This important book reports on a large-scale national two-year survey of attitudes to citizenship funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as a major part of a huge "Democracy and Participation" programme. My heart fell when the authors began by telling us that "citizenship as a topic for research has undergone something of a renaissance". Political science is doing well at the moment, as is its distant cousin, political philosophy. But the two disciplines seldom ruffle the pages of the press, a somewhat sad or ludicrous paradox, given the importance of politics.
Here are findings of real public concern. One of the survey's results, highlighted in the press release, is that there is a strong link between voluntary activity and life satisfaction. The survey found that people who live in areas that record high levels of informal voluntary activity also enjoy better health, students achieve higher GCSE grades, and their communities suffer fewer burglaries - and probably they live longer because, as the research shows, most volunteers are middle-class.
The authors may not have wholly welcomed this hype or spin, for one of their strong conclusions is that the decline in recent years of citizenship as collective action runs in proportion to what they bluntly call "chequebook citizenship".
Some government ministers are jolly keen on volunteering. Who dares deny its benefits? The Millennium Fund certainly increased the numbers of young volunteers, and anything measurable is, of course, valuable. Brown and Blunkett, in rare harmony, set up a Russell Commission on volunteering.
But their interim report had nothing about training volunteers in citizenship skills to act together. It is all about good citizenship rather than active citizenship. One of the interesting findings of this book is that most of the big pressure groups, even, have very little democratic input from either volunteers or their bankers- order donors. …