I believe that given half a chance, most people, most of the time, are smarter, fairer, more generous and capable of more empathy than our institutions give us credit for. I found both the election campaigns and the result hugely depressing without really understanding why; with the exception of the Greens I feel no more aligned with the policies of the losers than the winners. On reflection I realise the reason for my gloom is a conviction that the institution with the most cynical view of our behavioural motivations is the modern Conservative party.
I’m guessing that, as someone already personally rich, I will be richer under an unfettered Conservative government; but I don’t expect to be happier. What I find so depressing about modern post-Thatcherite Conservatism (and only marginally less so about post-Blairite Labour) is the apparent ubiquitous cynical belief that appealling to personal greed is the only way to get anything done. Considering the almost complete lack of evidence to back up this assumption, it has gained extraordinary traction in Westminster and the City over the last 30 years. In the real world, where businesses have to compete by getting the best out of people, it has largely been abandoned as a piece of failed, ideologically driven dogma.
For the most part, we are emotional beings responding to much deeper, less tangible but more powerful emotional motivators; ask anyone in advertising. Ultimately we all want to feel good about ourselves and at work this falls broadly into three areas: feeling we are learning and getting better at stuff, feeling some control over our lives and feeling a sense of purpose. To believe that ‘carrot and stick’ management is why a nurse will care for a patient, a parole officer will struggle to support a young offender or why a programmer would write exceptional code is crass to the point of incredulity. I suspect it is even more threatening to public services and wellbeing than cuts and austerity.
Both hope and cynicism, given enough voice, can be self-fulfilling prophecies. My plea to Cameron and his team is to have a little faith in the people they lead; we’re not as shallow, selfish or as dumb as you seem to think. Show some trust, give us some hope and we might even surprise you.