In the Public Interest: How can we put the public back into public life?

Hundreds turned out at the Southbank to see Compass, the left-leaning pressure group and the New Economics Foundation, the ethical economic think tank, host a panel of eminent thinkers and a lively audience for the first of its public assemblies, where participation was actively encouraged.

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director at the Southbank Centre, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, Richard Sennett, writer, academic and author of ‘The Fall of Public Man’ and Danni Paffard, from the fledgling economic activism group Move Your Money, all offered their assessment of where we are, what is wrong and how we might collectively improve our lot.

The Southbank Centre, a democratic space with no one front door, felt like an excellent place to discuss the lack of civic space – in both literal and metaphorical terms – but sponsorship of the building by the oil giant Shell, much like that of the Tate by disgraced BP, leaves all sustainable thinkers wanting.

The hosts were after ideas – so we got the ball rolling.

Universities should be the place for public debate as they appear to have been in the past.

Journalism of the last 10 years has failed.

Jude Kelly opened:

We are a society with taboos and nowhere to discuss them.

Congregation space. A public forum. Temples. Alain De Botton.

The future of progress.

‘Public debate’ is via political parties and the arbiter is the media.

Alan Rusbridger said:

Phone hacking has prompted a big look into press ethics and standards.

In July, when the scandal kicked off, we were within two days of letting News Corp, that has ‘squatted over public life’, double in size. It involved everyone, from politics to the police. Common sense. Unanimous opposition. And still nothing in law.

There is now an open public interest debate about regulation, privacy, libel and subterfuge.

What is the public interest? Tabloids are commercial organisations.Solidarity means being serious about the public interest. Do not just pay lip service.

Who decides the public interest? Leveson – where is the public voice?

The Scott Trust, owners of the Guardian, allowed them to produce the story.In 17 years as editor, they only made money in 12. Now none are making money. Conventional commercial terms do not value the public interest.

Local newspapers are going out of business. Plurality?

New forms are media are where public interest journalism can occur.

Danni Paffard said:

The public needs to take more of an interest in itself. How do we make banking better? Where is the public accountability? UK Uncut has highlighted tax avoidance versus public sector cuts. £95billion in tax avoidance per year. Banking receives £100billion in subsidies.

Your bank card is so against everything you stand for. ‘You have all my money’.

We have to engage ourselves. Ethical consumerism in the banking sector. Active economic citizens. Understanding. ‘This is the new fair trade’. The ‘campaign of our time’.

In the US in October 650,000 people closed their bank accounts and put the money into credit unions.

Richard Sennett said:


The leader of the opposition is not Ed, but Occupy.

‘Feral elite’ coined by Neal Lawson and made famous by the Guardian.

Neal Lawson said:

Believe in utopia. This is not our utopia. It is a world of private, individual selfishness and greed. Be a visionary. With the elite, there are no feedback loops.

Our minds are privatised.

Utopian good society. Public and social. It will not happen quickly. Protest, struggle and democracy.

The floor:

The notion of the ‘Public Good’ was written out of legislation in 2004. And in the US in 2005.

Coffee houses of the street. Encourage people into the street.

Public libraries.

At the end of March, it will be the end of the public health service. And the BBC certainly isn’t. LINK.

Google and Facebook are big corporations dealing in online data. We can take control.

Free schools and academies are privatisation. The data is skewed. It will privatise and centralise our school system. It will teach Latin and Churchill – of the markets and the right wing.

People who believe in markets are cultists. It is not rational. Market fundamentalists.

Nationwide would rather lend to buy-to-lets than first time buyers.

The Labour Party have been given it on a plate and they are hopeless.

Lord Philip Green doesn’t pay any tax and his money is in a bank account in the name of his Monaco wife.

‘Transform capital management’, ‘economic foodchain theory’. Incentivise business to be more of the solution than the problem.

Legal public spaces are constricted. Go where you don’t belong. How do you get people talking? Street party. Discourse. Inability to voice concerns. Anybody can have a voice. We have a right to gather and talk. Go to where you live and start the act of thinking.

We have to be good.

Vote Occupy London in the mayoral election.

Trade unionism is currently being attacked by the government. The tax payer is having to pay for them to exist within public institution. They protect the rights of taxpayers. The Guardian in 90% National Union of Journalists.

Renationalise industry.

Speak to our neighbours and go from there.

Pop-up Southbank assemblies all over London? Local campaigns. Collaborative consumption in your area. What can we do with the space lost to City roofs?

Defend the public sphere and build a better one.

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