There is an alternative. Restore; Re-new and Re-public

John R Gibbins, Wolfson College, Cambridge

In the face of everyday calamities under Conservative government, the pervasive public response, is that ‘there is no alternative’. Whether from sullen acquiescence, from exhaustion, from languid acceptance of the status quo or from failures in imagination, character or spirit, this refrain sums up the Spirit of the Age, the weltanschauung. Around you this common place is captured in the passive acceptance by workers of their collapsing incomes, unaffordable price rises, acceptance of getting colder and poorer, painful waiting times, impossible to navigate call centres, understaffed and under resourced agencies, hollowed out public services, denials in the face of crisis, failed policy responses. Spaces of resistance, like cities, places on the periphery, social networks, intellectuals and creatives, are so starved that only the youngest escape the malaise, and even then into local lifestyles. Worse still is the Kafkaesque responses of elites, unable to govern, and so focused on striking positions, performance, managing news, fashioning cultural conflicts and images. We have entered a stage where Politics operates without the foundations that modernism provided: facts, methods, logic, truth, knowledge, progress (Gibbins 2004). The alternative is that we, Re-store, Re-new and Re-public.

Despondency has already eroded public trust in government, politicians, and the media, and now erodes the will to try, to keep working. Within most segments of society hope for a providential future is all but lost, faith that our leaders or we ourselves can make a difference, and communality – the faith in local capacity to act, are all but eroded. Youth climate activist Noga Levy Rapaport, reports from the front line of student politics that young people are demoralized, crippled with loss of hope which only ‘optimism and naivety’ allows us to confront. Burdened with growing debt, aware that lifestyles common to parents are no longer viable, conscious of the daily debilitation of agencies of support, conscious of the tipping points on many axis of risk, they are prone to dejection, sullenness, depression, and the very mental health problems now afflicting other generations (Levy Rapaport 2020, 2023, 2023a). Cultural critic, Mark Fisher in Capitalist Realism: Is there no Alternative, a valedictory collection of essays that pays homage to the Waste Land, to Nietzsche and Francis Fukuyama, identifies a current ‘atmosphere’ where any form of resistance to the status quo seems, ‘hopeless and impotent’ (Fisher, 2009, 16). But Rapaport argues that, ‘we must ‘transform the boundaries of what we are told’, we must ‘tell stories of hope to communities who can nurture, steward and care for their localities’. We must ‘tell our stories’ in ‘places of expression’ – in the arts, music, theatres, films, books’. We must ‘tell stories of achievement and hope’ and ones of ‘corruption to anger ourselves for the conflict’. We must express ‘truthfulness’, to engender ‘empathy and righteous anger’ to build and deploy ‘communities of action’. We must build ‘communities of hope’ (Rapaport 2023, 2-23a).

Concentration Camp victims reported that the erosion of all hope in customers of the disciplinary regime, was tantamount to signing your own death warrant. Hope is ‘a desire with some expectation or belief in the prospect of fulfilment’ (Chamber’s Dictionary). It is a confidence based upon realistic factual grounds, not just a fancy. When there are no good grounds to believe that your desires can be achieved, the response despondency, kinds of depression, dejection, and an unwillingness to act towards former goals. To rekindle hope requires the provision of realistic grounds for optimism, a faith that you have taken back enough power to realistically anticipate that your goals can be achieved by action. My ambition here is to offer some hope, some grounds for optimism, for a realistic belief that things can get better – for an alternative to what we have had for too long. Here is my initial stage one offer of some vision that would satisfy a ‘a desire for a transformed world’ argued Mark Fisher (Fisher 2021, 175). My strategy is to build upon the potential in past and actual in the present to move beyond capitalist realism.

Good times, good societies, flourishing civilizations, come to an end when hope is extinguished, when as Edward Gibbon identified in the closing days of Rome, that nobody was willing to fight, die, work for, or even pay to preserve the form of life that once made them. In other places I have explored the thinking of a Victorian who argued that his aim was to give people the hope that there were things to know, truths to infer from and ideals to follow, in world where all three were being eroded (Gibbins2007). Here I offer three resources from which realistic hope can be grounded and an alternative imagined. One resource is what we have left, the useful residuum from the past or pasts that have witnessed flourishing. The next resource area is achievements and capacities in the present. The last, the most important resource is our imaginations, our capacities to furnish the future, or rather futures (Gibbins & Reimer, 1999, 134-166; Macionis and Plummer, 2002, 652- 668). What is explored is a ‘Romantic ‘utopian as against what Macionis and Plummer deem the ‘Tragic’ dystopian views prevalent in most literature on and about the future, what Reimer and I identify as the ‘Progressive Potential of Postmodernism’ (Gibbins & Reimer, 1999, 144-166).

The diagnosis of the crisis to which I offer an alternative here can be found in many essays but especially, The Politics of Postmodernity: An Introduction to Contemporary politics and Culture (Gibbins & Reimer, 1999; Gibbins1989, 1998, 1999, 2004). This diagnosis can be indicated quite well by reference to some processes of change in late modernity: disorganized capitalism, deindustrialization, post-Fordism, neo-liberalism, commodification, de-traditionalization, individualization, post modernization and mediazation, the latter referring to the postmodern process in which transmission of language, beliefs, knowledge, values, and hopes is transferred to new media and away for traditional social forms, or socialization. The causal consequences are our everyday experience of being, unstable capitalism, precarious employment, dis-embedding of people from their work and social locations, transferring meaning to inner private worlds, turning wants, needs and desires into commodities, replacing traditional forms of life with pastiches, spectacles, carnivals and simulations, removing traditional linkages between signifiers and signified, images and meanings, allowing us to live only in fictional realms, constructions and fantasies, either utopian or dystopian. But is there an alternative to disorganized capitalism, the cause of this catastrophic form of life? Is the only remedy for todays present malaise, a new variant of the same virus – Neo-Conservatism (Austerity with Authoritarianism), Illiberal Democracy, National Conservatism, Neo-Facism? Are we to live precariously in a permanently runaway world where nothing works or can we take back control from multinational corporations? Is there an alternative form of economy, way of living, form of life, way of thinking and being that can give good grounds for hope -hope that our own desires, wants and ideals may be achievable?

The present reality, the presiding paradigm of life, the dominant ideology is neo-liberalism, which justifies the present malaise as the normal and expected experience that accompanies a governments preoccupation to withdraw the State from governing, which then allows market agents and market forces to produce, reproduce experiences and distribute rewards and life chances. Into vacated public spaces unaccountable corporate entities have stepped, running schools, prisons, hospitals, care homes, security agencies, from out of sight, out of reach and out of control offshore spaces. Government is now reduced to collecting taxes to give to private corporations, whose legal priority is shareholder profits. When faced with inevitable failures in delivery, duties of care and accountancy, governments are impotent, as they are when these corporations retire their operations, leaving users vulnerable. Prior to the deployment of the forces of privatisation, marketization, creation of internal markets, forceable contracting out – public services, like hospitals were able to operate for the public service ethos. The alternative to public service marketization is the restoration of public service ethos directed governance of public realms and services, operated by agencies accountable to the user communities.

Erosion of confidence in the public realm has been the project of conservative parties around the world for fifty years since the coming to power of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The only common themes of governments since have been the creation of decline/restoration narratives, all of which have quickly melted when confronted with the heat of reality. Always decline is identified as the result of some alien force planning the overthrow of an imagined golden age of free market prosperity, but when these enemies are destroyed and failure continue apace, new hate figures appear. Decline continued in Britain when the Trade Unions were defeated; it continued when local government was starved into submission; it continues despite divorce from European entities, taking back control of Borders, Covid, demonic Liberal Elites and Wokes.

The only consistent policy in that period was running down public assets and serviced – called Austerity, sold as a necessary evil to destroy enemies and promote the forces of the free market, but always intended to weaken then destroy all alternative options to the untrammelled power of private wealth holders, corporate finance, Sovereign Wealth Funds, Asset Management and Hedge Funds. The result is the three D’s – Defenestration, Denigration and Deprivation – the Age from 1980 to the present bar the Blair and Brown years, best characterized as The Great Deprivation – an Age when for most, what they had is diminished, taken away and transferred to the already unimaginable rich, leaving many feeling hopeless, and denigrated in their deprivation. Children born since 2010 are literally poorer, shorter, unhappier, more isolated and deprived in the UK then those of earlier generations, and by comparison with comparable G7 Countries (UNICEF, Observer, 25/6/23, 39). Incomes of the poorest families are 10% below the average of comparable European countries. People hesitate to do ordinary things like switch on lights, flush the toilet, take a trip, rent, buy, or move house, go on holiday; meanwhile public transport decays, postal services, teacher assistants are cut, doctors harder to visit, services harder to access.

As government’s promises of wealth and income prosperity, green consumption for everyone crashed, their policies failing to deliver, so public confidence in government and democracy as a remedy declined, leading to every more fictional enemies (Muslim Bus Driver breaking trips for Prayers; Boat People; Children thinking they’re Cats) and other forms of pantomime perfomative politics. This reached its epiphany in the psychodramas of catastrophe accompanying the implosion of Boris Johnson, Partygate, Liz Truss’s £34billion blunder and the Conservative Party turning in on itself. But BREXIT, Johnson, Truss, Covid, the Ukraine War, the Cost-of-Living Crisis are only short-term symptoms of the longer-term failure of Neo-Liberalism, an alternative for which must now be planned and promised alongside saving the planet. Any such search is already denied value from the right with reference to both TINA (there is no alternative) and a new coining, ‘Declinism’, fashioned like, ‘Project Fear’, to vaccinate die hard Conservative ideologues against negative thinking. But today Britain is beyond decline, its now in the next stage of disablement, projected to end in impotency without change to the dominant ideology of neo-liberalism.

Foreign experts and financial newspapers identify a Britain in which everything important has declined, from its industries to its social services, museums, and galleries. Its wealth grows not at all or up to the giddy hights of 1%; the proportion of its wealth going on wages declined so that each household is £9,744 poorer by the standards of 1976 (Guardian Journal 23/6/23, 2); where fewer and fewer billionaires suck up the declining wealth pool leaving most people poorer, weaker, more vulnerable to the ravages of free markets and marketeers. Public assets raised by taxes are channelled directly into private hands with no consideration for improving the Wealth of the Nation. To manage this spectre of failure, society has been polarized intentionally, as elites point the finger of blame at the young, the very vulnerable, the losers, asylum seekers, environmentalists, transexuals, those they have exploited to the point of poverty and destitution. The moral defenders of the exploited are labelled ‘virtue signallers’ and ‘do-gooders’, their legal defenders labelled, ‘saboteurs’ and ‘traitors’, those with any empathy mocked as ‘Wokes’; and anyone with an alternative, ‘enemies of the people trying to make you poorer’. It appears to the Conservatives that having to give Speculators £45 billion in a week to stop the economy collapsing completely in 2022 is a valid use of public money, while £28 billion on Green Energy policies is a serious threat to the economy.

Effects of small state ideologies have effects in two dimensions – in space and time. Essentially, the only spaces allowable for freedom are private, whereas there should be three at least – the personal, the private and the public. Invasion of personal space is encouraged and is nearly complete – allowing intrusion into even the most personal of our previously confidential realms, via tec companies like Facebook (Acemoglu & Johnson, 2023). Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of the personal files of millions of voters to sway minds towards BREXIT is a glaring example of this, but everyday internet activities of us all, our emails, internet searches, spending patterns, are monitored, surveyed and used for market purposes. We buy media products that then allow us to become products, data sources, research vehicles as well as ensuring we will download desires and consume. Public spaces where the benefits of surveillance and control are limited, have suffered multiple acts of denigration, many being transferred into private hands - privatised. But other forms of regulation, discipline and control have been affected to wrestle their use from the populations who were their original beneficiaries and whose forbears purchased, planned, and manged them. Weakened, circumvented and played regulatory processes, the Of’s, can be made to work effectively (John Nelson, ‘Comment’, Observer, 09.07.23. 53).

The health and well-being of public places are good indicators historically of the health and well being of local populations and environments. Public spaces. from ancient Greece and Rome, through Renaissance European towns and cities, early modern Market Places, Schools, and Hospitals to Civic Revival in until this century of Public, Libraries, Museums, Galleries, Town Halls, Civic Centres, Pools, Parks, play areas, national parks, and a myriad of trusts, associations, organizations devoted to their management and care, were considered emblematic of the status and public self-confidence. Their fate is a canary in the mine of public life in the twenty first century. Many great buildings and spaces have lost public status and functions, are now kept alive as visitor attractions, Wetherspoon’s style all day drinking dens, private banks, betting shops and cafes. What was cultural capital for a community is now capital made from culture, the public value stripped out by commodified for private profit, the residue left to be managed by volunteers and trusts dedicated to maintenance and preservation.

In my locality the Town Hall was sold by the District Council for a £1 after its plans to make its into a car park were opposed. The Charitable Hospital and Police Headquarters have become pubs, the swimming pool suffers irregular opening due to increased running costs while the MP builds a private pooled leisure centre in his Manor House. Most libraries are now run by volunteers, others housed in places like care homes. The Prison site is sold off and run as shops, a cinema, and a restaurant, the one famous County Law Courts closed awaiting sale, while Court waiting times fade off into years. The Police Station keeps being relocated to ever cheaper premises, the public toilets and visitor centre closed. Most local schools are now Academized and run for profit by Trusts, evening school and FE provision is nearly non-existent, but amazingly, council tax bills, entry ticket prices rise enormously. Along with destitution to public space and services the civic price that accompanied them is also in decline. Every where we know of private affluence beyond our sight, while within our sight, are impoverished public realms, already asset stripped. Nothing works now.

The alternative is to do what has been done many times before after periods of decay, re-public civic spaces for the use and well being of all, to reclaim the Commons for Commoners, and restore our Common-Wealth. Humans share more then they differ with one another and indeed with animals, the shared spaces, like marketplaces, schools, footpaths, roads, parks, riverbanks, moors and dales, fresh air, clean water, safe spaces, are, like schools, health facilities, the police and fire and social services what John Rawls calls, Public Goods. These are things that cannot be effectively produced or consumed privately, and so must be controlled, owned, or provided publicly. Without them a society would become anarchic, incivic, unworkeable. Not only can the public realm and public goods be re-publicized, but they have been, they must be and ought to be if civil society is to be restored. Private wealth accumulation has trumped the Wealth of the Nation, the nation now used as a source of financial transfer to, and management of financial affairs. Sovereignty requires that the State regains, restores and deploys its powers for the good of its citizens.

Control of public spaces is also in need of reorganization. Sovereignty is impossible when control of most of the territory in question is not under the possible control and authority of the State. How can we take back control of public goods when the owners of our rivers, lakes, reservoirs are owned and controlled from outside of our territory? Sovereignty has been conceded to Sovereign Wealth Funds, Multinational Global Corporations, Asset Managers, Hedge Funds many of whom have loaded our public utilities with debt while distributing the proceeds to Managers as wages and bonus, plus shareholders via dividends. The alternative is to take public utilities back into public ownership or properly implement the terms and conditions agreed at the point transfer to their control.

Here/there, us/them, national/foreigner are demarcated by territorial identifications – which crosscut cultures, religions, tribes, classes, races, and political movements and so belonging is shaped firmly by space. The alternative to the current populist, illiberal democratic, Neo Conservative ‘politics of identity’, is to lean more closely to space and place – ‘being here’ provides entitlement enough. Those wanting an pluralist existence, such as those wishing to live in pluralist, multi-culturalism, cosmopolitan societies are debunked as ‘people from nowhere’, foreigners, aliens, and traitors. Cosmopolitan Britain, witnessed in most British urban areas, is an inconvenient existence that Conservatives have had to deny, to achieve BREXIT, but it remains the brightest and best model for how peoples from multiple spaces, with transient identities, can live freely and flourish together in peace (Evans, 2009; Gibbins, 2011). A politics of inclusion must replace the one of exclusion, all stakeholders’ interests identified not just those of shareholders. Victor Kiss, re-imagines the crucial cleavage today as less about strong and weak, included and excluded as between those are inside, or who feel they are inside as a beneficiary, of the latest capitalist offerings, the oasis in the consumer Crystal Palace, and those who know they are outside, in the desert (Kiss, 2023). Do you have a stake in late capitalist consumer society or not? Do you feel able to subscribe to Netflix, go on holiday, shop online, eat out, travel to exotic places or are you limited to more limited places? Are you able to transit the global spaces and zones of consumption, or are you a spectator, a service worker, unable to realize fashioned desires and wants? Contemporary conservatism and digital media, wishes to kid the poor, and the just about managing, that they are, ‘already rich themselves’ (Fisher 2021, 158).

Time has become the plaything of the owners of the new modes of production – computers and media now produce and re-produce the lifestyles, life worlds, habitus via mediazation (Gibbins & Reimer 1999). The speed with which data moves, claims and images are produced and circulated, a culture of ‘wanting it now’, means that the calendar is abbreviated, time is foreshortened into an eternal present, one in which nobody can keep up, all are forced to watch screens, Google, Alexa etc (Acemoglu & Johnson, 2023). Being behind the news can be catastrophic, so perpetual states of anxiety, dissonance, crisis become the norm for young people glued to screens. Humans are catalogued into cohorts of age, gender, sexuality, lifestyles via algorithms and their lives managed in the new Metaverse via powerful forms of Artificial Intelligence, each with its own time frames, lifecycles and levels or progress towards performative perfection. Challenging, resisting or opposing the new frames attracts the ire of controllers that the main memes of right-wing rhetoric today is upon the boundaries of the body – making LBGTQ experimenters terrorists. Focus upon the perpetual present in insta-world has consequences far more serious in implications – distracting us from understanding both our past (what has been) and our futures (what could, will and ought to be). Dangerous deals are ‘oven ready’, ‘gold plated’, satisfaction guaranteed, while on the ground opportunities dwindle.

Close inspection and interrogation of the past would be terminal for Conservatives as far from conserving they have squandered our wealth and well-being. The past has been turned into a Theme Park in which the theme is a Parody of Battling Britain, Land of Hope and Glory, Imperial Nostalgia, all embraced in the mantra, ‘Rule Britannia’.

When the past is not being rewritten as parody, we are invited to avert our eyes from what has, and is, happening – as with sewage in our waters, repression of protest, the cost of living, seekers of asylum, growing inequality, the end of social mobility, borders threatened by hackers, blackmailers, economic slavery, migrant hotels and army camps, epidemics. Backed by denial, looking away or in the wrong place, works like intelligence deceptions in war time, to befuddle viewers of real intentions and achievements. Conspiracy theories and hoaxes multiply in this fact less world amplified by faceless commentators, ‘trolls’ or fanciful ‘influencers’: ‘5G masts transmitting Covid’, ‘vaccinations forcing impotency’, ‘great replacements of populations’, ‘one world governments’, ‘vaccine tyranny’, Green policies to make you all poorer, ‘immigrant invaders’. Simple lying substitutes for evidence-based policy analysis of risks management when all else is failing – just keep repeating the same already debunked claim (£300m per week for the NHS; 40 new hospitals; everything being, ‘the top priority’) with ever more amplification and with even more metaphor. Such delusion of the nation follows self-delusion, the self-delusions in evidence with both Johnson, Truss, Trump and Putin and the entire partisan Conservative Party to date. Saving the nation is now the same thing to populists as saving themselves from electoral oblivion. Die hard supporters live in worlds of what might have been not what exists.

In place of an audit of the past, deceptions in the present we then encounter the mythical uplands of eternally postponed success – ‘Global Britain’, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, a re-run of ‘Rule Britannia’. Advance is evidenced by slogans such as, ‘march of the makers’, ‘triumph of freedom’, ‘hardworking families’ not statistical measures that would prove able to audit ideological and polemical claims. Efforts to hold power to account are labelled, witch hunts, by ‘kangaroo courts’, ‘thugs, misfits, and Marxists’, according to Donald Trump. All alternative narratives, evidence, judgements, plans, proposals are quicky turned in Dystopian Nightmares by the Daily Mail and the supplicant right wing press. ‘Net Zero drive will add £120 to energy bills’ Daily Telegraph, 19/95/23, ‘Rishi Sunak risks Tory wrath by pouring cold water on tax cut hopes’, ‘Bank of England’s bumbling governor is badly failing Britain’, ‘Rishi Sunak brands Labour’s plans ‘dangerous and inflationary’ Daily Mail June 2023.

The past, present, and future have, as in Orwell’s 1984 to be rewritten daily as elixir to reduce the anxieties, fears, suffering and anger of both the faithful, and their victims. The risks of national dissonance and schizophrenia are less feared by Conservatives than exposure to past, present, and predictable risks and realities, so historians, scientists, experts, academics, and all others in the know are debunked as mad, bad and dangerous. Time is now unreal, reduced to what is convenient to claim and project backwards and forwards, while decrying intellectual’s who claim that this is the case as ‘Leftists, Postmodernists, Marxists, and European Cultural Elites’ (Gibbins and Reimer 1999; Macionis and Plummer, 2002, 652-668). Insulated from the need and necessity of thinking about alternatives, those in government take comfort in being in government without governing. Laissez faire governing – or ‘Taking back control’ to do as little as possible or nothing that would harm the interests of those in power. This reminds me of Steven Luke’s insightful account of power in late modern societies, where, narrowing horizons, setting agendas, manipulation of information, placing impediments to the plans of others, vetoing their efforts to achieve their interests, replaces the need for ‘power as levers to actually do things’ (Lukes, 1974). The vaunted Liberty of Hayek thus turns into an ‘Iron Cage’, imprisoning citizen in the labyrinth of market capitalism (Gamble, 2006), while freedom as ‘the ability to do as you choose’ hobbled down to ‘being left alone’. Hayek’s vaunted solution in his 1944 neo-liberal classic, turns out to be prophetic. Neo-liberalism has taken us on, The Road to Serfdom, in which every more supplicants server ever fewer trillionaire plutocrats and dictators in 2023.

Economic historians, like Thomas Piketty, have denounced the myths of neo-liberal ‘trickle down economics’ using pages of validated economic statistics, but the myths of libertarians are not so easily removed from the public psyche (Piketty, 2014, 2020, 2022). In a powerful denunciations of late capitalist society, the political theorist John Gray, denounces neo-liberalism as a ‘False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism’, he denounces the use of populist ‘back to basics’, fundamentalisms as dangerous mumbo jumbo, in ‘The Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the End of Utopia’; and he rightly denounces it advocacy of their idea of Darwinian economic man, homo economicus, as an invitation to ‘Straw Dogs’ ( Gray 2002, 2007, 2009). So, what are the space and time alternatives? What are the options other than persisting with failure? We must re-public the worlds we inhabit, make them habitable and productive for everyone living there, making our life worlds ours collectively ‘social habitus’ – recreate a ‘green and pleasant land’. On the issue of time, the first task is to replace the eternal present, the immediate with the long durée, the long term as the calendar for living and planning. How?

On the first we must restore politics to its primary function of public service: the public activity of reconciling conflicts between citizens a polity sharing the same space, by discourse within rules, resorting to violence only in defence of the polity itself (Crick, 1964). Every aspect of human life comes within the compass of the social: the freedom, justice, and well-being of everyone exists by the tolerance, grace, and favour of everyone else existing. The valuable private sphere is not prior to the public, but a gift and privilege that polities and States can give or withhold, not a natural but a civic right. With societies the whole comes before the parts, we are born into existing worlds with existing social forms and values. Freedom is an achievement, not a natural situation, its continuation, when achieved, requires much diligence and careful tending. Laissez faire has so empowered inaction and inattention to the social needs and well being of citizens that their very futures are now imperilled.

So, governments must regain the will to govern, to take responsibility, to exercise power, to pull levers if necessary. Britain is now an outlier in Europe for its limited Scope for Government (Borre & Scarbrough, 1995). Freedom is a feature of, belongs to, political units – to citizens in republics, not private individuals (Arendt, 1959; Skinner 1998). Politics and public administration must be taken back inhouse from the debilitating, chaotic and mal-administered beneficiaries of contracting out, privatisation, internal markets. Right wing and Conservative parties have garnered public power to do nothing, contracting out responsibilities to the private sector, and stopping others from acting. Democratic politics entails allowing the public – not agencies and managers – to identify problems and their solutions; to act or not, to govern for the good of their citizens, not leaving these tasks to corporate managers dealing with customers. All levels of government must be re-public-ed, re-formed, and their functions re-stored to their pre-1980’s levels at least. We can and must restore local government, civil society, public utilities, public services and public service ethos itself (Gibbins 1990a, 1998a). We can clear and invigorate the political atmosphere.

Greening the public sphere, the Civitas Britannia, our Commonwealth can be the single agent to focus, the rationale behind the Re-publicing of Britain mission, recently enacted in France. In envisioning, planning, and delivering a Britain secure in sustainable energy food, water, clean air, safe places and healthy environments, habitable homes, efficient and pleasurable transport, enjoyable landscapes, vistas and lives, the government and the private sector will have a recognizable, achievable, and widely popular goal. Liberating our lives from the grips of corporate oligarchy, global plutocrats, by de-commodifying and restoring the twenty first century public realm to the public, is as achievable as now as it had been to Democratic and Republican societies from ancient Athens and Rome to twentieth century Britain and America. This will be restoration of what has been lost, we know how it works, it is practical not just imaginable, achievable not a dangerous delusion. It is what is entailed by the very idea and form of Liberal Democracy lauded and fashioned in the post war settlement and embodied in various United Nations Treaties. A practical blending of strong but limited government, mixed economies, rule of law, separation of powers, social democracy, civil and secure society. Above all it is power, authority and commonwealth deployed for what they are intending by politics and democracy – the public interest and the public good. What neo-liberal governance has stolen from us since 1980 can be, should be, ought to be and must be restored, and without the model of compensation applied when ending slavery.

Facilitating this task can be made possible, in the first instance, using existing, known but ignored systems and levers: historical examples, evidence based policy making, a professional civil service, properly trained and equipped public servants. We can begin by making accountable public institutions that spend public money, applying existing regulatory frameworks and processes, providing information, education and training for those operating the Green Economy. Providing a new vocation for teachers, schools, undervalued College, reactive universities and long ignore research and development facilities, all of whom have the skills to produce, reproduce and capitalize on these in a newly fashioned Knowledge Economy, envisioned by Gordon Brown, and drowned by David Cameron and George Osborne in 2010. Global Britain can mean more than the City of London remaining a global source of financial services – it can build on what exists now, one of the most esteemed systems for knowledge production in the world.

As an alternative to loading students with debt, discouraging foreign students from engaging, denouncing students and lecturers for cancelling dialogue, the universities will be empowered to do what they do best – produce and deploy new knowledge for the good of all. Running our public education bodies as public agents and not private services will bring education back in house, prevent waste, exploitation and allow symmetry between personal capacities, public and private needs. Educated creatives can be so released from servitude to Big Tec, power must be transferred from the owners to the creators of new and original knowledge, so that we can, maximize the power of knowledge, as well as information, what Fisher labels a, ‘wiki-state model’ (Fisher 2021, 72-75). Releasing the knowledge capital for public good, the hoarded knowledge trapped in the private and corporate spheres, would trigger, and accelerate changes in consciousness needed to raise the desire and energy to work for change (32, 112, 124, 142-143).

Time itself can and should be re-publiced, society working to a timetable agreed as necessary for the tasks of re-pubicing spaces. Good at many things, the private sector is incapable of discipline and management of desires necessary to invest long term, to allow rebuilding over decades not days, months, and years. Infrastructure projects have timelines of decades, projects requiring research may have unknowable delivery times; difficult delivery projects such as undersea or under ice require long timelines for instance. Many areas of the private sector will cooperate in long-term projects as they do in Germany and Scandinavia, but those less interested and engaged can be encouraged by changes within our political economy, in ways long known and practiced, but studiously ignored and discouraged recently. Nudges to taxation to encourage longer-termism include the reintroduction of advance corporation tax, an upper limit of £1m, above which loan interest is no longer tax deductible, national insurance upon dividends. Scandalously, and prone to fraud, most government support systems do not allow for recipient transparency or audit beyond initial allocation. Even worse, Conservative governments have embraced the practice of unconditional financing, as with ‘eat out to help out’, unaccountable support for anybody claiming to own a business during furlough, and grants to leisure facilities during Covid. Taxpayer and debt funding assistance to the private sector amounts to over £88bn per year that can be redesigned and redesignated with longer term commitments, conditions, and audits inbuilt. All companies seeking government grants and support would be required to commit to green policies and long-term delivery conditions.

But the most important aspect of time to be refashioned will be hope, belief, faith and trust that in turn builds confidence in all parties to engage in restoration of welfare, the economy and the re-publicing of society. Without rebuilding trust in the State, politics and politicians, policy making and delivery, it is probable that Britain will become even more chaotic, hopeless, factional. Leaving us with a weak capitalism more disorganised than ever, the public realm even more abandoned and destitute. Trust is a precondition for a functioning democracy and polity, a necessary condition for well-being and prosperity (Kaase & Newton, 1995, Beliefs in Government, 92-64, 119-121). Trust is multi-faceted, Protean but achievable when actors are known to abide by rules of the game, where their future actions a predictable within customary frameworks and where ethos and work cultures reinforce conformity (Gabriel, 1995, 357-389; Lithaug, Ola, 1995). Most social commentators have identified a long-term weakening of ties between citizens and states. Jurgen Habermas identifies this a ‘Legitimation Crisis’ that can erode the foundations and preconditions for stable liberal democracy (Habermas, 1976). The truth is that there is every less inside the Crystal Palace of postmodern capitalism for anyone, even its own members. The illusion that you are inside, a valued citizen of Neverland, a beneficiary of its policies, is what maintains the bedraggled Conservatives in their retreat from Moscow.

While we found this process less advanced in Beliefs in Government, 1995, we may judge that it has now accelerated to a point where Britain and America are considered deeply divided, factional, crisis prone, post-democratic and potentially ungovernable. In June 2023 an Opinion Poll in Britain reported that trust in the EU was stronger than that in their own government, where trust was as low as 28% (Guardian 24/6/23). Trust begins with the veracity in use of words and statements, because without that or with lying prevalent, trust in meaning itself and confidence in the performance of actions entailed in statements, is impossible (Arendt, 1972; Bok 1980). With the prevalence of lying within right wing politics, trust is impossible and peaceful politics impossible, which is why veracity and trust are the only alternative to what we have experienced for two decades in Britain and America. Dissonance, alienation, anomie, anger, are not necessary features of social democracy, they are a product of some forms of governmental delivery. Trust can be, and must be restored, as the alternative to the cynicism, scepticism, and ‘othering’ of people inbuilt in populism and nationalism and delivered by liberal democracy. Conservatism today has no moral foundations, no long-term vision or plan beyond Randian gated communities, no levers to restore trust and hence civility and the flourishing of the nations. It’s only moral deployment of justice, for instance is to complain about prejudice and discrimination against the beneficiaries of present privilege. They have retreated to one word ‘Trump Cards’’ when faced with unquestionable evidence and valid arguments, ‘Blair’, ‘Brown’, ‘Corbyn’, failing to recognize that their failings are dwarfed by those of the line of the national destroyers, the damned, Thatcher, Cameron and Osborne, May, Johnson and Truss.

Trust must be partnered by accountability; citizens must be able to know what is going on and be able to make and express informed judgements. So, transparency, must be accompany some form of fact checking on media coverage of events. Changing the electoral system is a requirement for re-publicing, ending the gerrymandering of the system to exclude voters hostile to Conservatism. Some forms of proportional representation, allowing 16-year-olds the vote, ending the narrow ID requirements at polling stations, and above all, enforcing transparency of statements, actions, data and everything involved in the rational and moral governance of a country. Above all it requires sharing the knowledge of how to act ethically and effectively via political education, for without this there can be no effective mobilization, or transformation of the landscape of hope. It is this concern to restore ethical ideals to their place in social knowledge that links my earlier writings on British Idealist philosophers in the nineteenth century with my analysis of the political situation today, and its remedies (Gibbins 1990, 1992, 1998, 2007).

The alternative vision, and attendant plan, is for a Re-Public-ed Britain; with its traditional rights and powers restored to all levels and aspect of the State, cosmopolitan, with a mixed economy where whoever delivers best does so; ethical environmentalism not ethical consumption, a social democracy with much devolved powers to stakeholders, backed by a restoration of the ethos of public service and duty. Transparency and accountability restored, and enfranchisement to include more than it excludes, making a ‘something in it for everyone society’. The economy will be re-public-ed as a Green Economy, supported by a Knowledge Economy, education and training for the new workforces required by the task, managed by trustworthy politicians, with governance based again upon regulation rather than ownership, representative and responsible government rather than centralized control. Trust will have to be set against ethical as well as political standards, we must revive and restore ethical discourse to the language of politics. This way is neither old nor new, not first or third way, but the way to restore Britain’s self-confidence, power, prestige and prosperity. There is an alternative and this is it. It’s the three R’s: Restore; Re-new and Re-public.

Together these offer a practically and ethically viable alternative to the offerings present, neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism and populism (Raworth, 2017). In the next year the mantra may be a reissue of, ‘It can only get better’, but there is every reason to believe that a much better alternative is within the nations grasp, where everyone is someone, and a someone who is worthy of recognition and respect in a re-imagined world. Once this first stage is achieved, more and better options will open, sensible, realistic, kinder, greener, perhaps more eco-socialist (Hutton 1995, 1997). Until then we must embrace a politics of hope, an expectation, but now with the realistic prospect of fulfilment, imagining a restored Common-wealth, a more green and pleasant land, envisaged in the past by Milton, Harrington, Blake and Morris, but by all environmentalists everywhere, today. We need to move beyond trying to get inside or rejecting what capitalism has on offer, to imaging and creating our own options, with the way shown by new generations in so many new social movements. The reactionary right have other options in store if we don’t take something like this hopeful road: fascism, theism, nationalism, racism for instance.

My colleague Bo Reimer, in an English translation from his review of Mark Fisher’s book, compares him with the film maker Adam Curtis, ‘’For Curtis, it is necessary to look back to in order to move forward. Fisher portrayed the past as a ghost that does not intend to disappear. But we are also haunted by the future. Fisher refers to the Swedish philosopher Martin Hägglund’s use of the concept pair of no longer and not yet. We are still affected by what no longer exists. But we are also haunted by what has not yet happened. Just think of the impending environmental collapse. It affects us without having taken place. But with joint efforts, it may be prevented. The future that haunts us is not inevitable. It takes courage, and hope understood, ‘a desire with some expectation or belief in the prospect of fulfilment’. The last word to the recently deceased anthropologist David Graeber. The quote both begins and ends Curtis and Hägglund’s; eight-hour movie suite: ‘The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make, and could just as easily make differently’’’ (Reimer 2021).