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2013 - Time to Change the Message

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'We're all in it together' is, on the surface, an excellent message behind which to unite a country. It alludes to wartime life and suggests that we're all feeling the same pain.

Of course, we're not and it doesn't appear to be working. Increasingly, it's being used as a stick with which to beat the government; every time a story shows that some are thriving whilst others suffer serves to defeat the message.

But we do need uniting messages. Like it, or not, this kind of propagandist approach to message management can work. A well-crafted line can unite a country and help to motivate people to behave in socially useful ways.

And we need it. It's clear that we face a number of complex challenges. First, our budget is completely out of kilter. We systemically spend money we haven't got. So we will need to cut back and manage with less.

Which leads to the second problem: much of our overspent money pays for people to do public service jobs. Cut back on those budgets and people, families and communities suffer. It's clear that many of the services carried out by the public sector won't be picked up by the private sector, so rebalancing the budget that way won't solve our problems. The state will pay one way or the other - either in salaries or in benefits.

Third, some of the problems might be solved if government income was greater - more tax. Again, another brick wall: poor consumer confidence means less money spent on goods and services which means less business, fewer jobs, and less tax. (Simply getting big companies to pay more tax won't solve this problem - whatever the tabloids suggest).

We could pay more tax anyway but it would leave less to spend on goods and services and the economy could ail.

Fourth, even if none of these were problems, we still, as a nation, have our fair share of issues to address: the affordability of the NHS and pensions; our UK strategy for growth; our place in Europe and the world.

So from a message management point of view, given the complex interdependent and intractable nature of our current dilemma, we're all in it together doesn't take us very far. It's hard to see what we're in - other than a mess. It seems that we need a message that will take us forward not remind us about the state we're in.

We must all do our bit

Solving our current set of challenges will be a long drawn out business.

We may all have to consider what we should be able to expect, for example, from the NHS and local government when we get older - and when we don't look after ourselves. But that's just the start of it. Given the massive way in which the public sector integrates with the lives of citizens, the whole thing needs to be appraised. It may be time for a complete re-appraisal of the citizen's relationship with the state: how much of what we ask the state to do for us should we have to do ourselves?

Anyone looking for a silver bullet will be disappointed. Getting the UK back onto a sure footing will require a gargantuan effort by many different groups of people all pulling in the same direction, all wanting the same thing and all being prepared to make sacrifices.

In short, success will depend upon everyone doing their bit.

But first, we must define success - if we're all going to be pulling in the same direction, we need to know what that looks like. And that in turn needs an honest appraisal of the challenges we face.

Hard talk

So why not talk about that? Why not have a conversation led by the government about what it will really take to get the country back onto its feet and in a place where we have a sustainable economy that meets the needs of the majority of its citizens?

It seems clear that many citizens are going to have to make sacrifices. Many will have to do more for themselves. Many will have to go without. Life as we have grown to know it will have to change.

That's not to say that finding the solution will be easy. If it were such, we'd probably be implementing it now. But a real conversation about finding a sustainable way out has got to be better than reducing our difficulties to random attacks on benefit users, big businesses, tax avoiders and inappropriate expense claimants.

No amount of scapegoat-lambasting will take us a single inch towards a solution. Only political and collective will to face uncomfortable choices about the way we live will do that.

Success will only really come if we all do our bit.

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