Thursday, December 7, 2017

Recovering Our Shared Ethos for Thoughtful Cooperation

1. What’s the problem?
Instead of slaying the five giants of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness, New Right advocates have since the 1970s advanced an outlook that has not only helped them grow immeasurably, but also fuelled new threats such as climate change, xenophobia, and global plutocracy. From a conventional perspective, the New Right orthodoxy is presented as the only viable option – the alternatives being some outmoded ‘hard left’ doctrines, softened conservatism, utopian dreams of anarchic harmony, or simply extremism in one guise or another.

People do not readily see what other choice there is. Moderate liberal and social democratic approaches appear to be on the wane. Protest politics (e.g., anti-EU, anti-Clinton, anti-immigrants, etc) is on the rise with the outcomes often not helping those who protested or their fellow citizens. An invisibility cloak seems to have been thrown over the ethos of citizenship, reciprocity, and cooperative problem-solving. Why can’t we revive our confidence in this ethos, promote wider understanding of its relevance, and rally support for its application to tackle the critical threats our society is facing?

2. What is this shared ethos?
In headline terms, it is an ethos in support of mutual respect, inclusiveness, cooperation, informed deliberations, democratic participation, practical problem-solving as opposed to doctrinaire purity, and minimum standards of security for all. It stands against arbitrary rule, corruption, hateful prejudices, deception and misdirection, rejection of rational analysis, cruelty, exploitation, and widening power inequalities.

The historical figures who tend to be drawn on for inspiration (in the West at any rate) include the Levellers, the Enlightenment philosophers, Mary Wollstonecraft, Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, the Owenite cooperators, J.S. Mill, Abraham Lincoln, John Dewey, F.D. Roosevelt, Clement Attlee, Karl Polanyi, Hannah Arendt, Karl Pooper, R.H. Tawney, and E.F. Schumacher. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does, more effectively than any single text, illustrate the dispositions associated with the ethos that is generally sympathetic to what these figures helped to advance.

3. An ethos of cooperation, not a philosophy of life
It should be pointed out at the outset that we are not looking to formulate a comprehensive philosophy of life, which can guide everyone about all their most important decisions in life. This is something people will fall back on diverse religions and secular ethics for guidance. But whatever deeply held views they may hold, if they are to co-exist in a mutually acceptable manner, they will need to follow an ethos/outlook that will enable them to engage in some form of open and fair give-and-take in establishing and supporting the social conditions that serve people well.

4. What difference would it make if this ethos becomes better and more consistently known and embraced?
Throughout history, vested interests defending the exploitative status quo have always resorted to stoking up fears that any alternative would lead to an extremist nightmare. And when only extremist voices are heard, the status quo gets a pass by default. It has often taken a concerted effort to present a united front for those who want to bring in reforms that accord with a coherent, fair, and progressive alternative before public support would shift towards the new option. Alas, offers of change are now all too fragmented; and campaigns pull in all directions with no common vision or narrative.

If our shared ethos can be articulated more effectively so that it is more visible and easier to grasp, it would raise the likelihood of it being recognised as an outlook that ought to be welcomed, and the related changes it champions should accordingly be more widely supported. The mere fact that it can be more consistently referred to would in itself gives it a more prominent profile.

5. What are we up against?
There are two main barriers that stand in the way of developing a common language for our shared ethos:
[A] The intellectual: the inclination to focus on differences and ignore substantial common ground has created a vacuum where resistance against New Right hegemony should stand. Whereas the New Right use words like ‘freedom’, ‘religion’, ‘patriotism’, ‘entrepreneurship’, in the vaguest sense to rally people with disparate views; its opponents splinter into a multitude of critics ever ready to point out the inadequacies of each other’s position, instead of joining forces to tackle their common foe.
[B] The organisational: many involved in promoting reform initiatives are reluctant to associate their work with a larger platform because they do not want to lose their distinct image. With identity politics, it is a question of being seen as having unique issues to address; with thinktanks, there is the need to secure funding by presenting their work as importantly different from everyone else; and with parties and factions within parties, there is the concern with attracting more members than their close rivals.

6. How are we to move forward with recovering our shared ethos?
Given that it is highly unlikely that different groups will agree to use a common language to position their shared aims, a more realistic approach would be to develop the language independently and apply it to activities of diverse reform proponents where these do reflect the underlying shared ethos. Rather than involving a selection of established organisations, which may pre-label what emerges as the ‘product’ of these organisations, a small group of individuals who are in tune with the ethos in question should work together to formulate a set of terms, narratives, and references to encapsulate the ethos.

The language developed can then be used to describe groups, thoughts, proposals, that reflect the ethos. Instead of asking diverse individuals and organisations to adopt a name/narrative that they may not want to run the risk of having their own identity subsumed under, the aim should be to generate widespread use of the name/narrative as a description of the ethos and anything that exhibits its features. Learning and promotional resources can then be publicised with the same description to reinforce its use. With an increasing number of writers referring to the shared ethos in common terms, more commentators will use the language and thus further strengthen its currency. Advocates for cooperation, community development and democratic collaboration insist we are stronger together. We should start with finding a common voice for our shared ethos.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Politics & Lifelong Learning

Politics is often reduced by the media to the quarrels between and within political parties. But that is but a tiny part of the much wider struggle to resolve the many differences over how to solve the problems faced by society.

We need politics to bring about agreement on how we are to deal with those challenges that none of us alone could hope to overcome. Otherwise, the problem will simply persist; or someone powerful enough will impose a solution that may or may not work; or worse still, the problem becomes compounded by bitter conflicts over what should be done.

I have worked with WEA and other educational institutions over the years to help broaden understanding of politics, democracy, and government. In addition to the programmes that are already in place, I am now extending my support to anyone who would like to make use of one or more of the learning materials below:

• Public Issues: With a regular prompt to consider the issues raised in the latest ‘Question the Powerful’ essay (a new one is posted twice a month), you can share your ideas/queries in the comments section. Notifications of new essays will be sent to you once you have written your email address in the box on the top left of the ‘Question the Powerful’ homepage.

• Dystopian Fiction: If you prefer to explore political themes through novels that present alternative futures, then you are welcome to pick one from the ‘Synetopia Quest’ series and use it to engage others in a reading circle (any interpretative query can be emailed to the author directly). More details can be found here:

• Political Theory: For anyone interested in political ideas and how they relate to each other, there is the ‘Guide to Synetopia’, which lists a number of resources that can help to inform discussions about governance, cooperation, and democratic communities:

• Historical Review: You can also go on a journey through history with ‘Against Power Inequalities’ as your guide, so you can explore how power inequalities damaged society in the past and how they were countered. You can get the e-book or paperback here:

Whichever option(s) you choose, read the materials that interest you most, invite a number of other people (from similar or diverse backgrounds/age groups etc) to join you in an informal discussion group, or register your interest in taking part in a WEA-wide learning circle.

You can contact me by email ( [at], and do share the link for this page with others who may be interested.

Henry Tam: Bibliography

List of Published Writings (1990 - present)

Time to Save Democracy: how to govern ourselves in the age of anti-politics, (Bristol: Policy Press, 2018)
• ‘Don’t give up on democracy just yet’, The Hill, US (December 2017).
• ‘Citizenship & Civic Engagement’, submission to House of Lords’ Select Committee (2017).
• ‘Five Reasons to teach the Civic Ethos’, The Centre for Welfare Reform (2017).
• ‘Four Lessons on Power Inequalities’, Bernard Crick Centre for Promoting the Public Understanding of Politics (June, 2017).
• ‘Political Literacy and Civic Thoughtfulness' (booklet), The Centre for Welfare Reform (The Need for Roots series), (2016).
• ‘Interview with a Political Writer', Banana Writers' Insider Series (2016).
• ‘Synetopia: Resource Distribution Revisited’, The Centre for Welfare Reform, (March 2016)
• ‘Synetopia: A Model for Collaborative Leadership’, Civil Service College, (March 2016)
• ‘Utopia, Dystopia, & Synetopia’, WEA Eastern Newsletter (Jan 2016)
• ‘Snide & Prejudiced: a tale of constitutional shenanigans’, openDemocracy, (November 2015)
• ‘Equality and the Governance of Welfare’, The Centre for Welfare Reform, (Sept 2015)
• ‘Communitarian governance: a public education challenge’, openDemocracy, (July 2015)
• 'Towards an Open Cooperativist Development Agency’, P2P Foundation, (March 2015)
• ‘Rethinking National Security’, The Centre for Welfare Reform, (Feb 2015)
• ‘'Communitarianism, sociology of', in James D. Wright (editor-in-chief), International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Vol. 4. Pp.311-316 (Oxford: Elsevier, 2015).
Against Power Inequalities: a history of the progressive struggle, (new edition) Birkbeck: 2015.
• ‘Labour for the ninety-nine percent’, in The Orient (The Official Newsletter of Chinese for Labour, February 2015. Vol 15).
• ‘Leadership beyond Command & Control’, Civil Service College, (Nov 2014)
‘Let’s Talk About Democracy’ in nED (the network for Education & Democracy): (August 2014).
• ‘What would Whitehall be like in fifty years’ time?’ in Despatches, the Civil Service College newsletter (Vol.2 July 2014, p.2).
‘Whitehall through the Looking Glass: a novel exposé of corporate government’, published interview in Shout Out UK, 8 May, 2014).
Whitehall through the Looking Glass (a novel). QTP: 2014.
• 'Communitarianism', in the Encyclopedia of Action Research (Sage Publications, 2014).
• 'Progressive Lifelong Learning: pros and cons', NIACE Journal, 'Adult Learning', winter, 2013.
• 'Cooperative Problem-Solving & Education’, Forum journal, Volume 55 Number 2 2013.
• 'The Curious Case of Chinese Politics in Britain’, The Orient (2013).
• 'When Plato met Potter’, Book Brunch (published 18 June 2013).
• 'Cooperative Problem-Solving: what it means in theory and practice', FYPD, University of Cambridge, 2013 (download article here). Polish version, 'Demokracja: lekcje kooperatywnego rozwiazywania problemow’, published in edukacja obywatelska w dziataniu, ed. by Kordasiewicz, A. & Sadura, P., (Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar, Warsaw, 2013).
Kuan's Wonderland (a novel). QTP: 2012.
• ‘Citizen Engagement and the Quest for Solidarity’, in After the Third Way: The Future of Social Democracy in Europe>, ed. by Olaf Cramme and Patrick Diamond (London, I.B. Tauris, 2012).
• ‘Democratic Participation and Learning Leadership’, published in Polish as ‘Szkola liderow’ in Partycypacja: przewodnik krytyki politycznej, ed. by Sadura, P. & Erbel, J. (Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, Warsaw, 2012).
• ‘Rejuvenating Democracy: lessons from a communitarian experiment’, Forum, Volume 53, Number 3, 2011.
Komunitaryzm, (Polish translation of Communitarianism, by J Grygienc & A Szahaj), Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikolaja Kopernika, Torun 2011.
• ‘Through Thick & Thin: what does it really take for us to live together’, in Ethnicities, ed. by Dina Kiwan, Volume 11 Issue 3 September 2011.
• ‘The Big Con: reframing the state-society debate’, PPR Journal, Volume 18, Issue 1, March-May 2011.
Against Power Inequalities: reflections on the struggle for inclusive communities, (original edition) Birkbeck, London University, 2010.
• ‘The Importance of Being a Citizen’, in Active Learning for Active Citizenship, ed. by John Annette & Marjorie Mayo, (NIACE, 2010).
• ‘Bringing up Citizens’ – review of Patrick Keeney’s Liberalism, Communitarianism & Education, in PROSPERO (Autumn issue, 2009).
Review of White, S. and Leighton, D. (ed.) Building a Citizen Society: the emerging politics of republican democracy (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2008) in RENEWAL (Vol. 17 No.2, Summer 2009).
• ‘Citizens’ Access to Power’, in County Beacon (the County Councils Network magazine) April 2008.
• ‘Power to the Citizen’, in VINE (the Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East newsletter) Summer 2008.
• ‘Civil Renewal: the agenda for empowering citizens’, in Re-energizing Citizenship: Strategies for Civil Renewal, ed. by Gerry Stoker, Tessa Brannan, and Peter John, (Macmillan Palgrave, 2007).
• ‘The Hidden Barriers to Collaboration’ in The Collaborative State, ed. by Simon Parker and Niamh Gallagher, (London: Demos, 2007).
• ‘The Case for Progressive Solidarity’, in Identity, Ethnic Diversity & Community Cohesion, ed. by M. Wetherell, M. Lafleche & R. Berkeley, (London: Sage, 2007).
• ‘Communities in Control’, New Start (Volume 8, No. 345, 23 June 2006).
• ‘Civil Renewal & Diversity’, in Social Capital, Civil Renewal & Ethnic Diversity (Proceedings of a Runnymede Conference), 2005.
• ‘Live and Let Eat’, a review of Steven Lukes’ Liberals & Cannibals: The Implications of Diversity, in The Responsive Community, Spring/Summer 2004.
Progressive Politics in the Global Age (ed.) (Cambridge: Polity, 2001).
• ‘What is the Third Way’, review of The Third Way and The Third Way and its Critics (by Anthony Giddens), for The Responsive Community. (Summer 2001).
• ‘The Community Roots of Citizenship’, in Citizens: Towards a Citizenship Culture, ed. by B. Crick (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001).
• Review of Schools and Community: The Communitarian Agenda in Education (by James Arthur with Richard Bailey), for the Cambridge Journal of Education. (May 2000).
• 'Rediscovering British Communitarianism', The Responsive Community, (reprinted in the Co-op Commonweal) Spring, 1999.
• 'Time to take a stand: Communitarian Ideas and Third Way Politics', International Scope Review Vol 1, Issue 1, 1999.
• ‘Communitarian Ideas and Third Way Politics', Local Government Voice, July 1999.
Communitarianism: A New Agenda for Politics & Citizenship (Macmillan, 1998).
Putting Citizens First, with John Stewart (Municipal Journal/SOLACE, 1997).
Punishment, Excuses & Moral Development (ed.) (Aldershot: Avebury Press, 1996).
• 'Communitarianism and Citizens Empowerment', Local Government Policy Making, January 1996.
• 'Communitarianism and Humanism: The Need for a Citizens' Movement', The Ethical Record, February, 1996.
• 'Education and the Communitarian Movement', Journal for Pastoral Care in Education, September 1996.
The Citizens Agenda (The White Horse Press 1995).
• 'Crime & Responsibility' in B. Almond (ed.) Introducing Applied Ethics (Blackwell's 1995).
• 'Enabling Structures' in D. Atkinson (ed.) Cities of Pride (Cassell 1995).
• 'Recognise Your Responsibilities', The Professional Manager, March 1995.
• 'The Real Communitarian Challenge', County News, May 1995.
• 'Towards a Communitarian Philosophy', Philosophy Today, May 1995.
• 'Communitarianism & the Co-operative Movement', The Co-op Commonweal, Issue 2 1995.
• 'Community Movement', Local Government Management, Autumn 1995.
• 'Take the Community Route to People Power', Local Government Chronicle (24/11/95).
Marketing, Competition & the Public Sector (ed.) (Harlow: Longman, 1994).
• 'Empowerment: Too Big a Task?' The Professional Manager, March 1994.
Citizenship Development: Towards an Organisational Model (LGMB 1994).
Serving the Public: Customer Management in Local Government (Harlow: Longman 1993).
• 'Power to the People' Local Government Management Summer 1993.
• 'How Should We Live?' The Philosopher, October 1993.
Responsibility & Personal Interactions: A Philosophical Study of the Criteria for Responsibility Ascriptions (Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990).