23 April 2007

Responsibility Revolution

"We need a revolution in responsibility in this country, and for government that means setting a simple test for every policy: does it give people more responsibility, or does it take responsibility away from them?"

David CameronConservative leader David Cameron has told Radio 4's Today programme that measures like anti-social behaviour orders have been counter-productive, because they allow people to abdicate responsibility for their actions.

Through a combination of less state interference and more support for families and social enterprises, he claimed that a Conservative government would create a "framework of incentives that encourages civility and pro-social behaviour" and thereby encourage parents, neighbours, business people, and teachers to take responsibility for raising children to behave properly and keeping their own communities in order.

Of course, part of the problem is surely the lack of role models, particularly in public life. A generation ago, if a mistake was made, then the minister responsible would accept the need to resign. All that has changed in the last ten years. Now, if Parliament is misled to vote for a war that results in hundreds of thousands of innocent lives being lost and in which every major player accepts that inadequate thought was given to reconstruction plans, the most we can hope for is a conscience-striken rebel belatedly voicing their concerns after the event. No chance of any apology though, let alone anyone honourably quitting.

If the Government itself is incapable of taking responsibility for its actions, is it little wonder that others in society are becoming less inclined to do so? If so much of politics is negative and personal, is it little wonder that we find incivility and rudeness in our youth? If the historic institutions that have traditionally formed the bedrock of British society are dismissed so easily by the country's leadership, is it little wonder that so few show respect for authority any longer?


Alex said...

The 'responsibility'/'respect for authority' concept is an interesting one. Tony Blair has, over the years, talked about the need for personal responsibility at the same time as rights. The problem, which David Cameron has not been reported as offering solutions for, is how to do it.

I've read and heard a fair bit recently over the difference between leading by authority or by influence. The merits of influence are obvious. One summary of the difference is that, in order to lead by influence, one needs to earn the right to lead.

I suspect that it is an inevitable consequence of the way our society has evolved (in both good and bad ways) that leadership by authority has become less powerful. Consider, for example, how the police are portrayed in the forms of media that 'troublemakers' will consume.

Alex (again) said...

Another thought...
"Care in the Community" was a good example of a Conservative policy a number of years back, by which many mental health patients ceased living in hospitals. Clearly this gave them more responsibility.

Some of these people probably are unable to take the same degree of responsibility that I would want. For example, are they capable of managing their household finances?
This demonstrates that a 'one size fits all' approach to responsibility won't work. What other examples are there of differences between people? How do we design policy that encompasses this range?

MikeC said...

I completely agree with the premise of David Cameron's argument - that legislation cannot, and will not, produce behaviour change in and of itself.

Wanting society itself (people, families, community) to take responsibility for the actions and words of those nearby (question on definition of 'neighbour', I admit), is admirable, and quite correct. But, finding the balance of stick and carrot is difficult.

Where I'm a little ambivalent in this though, is the 'honourable' action in resigning should one make a mistake. I'm more of the mind to encourage leaders to admit mistakes, and case be case, determine whether resigning is the appropriate action. To consider government ministers to be capable of perfect activity over time is not tenable. Mistakes will be made, but, if the minister really is the best person for the job, then they may consider that staying in position and pursuring a right(eous?) course of action, in response to their error, the appropriate thing to do.

Alex said...

Agreed. Resigning after making a mistake is not necessarily the right thing to do. In some cases, it could effectively just be walking away from a problem. As a general rule, people should take responsibility for 'fixing' their mistakes.