What are British values?
A fascinating report out today on the nation's values, corroborates some trends which have been visible for a long time.
What people most value in their lives is the quality of the relationships around them - care, love, compassion, etc. They see their own communities as strong in these respects, and well aligned to their values. But see they see the UK as a whole in an almost opposite light - tarnished by barriers, bureaucracy, and crime.
This can be seen as a paradox, since the nation is ultimately made up of communities and individuals. But it also tells us important things about our cognitive landscape. One message is that the media (and other feedback systems) paint a distorted and negative picture of the nation as a whole - portraying it as worse than it actually is. The other message is that our national institutions seem particularly poor at building confidence and trust.
For as long as I can remember surveys have been making similar points - showing the gulf between high levels of trust and confidence at the personal and local level, and chronic distrust and lack of confidence at the national level. So we trust our own MP much more than MPs; our own schools more than schools as a whole; and see our community as safer than the average. One obvious response is that more should be done to decentralise power to more trusted and trustable levels. Another is to reshape national institutions for engagement and deliberation - toning down the shrill, extreme, amplified and stigmatising parts of national life that constantly shriek that everything's going to the dogs, and toning up the ones that involve adult conversation and involvement.
The survey can be read pessimistically. But just imagine if things were the other way around: if we felt bad about our personal lives and communities but good about those in power. Overall, you have to conclude that this is not such a bad picture: we live in a pretty good society, that's clearly not broken by any means, and that hasn't lost sight of its values. Our problems are about the failure of the strongest, most central institutions to reflect the best of what we are.