Friday Room Special: A Conversation with Ruth Lister

RuthListerFriday 26 Sept, 7:30pm, Unity House, Fennel Street, Loughborough

We need to create a culture that combines a sense of belonging with openness to new ideas. To get away from the idea that we are individuals to be consulted and not just consumers or components of some machine. Politics needs to be based on dialogue rather than Party bigwigs telling us what is best for us.

The starting point will be the idea of the Open Tribe which was developed in a series of interviews with politically active people and refined into a book by Sue Goss. It is to do with reconciling the supportive but restrictive nature of belonging to a specific group or tribe and the openness to novelty but risk of isolation that comes from not belonging.

Ruth’s Profile

From 1971 to 1987 I worked for the Child Poverty Action Group, the last 8 years as director.  I joined the Department of Social Sciences after 6 years as Professor and Head of Department of Applied Social Studies, Bradford University.  Between 2005 and 2007 I spent some time at the University of Glasgow as the first Donald Dewar Visiting Professor of Social Justice.  I retired in October 2010 and joined the House of Lords as a Labour peer in February 2011.  I was elected hon president of CPAG in December 2010.  I currently sit on the Joint Committee of Human Rights, the board of the Smith Institute and am vice-chair of the Fair Pay Network and a patron of JustFair.  In the past I have sat on a number of independent commissions, the National Equality Panel and the Community Development Foundation, as well as numerous other voluntary organisation and research advisory committees.  In 2010 I received a life-time achievement from the Social Policy Association.  In 2005 I was co-recipient of the Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher & Further Education awarded to the university for its contribution to social policy.

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3 Responses to Friday Room Special: A Conversation with Ruth Lister

  1. Dear Ruth

    Thank you for leading our conversation last night. Very thought provoking.

    An issue that was only touched upon last night is the gulf between the sort of informal conversations we were discussing and public action.

    Hopefully most come away from conversations like this a bit wiser and some individuals might be more prepared to take action as a delayed effect.

    Others may feel a warm glow of enlightenment for a time and then revert to their status quo and then have similar conversations in a couple of years later. They are essentially ephemeral nature

    Maybe we need a process of distillation. Sue Goss has done this and more by turning the series of interviews into the book. but what about us the ordinary punters?

    Should the Friday Room try to provide some sort of distillation/summary/index of discussions?

    • (Baroness) Ruth Lister says:

      Thanks John. I’m not sure I’m best placed to answer your question as that was the first time I came along to the Friday Room. But it would certainly be good if there could be a conversation about how to build on discussions and where possible, link them to possible actions.
      Best wishes

  2. Geoff Gay Writes:
    Comments on Open Tribe

    While supporting the general direction of the book, there are a number of points on which I would offer a critique :

    1. The book does not seem to have been properly proof-read. There are lots of missing words and typographical errors – I find this inexcusable and unprofessional.

    2. (pages 40-42 ) Putting religion on a par with rationality. Of course, religion does not have to breed violence and terrorism – in fact, most religious people, in my experience, are caring and tolerant. But many of the world’s current conflicts are fuelled by extreme versions of religion and, as a secularist and humanist, I would argue that the root of the problem is religion itself. In my view, religion is irrational in the sense that it has no basis in reality. My view is that the only rational way of looking at the universe is based on science.

    3. (Chapter 3 ) The idea expressed here that every human being has equal value to the human species as a whole. Unfortunately there are politicians and political parties who objectively support inequality. For example, the purpose of our Conservative Party is to preserve the privilege of those on whom the system confers privilege ( even more so with parties like UKIP ). Such politicians and parties have to tell lies in order to attract votes, so they are not of equal value with politicians who tell the truth. In other words, left and right are not of equal value. Politics is not just a matter of “belief” or “ideas” – in our society the privileged are driven to preserve their privilege.

    4. ( p74 ) Allied to the above point, I quote : “It isn’t Capitalism……… capitalism is, at core, a human system.” And again, on pages 137-138, “ Castells argues that the new movements are not socialist in any recognisable sense. They often antagonise and oppose the vested interests of left wing and socialist parties and trades unions.” I would argue that there are parties, like our Labour Party, which were once social democratic, but now embrace neo-liberalism. Such parties are fundamentally different from genuine left and socialist parties whose only interests are those of the great majority of the people. The author contradicts herself in supporting this quote from Willie Sullivan, ” all this stuff belongs to us collectively but is not being used in the interests of all of us collectively.” If that quote is not socialist as opposed to capitalist , then what is it ??

    5. ( Chapter 7 ) . In this chapter, the author extols the virtues of “social movements” like
    38 Degrees. These movements sometimes succeed in changing bits and pieces of the system, but they don’t actually change the prevailing direction of travel which is still towards more and more neo-liberalism. And we won’t change this until we have a political party or political alliance which is capable of mounting a real challenge : The Greens have one MP and pockets of support but no consistent national presence ; Left Unity are as yet not even near to the level of the Green Party and other small parties like Respect and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) are too sectarian to offer any real hope. If these parties could get together in a workable alliance there would be progress – we cannot afford the still-dominant tribalism. As John Harris ( Guardian columnist ) says ( p 148 ) , ” You have to be able to capture the state….. you can’t redistribute income sitting in a tent outside St Pauls ”

    Geoff Gay

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