Aditya Chakrabortty is the modern history graduate who writes much of the economics editorials for The Guardian. He’s also been doing a series of reports on how the modern economy is giving rise to lots of sharing, caring, little, initiatives. People doing things not for profit. People just getting on with things without direction from the centre, without grants, government or guidance.
Well, yes, OK, and ain’t it great? The thing is though, as a modern history graduate Aditya has entirely missed the historical resonance of all of this. This is in fact the conservative – and Conservative – argument that we don’t need all those grants, all that government, that guidance. We the people can get on with it ourselves. And that society is vastly better when we do.
Every Saturday morning at 9am sharp a little bit of anarchy breaks out across the country. This being Britain, it happens, naturally enough, in our parks. Not that it’s billed as such. It’s meant to be a 5km run, which is why at Richmond Park in south-west London this morning the grass is carpeted with well over 400 people in sports gear. But it has none of the intensity you’d expect at a track or even on a gym treadmill. One woman tugs balloons, to celebrate her 100th run; others prepare to push baby buggies or keep pace with their dogs. Although supported by the charity Parkrun, this and the 559 other events across the UK set to start in a few minutes are entirely self-organised.
What they share is an ethos. Parkruns are free to all, and all are treated equally. No hierarchy intrudes between the hares and the tortoises, the old-timers and the debs. Members volunteer to mark the course or keep time or to aid stragglers. So early this morning, as the weekend still brims with promise, on these hectares of parkland owned by the Queen, a little anarchist world briefly comes into focus. One devoid of government nagging or corporate profiteering, but reliant instead on mutual aid and human kindness.
“It is the new church,” says Karen Weir, who started the Richmond parkrun in 2006. The former City management consultant would give up 10 hours a week just to ensure Saturdays went smoothly for everyone else. “The idea of the community has broken down. People don’t go to church any more. But here, you come together with a load of people – and you feel embedded in the local area.”
This is the little platoons so beloved of Edmund Burke and St. Maggie Thatcher. What’s new about this in the slightest?
The only thing that worries about this is that Chakrabortty is simply too ill-informed, too ignorant of either history or politics, to grasp this simplicity. Such ignorance not being a good attribute in those who would tell us how to live our lives.