain and Graham’s work was that it got universal praise and all three party leaders signed up to its aims and vision. It truly put the importance of intervening early at the very heart of future policy making.
The use of ground breaking academic work combined with on the ground experience from the voluntary sector reiterated the social importance of this issue towards creating a political consensus. It was not the other way round.
We need more of this.
Our care system is still failing children and families. This fact should unite rather than divide us.
The neglect and abuse that some children are born into should not create a political debate, but foster a call to action that unites all rather than divide a few. And the likes of Andrea Leadsom MP and Frank Field MP are continuing this fight with Graham Allen MP.
There will undoubtedly be points when the road map drawn up by the Right and the Left will look different (sometimes remarkably so!) but if the debate can start with agreement and an honest acceptance of the sheer enormity of the issues some communities face, there can start to be change.
Politics can do good and certainly has a role to play. But partisan politics is always ugly and often wrong. There is a left and right in this country for a reason. Both have something to offer. Both can create space for debate which the other can’t.
Both can offer imaginative and exciting alternatives which can only go towards creating a better and more open debate.
I want to see more campaigns shouting what it is for not against. I am tired of the same old blogs, campaigners and politicians opposing something that the Government has said or done. I want to see individuals stand up and give praise where it is due and hold Government, Local Authorities and communities to account by working together and constructively.
This is a challenge to all socially-aware individuals, no matter their politics. Unite rather than fight. Seek areas of agreement rather than fraction. And we can hope for a better debate and more importantly a society which can continue to grow in the care for the weak, marginalised and defenceless.