I try to read around a bit these days, and I pick a range of stuff so I don't just hear the same thing over again. So I exited Waterstone's last week with Phillip Blond's Red Tory, David Willetts' The Pinch, The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, and Richard Layard's book Happiness. Each sits somewhere between traditional right and firm left.
And do you know what? They are all saying very similar things: that materialism has hit definite upper limits in terms of what it can do for us. That happiness seems to be linked to levels of equality in society. That striving for personal enrichment rather than the wellbeing of others is, quite literally, making us fat, mentally ill and distrustful of others.
The core message here is that we have lost our way - that we have become so dissociated, so self-absorbed, so status-preoccupied that our quality of life is now in decline. The solution, say the authors, involves thinking about ourselves less and about others more. Forgetting ourselves seems somehow important for mental and physical wellbeing.
The extent to which we have become hostage to the prevailing values of our society (even those of us in the third sector who consider ourselves less avaricious) is clear when I look at myself. I am one of Thatcher's children. I obsess endlessly about my own life and success. I compare myself with others all the time, both in terms of money and of status. I don't catch buses (Thatcher once called catching buses a mark of failure). I like to think I balance my 'inner Thatcher' with consideration for others - but, in the way my mind works, I am a creature of my time. That is why I struggle, viscerally, with all this equality stuff. For example, despite the evidence that Britain would probably be better if we were more equal, I cannot be other than horrified by a 50 per cent tax rate. My heart and head are in different places.
Enter the third sector. Despite my inner Thatcher, one thing I am very proud about is that the sector has always pressed for greater equality, even when it wasn't fashionable to do so. When the public and private sectors were paying silly money, we kept our chief executives' pay in some kind of relation to the front line. And we recognise, instinctively, the social nature of organisations and the fact that they require a degree of equality if they are to thrive. Now that politicians are queuing up to show their credibility as third sector partners, we all need to remind the likely winners on 6 May that the Big Society is also One Society - not a confection of vastly unequal ones.
Contact Craig at www.craigdeardenphillips.com
Craig Dearden-Phillips is a social entrepreneur specialising in public service reform