Keep Britain Arguing: How values can derail consensus on outcomes - interview with Polly MacKenzie

Keep Britain Arguing: How values can derail consensus on outcomes - interview with Polly MacKenzie

Catherine Neilan

06:27 12th February 2021

What do you think about when you hear the slogan Keep Britain Tidy? For most of us, the response is likely to be exactly what the marketing team behind it hoped: a sense of collective responsibility for keeping our country free from litter, a nudge towards putting your food wrapper in the bin or perhaps even using items that can be washed and used again.

As a society, we have by and large moved away from a world in which throwing our rubbish on the floor is acceptable. From eco-warriors to local church groups, the Neighbourhood Watch or estate agents, no one likes a litter bug.

And yet, argues Demos chief executive Polly MacKenzie in this week's episode of Making Common Ground, while the practical message might have universal appeal, the values behind it could actually undermine its very principle.

Why is it Keep Britain Tidy, some might argue? Shouldn't we be keeping the world tidy? Isn't it a bit, well, nationalistic? A bit Britain First?

From there you can open up a whole raft of points to disagree on. Perhaps it should have been wrapped into a larger initiative about climate change and human responsibility for it? Some might have preferred an approach that emphasised the religious aspect of respecting our environment - protecting God's creation. Others might see it as intrinsically linked to capitalism and the dangers of businesses, given impunity to poison our world, while yet more might be preoccupied with what it means for our children and the future generations.

MacKenzie uses this as an example to demonstrate just how easy it is to fall into the trap of disagreeing about values while agreeing on the outcomes.

"If the conversation was exclusively about protecting the environment, no one would have discovered they disagreed about the fundamentals," she says.

The same can be applied to much of our current dialogue from Brexit to trans rights, she argues.

Listen to the episode in full below.

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Tags: Brexit Democracy Debate Climate change Podcast