May 28th, 2011

Utopias, Vol I: Alastair Campbell

By Alastair Campbell.

"Just because something is unreachable should not deter us from striving for it. So here’s the vision…"

The Utopian inaugurates a series of utopias, written by today’s most interesting philosophers, social scientists, politicians and writers. First up: Alastair Campbell.

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How rare is a six-letter word with four vowels? Rare. So rare they call it Utopia, an unreachable perfection. 

Yes, unreachable. That is the point. But just because something is unreachable should not deter us from striving for it, so long as we are realistic and understand that once we think we are close, another challenge hovers into view. 

So here’s the vision - the UK as a united people of well-educated, well-informed, politically engaged, tolerant, outward-looking, creative and largely contended citizens. 

Given the relative peace and prosperity we have enjoyed since the Second World War, we should be a lot further forward. We are not helped by the media-driven culture of negativity, nor by the failure of the political class to challenge it better. Here are a few ideas that might help engender a deeper sense of citizenship. 

Compulsory voting in all local and national elections. The lowering of the voting age to 16. The teaching of politics and citizenship in primary schools. Children are taught from an early age that sport is good for them, healthy eating is good for them, reading and writing are good for them. They should be taught that politics is as central to their lives as any of those things, and taught it from a positive perspective. 

As for the media’s culture of negativity, how can we even believe we are near Utopia when so many of our fellow citizens read papers like the Daily Mail (nine letters, four and a half vowels)? Whenever I see people purchasing its bile, I have the same reaction I would have on seeing someone take drugs. Why deliberately poison yourself?

Of course we can all urge media change. But for all we might engage in earnest debates about social media, or whither the licence fee in the digital age, let us admit as a society that the real media stories of recent years aren’t Wikileaks or MPs’ expenses but celebrity magazines and reality TV shows. The media can blame dumbed down Britain on politicians or teachers if they like. They would be better off looking in the mirror. But it will not change unless the British people want it to change … which brings me back to the hope that one day we can be a united people of well-educated, well-informed, politically engaged, tolerant, creative and largely contented citizens.

Alastair Campbell, Director of Communications and Strategy for Tony Blair from 1997 to 2003, is the bestselling author of the The Alastair Campbell Diaries. 

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