Book Review: Our Common Good

Author John Nickson describes pockets of hope in a generally rather bleak picture for the sector, writes Stephen Cook

The question in this book's subtitle title hangs over many of the economic, social and political debates that have taken place in the UK since the global financial crisis of nearly 10 years ago. Social care is the latest case in point.

John Nickson, former head of fundraising at the British Council, English National Opera, the Royal Academy and the Tate, interviewed nearly 100 people whose knowledge and experience might cast some light on it. The result is 24 chapters where most of the space is given to long verbatim quotations from academics, social commentators, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs and charity leaders. Best among the contributions are some inspiring stories about how voluntary action and philanthropy have successfully tackled social problems, especially for young people, in communities such as Blackpool, Oldham and the East End of London.

The author's conclusions, however, are not optimistic: he asserts that the future of liberal democracy depends on our commitment to the common good, but says collectivism continues to wane and individualism predominates. He asserts that is not possible - or even desirable - for philanthropists and charities to fill all the gaps in state provision, but governments can't be blamed for the gaps because people will not vote for higher taxation.

He says there is an obvious need for a stronger voluntary sector, but it does not feature highly on the political agenda and there is little prospect of a significant increase in giving and volunteering.

In effect, he describes pockets of hope in a generally rather bleak picture. And when he asks himself who will provide the moral leadership to persuade the rich and powerful to prioritise the common good over personal gain, he replies simply: "I do not know."

Our Common Good: If the State Provides Less, Who Will Provide More? by John Nickson, Biteback Publishing, £20 hardback

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