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In spite of the fact that Gordon Brown has been one of the most powerful men in Britain for more than a decade, there is still much that shrouds the man in mystery. We know that Gordon is a hard worker with an unparalleled protestant work ethic, you can see this just by looking at those black sacks under his eyes. We know that he is a shrewd politician, the co inventor of new labour, and in spite of the fractured labour party he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. An article in the economist wrote that although a bad Prime Minister, he would make a great leader of the World. He is exceptionally intelligent, was quick to react to the global financial crisis and is a man more concerned with results than he is with public image.
But what about Gordon’s private life, love and marriage, parenthood and youth? These are things that we have not before been privy to. This was supposed to all change last Sunday, with an interview by his friend Piers Morgan. Many political commentators (see here) discredited Brown’s attempts to be more personable as a last ditched attempt to woo people back to an unpopular Labour. Gordon was desperate to remind people that he was a family man and took every opportunity to let people know he was a Dad. We discovered he can drink 6 pints, used to be a ladies man, and can smile more than we thought. Overall it was a largely vacuous interview, leaving us none the wiser about Brown as a person. It would have been nice if Piers could have dug a little deeper. I would like to have asked him: Is it true that you eat nine bananas a day? What do you really think of Tony Blair? How does your faith interact with your political persuasions? What do you honestly think you still have to give to our country that you haven’t already been given the opportunity to demonstrate?
Perhaps of most interest to Charities Parliament and a startling revelation was that, post premiership, Gordon doesn’t plan on making money out of his position but would rather give his time to a worthy cause. This, I have to say, in a world of take is an impressive promise and one I’m sure we would like to hold him to. The question is to which charity will he go… any takers?
Yesterday Iain Duncan Smith launched the Centre for Social Justice’s social policy agenda just around the corner from parliament. To their credit the CSJ had packed the room with people from the third sector, busy getting on with the business of changing lives. As we sat within a stones throw from Parliament you wondered if there might soon be a migration of the CSJ’s work from the outskirts of a political party to the epicenter of a Conservative cabinet. It is not an exaggeration to say that the CSJ is largely responsible for putting compassion back at the heart of the Conservative party, making the party more appealing to the general public and those with any social conscience. The launch focussed on the concept of early intervention and the benefits of getting ahead of problems before Britain falls to pieces. It was a sweet sound for the third sector many of whom have been preaching prevention above reaction to solve problems and save tax payers money for a long time. The CSJ intend to focus their attention on Youth justice, the elderly, mental health, and community cohesion.
In the past I’ve heard it said that the CSJ’s rhetoric around ‘Broken Britain’ is damaging to those that it seeks to help. Community development workers and grass roots activists are passionate about empowerment and resent the almost paternalistic language. Indeed IDS himself said ‘[If we implement some of these policies] people will have been saved from a life that is not positive’. When challenged with this perception he responded by pointing at his panel of experts seeking to engage the third sector and said ‘we are aiming to give power back to the people’. ‘People are very powerful and we must empower them as early as we can’. Perhaps the CSJ has got it more right than many who have gone before them but there still seems to be a bit of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. Real change must come form the grass roots and must come not through help but hope. I don’t believe that we live in a ‘Broken Britain’ that needs to be fixed I believe that we live in a hopeful Britain that needs to be inspired. It remains to be seen whether the CSJ or the Conservative party will be this but their efforts on social policy are commendable and I hope that their rigorous interaction with the faith and third sector will continue to be an inclusive non party movement of people speaking a narrative of hope.