Much has been made this week of Gordon Brown’s convictions, not least by the prime minister himself. This is not a man, it seems, who wrestles with existential angst at three in the morning.
I have convictions too, and not just for traffic offences. Most of them, I think, have served me well enough – the belief that life has purpose, that human beings are intrinsically valuable, and that our achievements are measured not by what we gain but what we give.
But that’s the easy bit. You can have convictions coming out of your ears and still never get off your backside.
Maybe it’s my age, but I have more time these days for people who have the skill to apply their convictions intelligently – the insight to see value in the wisdom of others, the hindsight to see that history is littered with the wreckage of good intentions, and the foresight to see that there’s more to be won by learning than lecturing.
Gordon Brown, to be fair to him, has some of these qualities. And most of us would affirm the convictions he espouses.
To give everyone the chance to use their talents to the full is a worthy cause.
To advocate a balance of rights and responsibilities is motherhood and apple pie, though with fewer obviously tasty bits.
Making it work is the challenge. As Mr Brown said this week: ‘When you get something right, you build on it. But … when you fall short, you listen, you learn and then you are confident enough to change.’
Over the last decade some essential foundations have been put in place that have the potential to create a much better future for cities, towns and communities, and as a result, for the people who live in them.
They encompass the report of the Urban Task Force and the work that underpinned the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal; on a practical level, they include the experiments in neighbourhood management that have shown us how joined-up thinking can link to joined-up action.
The danger now is that this framework will be ignored in favour of an approach that dumps the complexities of placemaking into one of two baskets: housing supply and demand, and boosting the skills that enable people to find work.
To avoid those pitfalls we require a consistency of approach that builds on what has been achieved, and a persistence that perseveres when regeneration is no longer the conviction of the month.
Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine