With more devolution shifting to cities, what then becomes central government's role if local communities and cities are governing themselves to keep costs down and to ensure that the decisions of a region work for that group of people?
Lord Paddy Ashdown has used the term, "network enabler", to describe the role of government, and it's a good one.
How would you set up government today from scratch? If you were to be found on an island with 10 people – a little bit like Gilligan’s Island – how would you operate it? What would the things be that you would put in place right away?
Today's citizens are both participants in local networks (schools, neighborhoods, faith groups, families) and global interconnections (NATO, G8, EuroZone, Commonwealth, United Nations).
Locally, we operate our lives - where we go to work, send our children to school, worship our God. But the forces of peace and war, democracy and tyranny, trade and barriers to trade, affect our lives - just indirectly, by deeply, and at a macro level.
It is this macro/micro distinction which needs a Network Enabler.
Five hundred years ago, a farmer in Devon needed a representative to come up to London to vote for him in Parliament as there wasn't any internet, and communication wasn't direct. The infrastructure of democracy hasn't changed even while the possibilities for its change are front and center - clear and yet untapped.
This isn't a debate about big or small government. My thesis is that the 20 year olds coming through who are dramatically more empowered than the 50 year olds with more money than they have, will not recognise the distinction between public and private sector, between left and right, between big and small state that gets hyped up by the Baby Boomers.
What does success look like in this scenario? Concerned citizens taking charge of the solutions to problems will naturally want to spin out parts of government into cooperatives or not for profits or even in some cases private enterprises so that they can tackle definitively local healthcare, superior education, protection of personal data, quality of transport, and neighbourhood security. They will do this efficiently using 21st century communication, and where those involved have a stake in the outcome. If you own the problem, by owning the entity, you work harder to solve the issue.
My personal hunch is that the country is bust. Too many PFI's, and unfunded pension schemes. We're not at the bottom of it yet. If we actually knew what the balance sheet and profit and loss of the country were, I don't think they would show a solvent, cash positive position. So it's actually in our interest to allow groups of concerned citizens to take over the running of local community organisations - again, provision of health, education, transport, neighbourhood security, rural communications, data services.
And the UK central government shouldn't impose a top down architecture, but should allow local problem solvers, social entrepreneurs, concerned parents, leaders of faith groups to take leadership positions and build new structures.
Imagine what's happening actually on the ground in Greece right now, or what would happen on our Gilligan's island. Back to basics, those who can create production rise to the top. Those who can find things to eat, or build business to drive revenue into the system take leadership positions. And trade becomes dominant. Reciprocal exchange flourishes. If you're a small business person in Athens, you're bartering your way through the mess right now.
For civic society shouldn't be just an extension of the state. Civic society binds us in different ways: we all want Andy Murray to win Wimbledon, and for the London Olympics to showcase the UK to the world.
National government then is left to operate the national interests on the global stage: Do we stand for liberty in war torn parts of the world where dictators have created fiefdoms? Can we pay for our own defence; what is our relationship with Nato?
Here again the UK has a huge advantage by virtue of its history. The UK is the center of its macro-ecosystem. Individuals throughout the Commonwealth come to the UK for business, education and to build their networks. The historical role that the UK has played in the world "gives it pull" - that most important quality in building the alignment and economics of any network, and of any winning position.
I admit a personal preference for the small state. I don't see much evidence that the state can provide services for the micro better than concerned groups of citizens locally who decide how they want to govern and operate their lives in their community. I don't believe that people spend other people's money like they spend their own. I believe that what works in Durham may be quite different than what works in Cornwall, and I'm ok with that. I'm not obsessed with fair; fair to me is that an individual believes that what they put into life is what they get out of it.
There's a lot of examples in the world that small creates big: states like Switzerland, or Norway, or cities like Hong Kong, or historical republics like Sienna circa 1500 thrive(d) because decision-taking was closer to the constituency, and strong social cohesion could emerge - which gives its own sense of comfort.
But the central debate which we are not having today is about micro and macro. What I know is that people are better off operating their own lives, and having the responsibility for being a good neighbour, and an active member of their community. You can't really outsource that. And the UK wins because it's not a small, backward country, but a major economic power with a network of UK-touched people around the world who see it as the network enabler. It should grab hold of that market position with both hands, confident that by making its micro networks (local communities) empowered to run better if diversely, that it can provide the macro prestige, premium and power that it seeks to project which will ultimately hold its citizens in good stead through the next century.
I came to the UK in July 1998, now 14 years ago because like a lot of Americans, I just love the British. But I recognise I am an immigrant. Like a lot of immigrants, both to this country and my own, we can see the opportunity better than those who were born here.
If those who run the British government could see the opportunity to be a Network Enabler rather than mere politicians, I believe more British people could see the same thing that I see - just an incredible opportunity to live, work, and contribute to this country.