This is an edited version of a debate that took place at the Creative Citizens Conference in London in September 2014. It is built around a discussion paper written by Stephen Lee, Chief Executive of Centre Forum, a politically liberal think tank, and Professor of Voluntary Sector Management at Cass Business School, London. He is joined in discussion with three other senior political think tank leaders. They are Eddie Copeland, Head of Technology Policy at Policy Exchange (a right of centre group), Andrew Harrup, General Secretary of the Fabian Society (left of centre) and Emran Mian, Director of the Social Market Foundation (centrist). Professor Ian Hargreaves chairs the debate. The debate took place on the same day as the independence vote in a referendum in Scotland.
Stephen Lee: I am by inclination very positive towards notions of citizenship, I’m very pro the notion of the active citizen, of citizens being enabled, and I work within a liberal think tank, which at its heart and at its core, would wish to promote the notion of pluralism. Here you see an expression of pluralism. My concern, though, and the brief given to me from Ian, was to what extent and how and in what way would policy makers wish to take on this concept of creative citizenship, is that rather like the lyrics in the song, creative citizenship has the ability and the potential to be loved at an ethereal, rhetorical level, but to be absolutely meaningless, actually, in a public policy context. Why? Well, I think for a number of reasons. First, you yourselves can find no consistent definition of the activity, and the activity is, itself, so broad to be both immensely important to the individuals engaged in it, but pretty much meaningless when you try to abstract it and think about it in a practical sense. It's also the case that in as much as it supports and promotes matters that the state would wish to itself promote, it is also there to act against the state, and is, in many senses, anti-statist. So, whilst it might be of immense interest and engagement to citizens, it's something that civil servants tend to want to shy away from, rather than actively promote.