Matthew Taylor on the perception gap

Now being described as “one of Britain’s top thinkers”, here’s Matthew Taylor writing on the perception gap in the New Statesman.

Not a bad piece, I thought. The peroration didn’t quite make sense to me, though.

Matthew writes on hope: “It is the attitude of the spectator that induces pessimism, the experience of the participant that induces hope … The problem is not that change brings fear and disorientation (there’s nothing new in this), it is that we lack the spaces and places where people can renew hope”.

Given the death of the old collectivism (as embodied in political parties, TUs etc), Matthew thinks we need to find a new collectivism, one that is fit for the demands of the modern age. This might seem like wishful thinking, he says, but look at the existing forms of social action out there – against predictions, cinema and live football are flourishing. “For all the talk of the decline of social capital, people are doing more stuff together.”

Or are they? I haven’t seen much communal activity at the cinema recently. And, despite the attendances, football is an increasingly spectatorial affair. People arrive late and leave early at all but the biggest games, putting their private convenience before the demands of the collective. At White Hart Lane, the loudest noice you’ll hear is the sound of guy behind you telling you to sit down. Same at Old Trafford, it seems.

In their focus on private desire, these activities are profoundly apolitical. Matthew wants political action that will “keep up with modern tastes and expectations”. But I have a feeling that this means politics that takes on board the techniques of mass commercialism – inviting people to come together as consumer-spectators, not as active citizens.

So, really, we’re back to where we started from. Ten out of ten for effort though.


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