What is it about the UK, that our central purpose seems so, well, snobbish?
Take for example, John Betjeman’s brilliant satire of a rather wealthy British woman – from Cadogan Square no less – lecturing God in Westminster Abbey in 1940….
“Think of what our country stands for,” she tells him... “Books from Boot’s and country lanes, Free speech, free passes, class distinction, Democracy and proper drains.”
It is a revealing list, even taking the satire into account (“Although dear Lord I am a sinner/I have done no major crime…”).
Books from Boot’s have long since gone the Way of All Retailing. Class distinction is somewhat frowned upon, and I don’t really understand the significance of free passes. Free speech doesn’t seem that popular. We have long ago lost our place as Europe’s premier drain location and – if we really thought that country lanes was central to our national purpose – we might have looked after them a bit better.
And yet somehow, we have managed to stay a ridiculously divided society – and increasingly so, between rich and poor, between those who roar up and down the country lanes in their Jags and those who have never even been there.
That is anyway why some cities are pioneering the idea of ‘inclusive growth’. The technocratic consultancy McKinsey – a little late to the party on this one – devoted the whole of last week’s online newsletter to the subject.
The trouble is that when McKinsey get their teeth into the modern world, the ideas seem to get impoverished by the time they get communicated. And this case, they have fallen into the trap – as too many technocrats do – of believing that inclusive growth is entirely a measurement issue.
Here are their three points…
- Diagnose the current state and develop a bold vision for change
This also means, they say, ”directly engaging diverse voices and giving decision-making authority to the communities they seek to empower”. I agree with this bit – with the exception of the old Blairite word ‘empower’. The problem is that neither politicians, officials nor economists can actually go around empowering people: they have the power already – it is just that they don’t tend to use it. Otherwise, this is just about how important it is for leaders to “measure the potential opportunity of addressing key outcomes… Robust fact gathering,” blah blah, which – if that is all it is – maintains them in a distant professional position without all the difficulty of actually taking action.
2. Design comprehensive community- and human-centred interventions
That is important, of course, but what kind of interventions? Don’t they know? Because all we get is endless analysis – and we need action. Then there is a little hint of this in #3.
3. Take co-ordinated action to ensure long-term accountability and momentum
“Public-, private-, and social-sector leaders should consider implementing critical infrastructure to help sustain progress and achieve inclusive economic outcomes over time,” say the McKinsey authors. “For example, they can invest in monitoring and evaluation systems that collect feedback, launch pilot initiatives to help establish proofs of concept, and establish ways of meaningfully engaging internal and external stakeholders to inform actions and refinements.” New monitoring and evaluation systems again? No thanks…
The problem is that the report shows too much traditional McKinsey thinking – including their famous McKinsey Fallacy (everything can be measured and what can be measured can be managed). There are technocrats running cities (I’ve met them) who really believe all you need to do is to measure an analyse, and the solutions will magically emerge.
This is nonsense – as I explain I my book Tickbox. Yes we need to analyse, but we also desperately need, not just a body of proven techniques, but leaders who are also prepared to act – without being afraid that doing so will somehow compromise their intellectual status as non-acting philosopher kings.
Which is why is I would thoroughly recommend reading my colleague Charlotte Alldritt’s excellent essay ‘Inclusive Growth?’, published by the inclusive growth thinktank, the Centre for Progressive Policy. In the meantime, I’m just going out for a spot of “robust fact-gathering”…