Where is the vision of civic life?

05 Feb

I am thoroughly enjoying watching ‘Dickensian’ at the moment. A murder mystery involving some of the better known characters from Dickens’s novels and set in late Victorian London is great fun. We shall have to wait and see who it was that murdered Jacob Marley!

The Victorian era has a mixed press. It was an age of empire, of industrialisation and of considerable advance in terms of medicine, transport, communication and education. It was also an age of deep sexual hypocrisy, of exploitation of workers and of racism.

The Victorians though did at least have a vision of civil society. It was an age when public spaces were created where all strata’s of society could mingle. It was an age of band stands and promenades, and of the growth of local government which was seen as a social good that delivered that civic society.

I struck by the tone of several of the letters published in the News last week. The cuts in the funding for local government, in addition to those imposed by the last coalition, will almost certainly mean that only statutory obligations will be met in the future.

Is the Victorian dream for civic society dead? Are we now really only individuals whose own interests are paramount? We have not returned to the evils of the workhouse or of the means test of the 1920’s.   Yet if one talks to those whose benefits have been squeezed or sanctioned it is clear there is very little compassion in the system now.

There are those who despise ‘big government’ as a matter of faith. The Victorian concept that government can deliver well for the wider population is derisorily dismissed as ‘the Nanny State’, concept of care incidentally unknown to the masses.

In the end we must decide whether we want libraries and pools, parks and care centres, rural bus services and social housing. And we must be willing to pay for it, too.