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< Ideas Bank, < Economic wellbeing
< Regeneration, < New Start editorial index page

Far be it from me to intrude on a period of national mourning, but I can’t help wondering why the demise of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s relationship was such tragic news.

I appreciate that the entrepreneurs hoping to make a quick buck from royal wedding souvenirs and Kiss Me Kate mugs must be traumatised, but in the UK’s own version of The Truman Show, we know there’ll be enough twists and turns to keep the audience enthralled and the merchandisers in business.

What’s fascinating is the way so many people appear to have such fixed aspirations on behalf of others.

Whether or not a royal wedding was good for William or Kate, it seems, there were dozens of pundits happy to chivvy, cajole and pester them down the aisle.

Having aspirations on behalf of other people can be a dangerous thing. We aspire that people in disadvantaged areas should be healthier, wealthier and wiser in ways that seem obvious to us but may bear little relation to the realities of their lives.

A director of regeneration at one medium-sized northern council recently bemoaned the low aspirations of residents.

He told me people enjoyed the quality of life locally, with its rolling hills and fine views, but didn’t seem interested in improving themselves - ‘people are happy if they’ve got enough money to go to the pub on a Friday night’.

Similar comments came from a neighbourhood manager in a former mining town. Describing the local council’s efforts to encourage residents to gain qualifications and get jobs, he asked: ‘Why should they work when they don’t need to work, when they can survive on a relatively small amount of money?’

Such views are heresy in a sector that assumes more qualifications equals greater competitiveness equals a more satisfying life; where we measure GDP and GVA in a dozen different ways, and imagine that if the numbers point in the right direction people are therefore happier.

This isn’t an argument for less investment in enterprise, skills, housing, healthcare and all the rest of it. But it is an argument for treating people as complex organisms who won’t necessarily respond in predicted ways to relatively crude interventions.

And people are far more likely to opt into aspirations they regard as their own, even if they don’t tick every public servant’s box or ministerial target.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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