Active Citizenship: What Could It Achieve and How?

By Bernard Crick; Andrew Lockyer | Go to book overview

1
Civic Republicanism and Citizenship: the
Challenge for Today

Bernard Crick

Consider this first essay in this series as a ‘secular sermon’. I will preach on and around three texts. Their admonishments and message will be that while, of course, you and I all want to be good citizens, particularly for others to be good citizens, particularly for young people to be very good citizens, yet surveys, common observation and the content of the media all show that many or most of our fellow citizens are losing the desire, the will and the means to be active citizens. Some commentators now gravely discuss whether apathy is not a good thing, an indicator of contentment – and some politicians may privately agree with them. But, as it is written in my translation of the book of Proverbs, ‘Do or you will be done by’. A bare 51 per cent of us were engaged enough to vote in the 2005 General Election, even to choose as if from the best of a bad job. And of eighteento twenty-five-year-olds, only four out of ten voted.

Sir Alistair Graham, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, published a survey last month, widely reported, showing that less than a quarter of us generally trust government ministers to tell the truth. Ministers are fifteenth in the pecking order of trust in the professions, hovering just below estate agents. ‘Lack of trust’, he said, ‘leads to public cynicism and disengagement in the political system … damaging to the very fabric of our democracy.’

Yet too few of us are willing to stir our stumps to be active citizens, to work at least for a better society. We leave professional politicians to do that for us, or simply want them to leave us alone to get on with what is oddly called the quiet and private life of competitive individualism. The ten-, eleven-or twelve-hour working day of the Victorian poor is now normal for all classes, sometimes voluntarily yet more often caught up in a machine that may appear to each individual to be out of control, but is in fact encouraged by government. Successive British governments have, after all, largely opted out of the European Union’s limitations on

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