One Nation Labour = Positive Politics

November 17, 2012 1:59 pm

By Jon Stokes

What Positive Politics Means

Moving away from a politics of survival based on stoking the view that the other side is somehow aiming to destroy what we value, to a politics based on the aims of growth and development. From a psychology of paranoia based on an exaggeration of the dangers of the other and the relative weakness of self, to a strengths based psychology, what are the strengths in the present situation, the people and relationships in it, and how can they be enhanced. It is based on:

  • Assuming that people are capable of solving their own problems more effectively than experts
  • The task of politicians is not to TO provide answers but to create and maintain the conditions in which people can solve problems for themselves
  • Heroic charismatic styles of leadership are not required

Evidence from Research 

Research over the past 20 years clearly identifies the conditions under which human beings flourish.

In simple terms people who describe themselves as happy describe themselves as having:

1. Health

2. Good relationships

3. Purpose and meaning in their life

This roughly corresponds to:

1. NHS and Education

2. Family and community

3. Work in a broad sense, that is activity with a purpose leading to a meaningful outcome, whether this be paid employment, childcare, voluntary activities etc.

The attraction of the “big society” idea was that it appeared to offer these things and was a large part of Cameron’s appeal at the last election. What it lacked was any detailed plan of execution.

Evidence-based policies of creating and enhancing the conditions in which people develop, flourish and build positive relationships with one another is entirely feasible. The approach known as “positive psychology” provide a robust scientific basis for government policy focused on these ends.

In this framework the task of the professional is not to so much to provide the answers and to manipulate a willing client, but to provide the conditions in which the client discovers answers themselves and to enable the client to apply these in their life. The fundamental basis of all positive help is the provision of a helper who is experienced as genuine, who listens accurately and is experienced as positively disposed to the client. This applies and is evidenced in all the helping professions – counselling, healthcare, teaching, and applies equally to parenting as well. The profession of politics has yet to take account of this; it would mean a politics of development rather than of survival.

So What Do We Know?

Research demonstrates that well-being can be supported through the fostering of:

  • positive emotion – positive emotion serves to broaden and build access to personal competencies. In the physical realm positive emotions have a measurable benefit on many measures of positive physical health.
  • engagement – feeling engaged by one’s work or other activities
  • accomplishments – feeling that one’s actions achieve a purpose beyond oneself
  • the psychological conditions under which resilience, self-efficacy and optimism arise and are sustained

What This Means for Politics 

This research could provide the basis for an evidence-based policy of positive politics in which the aim is not to focus on the causes of problems and on blaming others, but on increasing awareness of and choices about what can be done to solve the problem.

By promoting the positive strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive and flourish, politicians would move from a politics of salvation to a politics of enablement based on research rather than prejudice. One reason for the lack of interest in politics is the lack of belief in politicians as being capable of providing much in the way of answers to what matters to people. The more their own behaviour has come under scrutiny from the media in the past 10 years the more evident this seems.

The general view of politicians is that they are engaged in a game of stoking prejudice for personal gain, an approach which is attractive and works well in a world of either/or, ruling/working classes, us/them, but is neither viable nor credible in a world of multiple value systems, of complex choices and without institutions that bolster simplistic oppositional categories. The solution is not to revert to such reassuring emotional “verities” but to take account of scientific research on the nature of how people, families and communities develop, change and flourish.

Jon Stokes is a business psychologist and leadership coach

This piece forms part of Jon Cruddas’s Guest Edit of LabourList

  • Serbitar

    Placebo politics, eh?

    • AlanGiles

      In the great days of British manufacturing, we didn’t have or need “business psychiologists” and “leadership coaches” – we just had people who learned their job, got on with the job and did their best to do a good job. In short people who knew what they were doing and didn’t need motivating.

      And to think in these hard times, there really are businesses large and small who are prepared to waste money on pretentious psycho-babble as essayed here by Mr Stokes. An afternoon of “coaching”, psychology and skinny latte’. I wonder Mr S didn’t provide his price list.

      • aracataca

        ‘psychiologists’ -spelling course Alan?

        • Dave Postles

          He’s typing on a netbook, so some allowance may be made, esp. since i and o are adjacent on the keyboard.

      • aracataca

        ‘psychiologists’ -spelling course Alan?

  • Dave Postles

    ‘Almost half of unemployed people have low or very low levels of life satisfaction compared to 20 percent of those in employment.’
    Britain in 2013. Annual Magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council, p. 70.

    It’s fairly predictable really. Being in employment doesn’t guarantee life satisfaction, but it helps. Should we not make that issue a priority?

  • Dave Postles

    ‘Almost half of unemployed people have low or very low levels of life satisfaction compared to 20 percent of those in employment.’
    Britain in 2013. Annual Magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council, p. 70.

    It’s fairly predictable really. Being in employment doesn’t guarantee life satisfaction, but it helps. Should we not make that issue a priority?

    • PaulHalsall

      I am not sure about that.

      Surely modern technology, which raises production and makes even manual jobs easier, means that many people simply do not need to work.

      We can create all the make work, and largely pointless, office jobs we want, but the fact is we can all be fed, housed, clothed, educated, provided with healthcare and entertained by electronics with the active work of perhaps 20% of the population.

      We need to find a way to enjoy the leisure technology has created for us.

      There was an interesting article in TIME about this, but we simply cannot get off the now outdated work=goodness tramlines.

      What we need to do is to encourage people people to work less: to extend education, parental leave, sabbatical years, allow later life access to education, and bring down the retirement age.

      See http://articles.cnn.com/2011-09-07/opinion/rushkoff.jobs.obsolete_1_toll-collectors-robots-jobs?_s=PM%3AOPINION

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        20% of the population supporting the other 80% through taxation? That seems pretty unrealistic to me if only on the numbers: there are implications of enormously high taxation on those working, to say nothing about possible frustration of the normal human desire to work, increasing longevity, increasing costs of medical and social care, pension costs and so on, or of the social divisions that could be caused between workers and those not working. In fact, it sounds a hellish utopia.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        20% of the population supporting the other 80% through taxation? That seems pretty unrealistic to me if only on the numbers: there are implications of enormously high taxation on those working, to say nothing about possible frustration of the normal human desire to work, increasing longevity, increasing costs of medical and social care, pension costs and so on, or of the social divisions that could be caused between workers and those not working. In fact, it sounds a hellish utopia.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        20% of the population supporting the other 80% through taxation? That seems pretty unrealistic to me if only on the numbers: there are implications of enormously high taxation on those working, to say nothing about possible frustration of the normal human desire to work, increasing longevity, increasing costs of medical and social care, pension costs and so on, or of the social divisions that could be caused between workers and those not working. In fact, it sounds a hellish utopia.

        • Alexwilliamz

          Or we all expend 20% labour and get 80% leisure?? 2 day week yippee

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Sadly, a 2 day week makes no sense at all in any vector of debate, when the rest of the world is not bound by our rather “conceited” notions of how we in this little island would like to live our lives. Then there are the additional costs of nationally choosing to have a 2 day week: there are some functions that require to be available 24/7/365. I think of firemen, electricity workers, power station people, even (with no sense of self-worth) emergency medical care. So you need to recruit and train 7/2 the number of people to fulfil 2/7 the task load. That is expensive.

            It is perhaps unfair of me as I suspect you make your point with the tongue in the cheek, but your words illustrate very well the poor intellectual quality of any debate on this matter: people will always want more holiday, more social care and less work, along with greater and better services. No one seems to do the very basic sums, even among our high political leaders of any party. It is why we are in our current position.

          • rekrab

            I heard someone say today that private business is avoiding corporate tax to the amount of 80Bn, ain’t that the sum being cut?

            Loading up with rubber bullets? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7ktZyll7Lg If I were a hammer, I’d hammer on day long? where have all the flowers gone, tories killed them every one.

          • Dave Postles

            Derek, I read today that companies owned by private equity firms in the UK are loaded with £119bn of debt. Even worse, they receive tax allowances for the capital which they borrowed to leverage the buy-outs.

            At last, some of the UK companies have started to complain about the international tax avoidance as it makes those which pay their taxes in full less competitive. Where were they when Dawn Primarolo devised a GAAR?

            Boycott the bastards: Amazon; Boots; eBay; Asda (Walmart); Starbucks; Apple; etc. If we patronise UK-based companies, they will expand, recruit more people, pay the same VAT and NI, more corporation tax, and we will simply be transferring demand.

          • rekrab

            Hear! Hear! Dave,I’ll ask the wife to wipe them off the Christmas shopping list, let the boycott widen.

          • Alexwilliamz

            Dam I am having to redraft my christmas list too after reading that!

        • PaulHalsall

          Jaime,

          First of all, even if one thought that all current jobs were necessary and worthwhile, currently there are around 29.12 million people in employment aged 16 and over in the UK. Since the population is around 60 million, already 50% are supporting the rest. although not necessarily through taxation – some of the money transferred is through support of blood relatives, use of savings (pensions, annuities etc.), and support of spouses.

          Meanwhile, a good many “jobs” are, at least in my estimation, makework jobs, or jobs that will soon be lost to further mechanisation and computerisation (sadly that might include jobs such as teaching, medical diagnosis, social work scheduling, and job centre employees). In the US for example there are literally millions of people employed in useless medical insurance administration (useless in that we do quite well without it in this country). What *real* contribution, for example, does an administrative assistant to a human resources manager in an unnecessary insurance company make to the economy?

          Even without taxation then, actual producers (farm workers, manufacturing workers, transport workers, necessary professionals and so on) are support the rest of the population whose work is not really needed for us to all live good, materially sufficient, lives.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Paul,

            there are around 70 million people in the country, so your 29.12 million workers are indeed less than 50% of the total population, but considerably more than 50% of the working age population.

            I shall enjoy the “Inquisition” implied by your review of socially useful jobs. The damned union barons may find themselves equally useless as the poor HR administrative assistant you specify, and the Polly Toynbee is unlikely to find herself allowed any oxygen. But you should be careful – in any society which judges socially useful jobs, the children and the retired could find themselves liable to cuts.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

            Oh, she shows us very well why your beliefs and attitudes are wrong, Jaime!

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            You would need to expand as to who “she” is, and why I’m wrong in both beliefs and attitudes (none of which are posited in my previous comment, but you appear to think they are).

          • PaulHalsall

            UK population is 62.3 million. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/taxonomy/index.html?nscl=Population

            My whole point is that we need to find a way to enjoy the leisure afforded us by technology. You seem to miss that.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Paul,

            I have also seen 70 million including illegal immigrants and the families of migrant workers, but not from an official source, so we will go with your figure. Nevertheless, the worker / non-worker proportion is around the 50% mark, not 20:80.

            You think I miss your point, but I do not. I do not agree that your point of 20:80 is sustainable, and you do not acknowledge that point of mine.

            Far from finding difficulty in filling the leisure time with new uses of technology, I think our British children and society in 50 years from now will be worried about how to keep society going when just about every physical thing is manufactured in Asia and Africa at lower cost, and all of the intellectual capital we have now has fled away from this little island. No doubt, there will still be miserable little socialists in pockets of post industrial British decline whining about even more free benefits, and wanting yet more tax monies to pay for them without worrying about the income.

          • PeterBarnard

            Not so, Jaime (“… about 70 million population …).

            The ONS 2011 census count for England and Wales was 56.1 million. England and Wales are about 89% of the total UK population, so the UK total would have been around 63.2 million in 2011 – possibly half a million more in 2012 = 63.7 million.

            What does need a good looking at is the proportion engaged in “transformational” activities versus those engaged in “transactional” activities.

            I’m afraid that you are way off the mark when deriding people for wanting to work less hours and warning that this is the way to destruction ; in 1913, average full-time hours per week were 56.4, and, per worker, 1.42 weeks per year were lost in holidays, 1.70 lost in sickness and 0.07 weeks per year in strikes. Total hours worked by the workforce (20 million of them) were 55,913 million hours.

            By 1973, a workforce of 25 million was working 41.4 hours per week, with 4.67 weeks holiday and a total hours worked 43,000 million. Productivity gave us a much increased output for 1973, compared with 1913, with about 23% less hours worked in the year.
            (source “British Economic Growth 1856-1973″ ; R C O Matthews, J C Odling-Smee and C H Feinstein ; Stanford University Press 1982)

            I accept that things are different in 2012, compared with 1973, but it does not automatically follow that less hours worked = less output.

            Historically – for about 150 years now – the working population has been about half of the total population, with plus or minus two or three per cent each side of 50%.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Yes Peter, about 50% plus or minus a few.

            Not 20%, as Paul originally suggested might be the future. I seem to be getting some “flak” for my scepticism that 20% was in some way supportable, but those firing the “flak” are not acknowledging that the current baseline is considerably more than 20%.

            Also, I am unsure as to how you infer that I deride people wanting to work less. I observe that is normal, but normality is not a positive desire. And you ignore my point that having to train several people to a common standard to allow 24/7 cover so that individuals can work less is more expensive. That is not a political point, merely an observation of mathematics.

            To make a practical example: a typical Level 2 sub-regional Emergency Medicine team of 19 people (from Consultant through to nurses, not including ancillaries) might cost about £5 million to train in costs and salaries. If they only work 2 days a week, the costs of provision balloon to £15-20 million for week-long cover, unless the wondrous argument can guarantee that no-one has an accident or has some other emergency on the other 5 days a week.

      • Dave Postles

        I don’t disagree with any of what you say, Paul. Whilst dignity (and some self-perception of well-being) is associated with work, then some employment for people is a necessary priority in policy, however the employment is distributed/shared. The caveat is everyone has the opportunity; it’s no good if some people have full employment and others, who desire/need full employment, are reduced to p-t conditions of service; that will merely intensify their anxiety. All I want is the availability of employment for people to be a priority in policy. Personally, I’ve had enough of employment.

        • PaulHalsall

          Dave, I agree about employment being shared.

          To some extent we do this already. When I was at school, it was still possible to leave at 15 and then find work, whereas now we keep young people out of the labour market for much longer.

          I think those sort of strategies are much better than allowing some people to work and them keeping many others out of work.

  • aracataca

    Completely correct. The evidence that proposing positive policies has more favourable results than being negative about the other party/politics is now conclusive.

  • aracataca

    Completely correct. The evidence that proposing positive policies has more favourable results than being negative about the other party/politics is now conclusive.

  • Dave Postles

    Some of us, as personal tutors in HE, went on courses to improve our practice, and we were recommended to read Carl Rogers. It was helpful in working with young people with their problems. I discovered later, however, that counselling should be more situational. Whilst exploring options is appropriate for many people, others expect and appreciate a more interactive and more directive role. For some people, empathy and exploration are fine, but others want more. I don’t see that the counsel of perfection for counselling can so easily be transferred into the political arena for all purposes.

    As to positive policies, we need to have the right policies before we can enthuse about them. So far, I am more dismayed than encouraged by the positive policies on offer. Mutt Romney had positive policies to offer, but, in negative vein, I preferred Obama for the least harm. At the moment, I can not perceive Labour as the least harm in any substantial or substantive manner. It just seems six of one and half a dozen of the other. Still, keep trying.

  • Andrew McKay

    Ed Miliband has really impressed me over the past few months – I wasn’t sure about his leadership to begin with but I now think he has what it takes to lead us to a victory at the next General Election.

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