A London for Londoners
What if the kind of city in which most Londoners would like to live lies just beneath the surface – while tragic misunderstandings about others hold Londoners back from grasping it?
A recent survey, published by Common Cause Foundation and conducted by Ipsos MORI, suggests that most people living in London place greatest importance on ‘compassionate values’ of community feeling, equality, social justice and broadmindedness. This is true irrespective of whether a person is old or young, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, male or female.
These, then, are presumably the kinds of values that characterise the type of city in which most Londoners would like to live. They are the values that should come to define many areas of public policy – for example, housing provision, wage policy, health care or education.
But today they do not. Indeed, many areas of public policy seem to be shaped in pursuit of other, opposing values. These are ‘selfish values’ of wealth creation, influence, ambition and public image. Yet these are the very values that most Londoners hold to be least important.
How can this be? How can it be that the values which Londoners hold to be of greatest importance seem to play little role in shaping public policy, while those that are of least importance to Londoners actually seem to define many areas of public policy?
There are a range of answers to this crucial question. But here is a new one – compelling because it is relatively straightforward to address.
Most Londoners simply underestimate the importance that a typical fellow citizen places on compassionate values, and overestimate the importance that a typical citizen places on selfish values.
This simple finding may be of deep importance, because – as the survey also establishes – people who mistake their fellow citizens in this way hold less positive attitudes towards various forms of civic participation (volunteering or joining public meetings, for example) and are less likely to vote. They are also more likely to report feeling culturally estranged or alienated. In other words, it seems that a misperception about what matters to others may be holding Londoners back from working to create the kind of city in which most of them would like to live.
What might be done to reverse this tragic situation?
People’s perceptions about what matters to others are shaped by the tacit assumptions conveyed by the media, government spokespeople, business leaders and celebrities: indeed, anyone who communicates publicly. It is incumbent upon people in such roles to convey an accurate perspective of what matters to others – rather than lazily repeating, and therefore further entrenching, the misperception that most people are motivated primarily by selfish values.
But, beyond this, a range of different organisations could join an effort to support Londoners in becoming ‘values-literate’ – equipped to express what matters to them, conversant with misperceptions about what matters to others, and critically aware of the influences that perpetuate and deepen these misunderstandings. Such an effort could build on common cause across a wide range of organisations motivated to deepen civic participation and cultural belonging. Charities, unions, political parties, churches, museums and political parties could use a range of tools (including simple values surveys) to support their members, congregations and visitors in exploring their values and the values of others.
Tom Crompton is director of Common Cause Foundation. The Foundation is embarking on work with a range of different organisations, co-creating tools to promote values-literacy. Interested readers are invited to get in touch. [email protected]