The Emergence of Impact Investing

“How strange it is that a bird, under the form of a woodpecker, should have been created to prey on insects on the ground; that upland geese, which never or rarely swim, should have been created with webbed feet; that a thrush should have been created to dive and feed on sub-aquatic insects; and that a petrel should have been created with habits and structure fitting it for the life of an auk or grebe! and so on in endless other cases. But on the view of each species constantly trying to increase in number, with natural selection always ready to adapt the slowly varying descendants of each to any unoccupied or ill-occupied place in nature, these facts cease to be strange, or perhaps might even have been anticipated.” – Charles Darwin (1859), On the Origin of Species

In recent weeks, there has been a flight of investments out of so-called emerging markets and back into the warmer waters of the  USA, Japan and the UK. It is estimated that around $6 billion fled those markets in the last week alone. These countries vary widely in performance but they are all seen as next stage developing nations and include countries such as Mexico, South Korea, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Huge sums have poured into these countries over the last six years as a result of (primarily) QE (quantitative easing) in the USA. This is now being “tapered” so the fear of funds drying up begins. Stock markets are down throughout and currencies are weaker against the strengthening developed nations like the $, £, Euro and Yen.

Financial experts believe that these “emerging” countries have the ability to reward normal (if higher risk) investment. Investors constantly seek out businesses that have already established themselves but where the risk / reward ratio is different from the more developed areas. This is the search for wider niches where improved financial rewards can be found.

Investors in such emerging markets do not normally consider the social good of that investment – investment managers are charged with having to return a competitive return to their investors. The “quality” of the investment considers risk and volatility but not the social return. This (understandably) means that emerging economies overall may benefit when money is coming in but (as now) see key projects suffer when the money turns away – as there is no “buy-in” to the investment beyond return on investment. Investors can move quickly back to their safer zones.

Impact Investing

Over the past few years, the finance world (possibly after government badgering) and in its constant search for investment opportunities has built a signpost towards the social quality of investment. It is called Impact Investing and its intentions are notable enough for those such as Sir Ronald Cohen (chair of the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce and one of the top venture capitalists of our age) to shout about the potential benefits and opportunities – as he did in his recent Mansion House speech.

Impact investing is an attempt to link financial investment with “social returns”: building non-financial returns into investment criteria so that not only quantity and normal qualitative issues such as risk are taken into account in making decisions but so that a variety of social benefits (less poverty, more jobs for local people, better services) are developed – the typical social return for organisations that have a double bottom line.

In evaluation terms. it provides the investment community’s equivalent of the “cost-benefit analysis” of the 1970’s that was predicated on government (local and national) expenditure and was an accounting tool for evaluating non-financial outcomes and providing a financial outcome to them (outcomes that recent flooding problems in the UK may well have seen exacerbated by as a result of cost-benefit “rules” made hurdles by the UK Treasury).

Impact Investment has emerged as a potential move by the investors to invest in areas that will not provide the highest quantitative return on investment. It may seem to resemble CSR – corporate social responsibility – made by companies but Impact Investment is driven by independent investors that are not trying to offset externalities caused by their businesses. The investment is seen as totally different to donations or companies doing good things (like fundraising efforts by staff) – the typical form of investor involvement in charitable ventures as a return on investment is required.

The Evolution of Impact Investment

The tradition of philanthropic “giving” goes back to before the 19th Century – a period of great wealth for some sections of society that fostered the desire in some to give back some of their wealth to society. In Victorian England, the wealthy would see it as their duty to provide funds for the poor and many trusts and foundations originated in this period. As Government began (mainly after World War One) to encroach on charity territory, philanthropists (already complaining of high taxation) saw it progressively as a government responsibility to look after the worse off in society. This was a natural outcome of the welfare state – where government expenditure grew to around 40% of GDP or more and progressive taxation became the norm in developed economies.

The wealthy have had to develop their own ideas about the part they can play in the so-called “Third Sector” that remains – and which remains a critical part of society – their niche – and (perhaps) especially outside of the original philanthropists’ countries of origin. In the globally connected world of the 21st Century, we see a mirror on the nation state of the 19th Century – instead of each country being split into the well-off and the rest, now it can be seen on a global scale.

Bill Gates is a good example of the modern philanthropist – using his wealth through the Gates Foundation to make real change in the developing world in disease control particularly. This is mainly via the traditional use of donations (on a grand scale) using expertise learned in business to effect change that government-led, top-down schemes or traditional aid money has not accomplished outside of disaster situations.

More recently, as Sir Ronald Cohen voiced in his Mansion House speech, investment is now being applied to social welfare schemes where a financial return is envisaged. This is not a new phenomenon but is now, according to Sir Ronald, the coming investment mechanism for change. As Venture Capital was to business start-ups, so Impact Investment is touted to provide radical change where a social element is involved. This is a move into a new niche – combining, it is said, answers to investors’ search for new opportunities with social benefits.

The Global Impact Investing Network, an organization based in New York outlines four, central aspects of Impact Investment which are:

  • ·      Intentionality – the explicit investment, part of which is for social gain;
  • ·      Investment with return expectations;
  • ·      Range of return expectations;
  • ·      Impact Measurement.

The Impact Investment Evolutionary Niche

The mix of public and private sector undertakings, which followed social democratic principles in so many developed nations after the end of World War II, have seen stresses since the 1980’s – especially as a result of the Reagan / Thatcher period and the libertarian form of market economics that followers of Hayek would pursue. The Keynesian revolution fell out of favour as the mandate to minimize taxation and let the free market do the work came to be the norm – particularly in the English-speaking world. This reversed the tacit agreement that Keynesian economics had formed at the macroeconomic level, whereby government would manage economies to iron out excesses – particularly to offset major downturns or market bubbles. The impact of the change on the micro-economic side was that direct taxation was now reduced and that had to lead to reduced spending and more emphasis on people resolving their own problems.

The financial system melt-down of 2007/8 has exacerbated the problem. In the UK and elsewhere where government debt is deemed to be high there have been major cutbacks. driven by research such as the Reinhart and Rogoff paper which culminated in their book “This Time is Different”. Recently, much research has offered an alternative outcome and  an IMF paper “Debt and Growth: Is there a Magic Thresshold?” seems to refute the evidence. Such cutbacks have severed an implicit bargain with the less well-off and threaten spending on international development (although the UK has maintained its 0.7% of GDP annual promise many other countries have not kept up to their Millennium development goal promises).

Additionally, questions persist about the value of top-down international aid (except for disaster aid). Those like William Easterly (author of “White Man’s Burden” and his new book “The Tyranny of Experts”) have emboldened philanthropists like Bill Gates to enter the social marketplace directly.

This mix of government pull-out on the one hand and social conscience of the wealthy on the other seems like a return to the 19th Century social balance – where government tended towards the minimalist. Hobsbaum in his “Age of Extremes” called this government through “brakes rather than engines”. In this situation, the social requirements that are not likely to be rectified by government intervention grow substantially and require intervention from elsewhere. The environment has changed significantly and, as huge wealth has been generated by the top 1% of society, it has to have outlets for investment.

The New Impact Investment Opportunity

In the 19th Century, wealthy philanthropists set up charities for various reasons. The two most obvious were (1) a view that society should benefit from their wealth (2) a view that by helping others, they could form a better, wealthier society that would entrench the status quo and lead to less dissonance in society.

Up to 1914, this view prevailed but after WWI and the terrors of the slump in the 1930’s, poverty overtook the ability of the wealthy or government to cope. Dissonance was the norm and led, eventually, via fascism and WWII to the Keynesian revolution that was finally allowed to develop.

If we are now back into a position of similarity with the 19th Century, albeit at a much higher GDP level in the developed world, we are also a more global society so that extreme poverty, lack of medical assistance and social deprivation across the world are now closer to us than before and more intertwined with our well-being.

From the second half of the 20th Century onwards, large companies have begun to understand the need to be sustainable and have felt the pressure from customer requirements that tend towards the ethics of the product / service and those behind it. This has led to the development of a substantial focus on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) as referred to above. Many large companies have now entrenched the notion of CSR but it remains for most an exogenous criteria rather than an intrinsic and internalised desire or part of the corporate vision or mission. Social good is rarely part of  corporate vision beyond customer care. Harvard Business School still questions the notion in its new course, for example –  “Private Sector, Public Good – what role, if any, does business have in creating social good?”

This question has been asked for many years and the fact that it is still being asked attests to the fact that most companies believe that they are tasked to maximize shareholder returns – hopefully, in the longer term but not always. Social factors remain as “externalities” despite the work of organisations such as TEEB  and its work on natural capital to make companies aware of the burden they can place on society. Publicly traded companies do not receive credit for lower share prices just as bankers asking for lower bonuses for the social good they create. This is a natural outcome of the environment that exists within a market economy focused as it is on goods and services – not public goods or social need.

However, vast wealth has accumulated to individuals in and of the financial sector (and other business sectors) and that sector has been notoriously reticent about social good or direct involvement in social enterprise. CSR within the financial sector is a very low priority (although exceptions do exist, charity fundraising and giving in general form a tiny percentage of sector profitability). The financial sector now has the role of society’s corporate enemy number 1 after the sub-prime generated disaster of recent years. So, while it is clear that many well-meaning philanthropists would enter into social (or impact) investing (as many already provide donations with no financial return expectations whatsoever) it remains unclear why the financial sector (e.g. venture capital companies) should consider lower financial returns offset by some social returns as acceptable – which is the premise that most assume in impact investment.

The answer to this quesion is that, in reality, returns are being generated that are similar to those available elsewhere and it is pretty clear that returns are sought that equate to other forms of investment.

The vacuum in the economic environment provided in part by government not wishing to be involved as much in social activities plus a more widespread belief that private enterprise can achieve more than government is providing the opportunity for venture capital to move quickly into the space provided.

Sir Ronald Cohen was one of the first to see the opportunity. Bridges Ventures was set up by him in 2002 and operates as follows according to its website:

Bridges Ventures is a specialist fund manager, dedicated to using an impact-driven investment approach to create superior returns for both investors and society at-large. We believe that market forces and entrepreneurship can be harnessed to do well by doing good.” and its provides ample evidence of its success.

A recent (“Fall 2013”) study in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Paul Brest of Stanford Law School and Kelly Born of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has shown no lack of desire on the part of impact investors to enter into such investments, but mainly on the basis that they will pick up normal returns on their investment.

While it is clear in many cases that social benefits do occur from such active investment, the ability of such investments to return full amounts is as a result of “I see something that you don’t see” according to David Chen on Equilibrium Capital – as quoted in the Stanford article. This suggests that, for the investor, impact investing is about pushing into new territories but using different knowledge to access good returns on investment.

What is particularly interesting is that the investment community is now willing to invest in such social programmes / projects because it sees, in the main, the opportunity to gain good returns. The investors gain access to the opportunities through social entrepreneurs or charities that uncover them in the same way that venture capitalists uncover pure market-related opportunities that are presented to the venture capital firms.

The Stanford article shows the “frictions” in the market that investors have to overcome (in order to make their returns) as follows:

  • Imperfect information. Investors at large may not know about particular opportunities—especially enterprises in developing nations or in low-income areas in developed nations—let alone have reliable information about their risks and expected returns.
  • Skepticism about achieving both financial returns and social impact. Investors at large may be unjustifiably skeptical that enterprises that are promoted as producing social or environmental value are likely to yield market-rate returns.
  • Inflexible institutional practices. Institutional investors may use heuristics that simplify decision making but that exclude potential impact investments, which, for example, may require more flexibility than the fund’s practices permit.
  • Small deal size. The typical impact investment is often smaller than similar private equity or venture capital investments, but the minimum threshold of due diligence and other transaction costs can render the investment financially unattractive regardless of its social merits.
  • Limited exit strategies. In many developing economies, markets are insufficiently developed to provide reliable options for investors to exit their investment in a reasonable time.
  • Governance problems. Developing nations may have inadequate governance and legal regimes, creating uncertainties about property rights, contract enforcement, and bribery. Navigating such regimes may require on-the-ground expertise or personal connections that are not readily available to investors at large.

These may or may not be specific to social enterprises but it is not sure they are, overall, of a higher risk than other business opportunities. They are different. Having been provided with the opportunities, the assessment mechanisms then will evaluate those opportunities taking into account the “frictions” (including those above) in order to assess the returns and risks – much as would be done in a neutral impact (or more “normal”) investment.

The Reality of Impact Investing

Investing in social enterprises is not new but the emergence of a sophisticated push into social investments by the financial community through impact investing has created a degree of publicity and resulted in an industry with $40bn invested according to a paper recently presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos  – an amount which is growing rapidly (although still a tiny fraction of the trillions invested by the financial sector).

Within the social impact sector, traditional, donation-led financing may gradually move aside as investments with a financial return move in – although the main benefit will be through impact investment taking up the slack that top-down government funding  would have provided and maybe into areas not originally considered or under-funded. It can certainly be argued that such investments (in organisations such as Grameen Bank for micro-financing) seek to reap full returns while providing social benefits as well – even if the social benefits are actively pursued from the outset. The Stanford article suggests that no impact investment is such unless it has an “active” approach from the outset to providing real social returns over and above the financial ones and over and above what would have occurred without the investment. This impact is hard to uncover and measurement is not yet sufficiently in place and does not rule out the imperative of good financial returns (which are quantifiable).

One key question is whether impact investment is anything more than normal investment but with opportunities revealed by a new set of entrepreneurs – the social entrepreneurs – and with a new appetite and understanding for the risks inherent in this new sector. This appetite is emboldened as more of these ventures produce decent returns, as management of the “frictions” noted above are found to be possible and where the investment helps provide such as the “outstanding investment returns by delivering essential services to disconnected communities underserved by global networks.” as found by organisations like Elevar Equity quoted here).

With governments more likely to stand aside and open up spaces for investors, charities and social entrepreneurs have to seek out new financing and are doing so. The availability of serious amounts of investment is real and whether or not these are new and whether or not the investors care too much about whether the social impact is real or not, it has been shown that money is available but that (outside of the traditional donations market and outside of individual and foundation / trust philanthropists who, like a Bill Gates, wants to “do good”) most impact investment will be looking for good financial returns from this new, “friction”-filled investment area – where investment opportunities are brought to the investors by the newer group of entrepreneurs – social entrepreneurs.

This is a nascent environment but it is clear that the investment community is now working with a new form of social entrepreneur that find the prospects and is beginning to acclimatize itself to the specific risks (or “frictions”) that characterize the new marketplace in order to generate good financial returns. It is a marketplace that is being “sold” on the premise that “social returns” + “financial returns” = normal returns. It can be argued that the only element of the returns to be calculated (financial) is not necessarily lower than in other areas and that social returns are just over and above them. Nonetheless, the market is now available and social entrepreneurs have a growing opportunity to take advantage.

“But on the view of each species constantly trying to increase in number, with natural selection always ready to adapt the slowly varying descendants of each to any unoccupied or ill-occupied place in nature, these facts cease to be strange, or perhaps might even have been anticipated.” – Charles Darwin (1859), On the Origin of Species

Banking on Politicians?

I have just read two books that should be read by anyone interested in the huge banking and financial problems that face us:

The Finance Curse by Nicholas Shaxson and John Christensen;

Just Money by Ann Pettifor

Both attack the finance industry and my brief comments on the two books are as follows:

The Finance Curse: Shaxson and Christensen compare the Finance Curse to the Resource Curse that afflicts so many resource-rich, economically-poor nations. The Finance Curse is a more complex story and as difficult to resolve. It is analysed well even if the suggestions about to solve the Finance Curse could have done with more time and resolve. This is a highly important subject that two knowledgeable writers focus on with passion. Clearly, one book will not solve the problem that has taken root over several hundred years but the world is waking up (slowly) to the issue and this book assists that wakening process.

Just Money: Focuses on how Keynes’ monetary policies have been overtaken and forgotten and how modern-day rogue banking is fleecing (as rentiers) business people and society at large.
It is a convincing account of the rentier landlords of money, the new robber barons who have put a cost to the trust that money was invented for.
If right, Ann Pettifor’s future is bleak as her need for political change is mired by the lack of ability of politicians and even business people to understand the problem – the same misunderstanding is apparent in economics. This suggests that, if she is right in her analysis and prescription, no-one will change anything – even after the terrors of the 2007 banking crash. Add to this the positions that bankers and ex-bankers hold in the Establishment and the likely future is more money being absorbed by the banking system and its “owners”.

Financialisation

The overt Financialisation of our economies have progressed to a degree that is now untenable. I wrote about this in my earlier posting in 2012: The Financialist-Political Complex where I likened the supremacy of the banking fraternity to the Military-Industrial Complex identified by Eisenhower after WWII as the key danger to society.

If that danger has been heeded and (maybe) reduced, the new danger to all of us that want to enrich society (and that includes real entrepreneurs) is banking and finance.

In my earlier posting I included the following quote from Tom Armistead:

Banks need to be returned to their primary purpose, which is to serve the real economy, as financial intermediaries between those who work, save and invest, and those who need funds to create new means of production, or to buy a home, or a car.

Yet, Ed Miliband today focuses on a break-up of ownership of bank branches as the answer – as if retail banking of this type was the problem. Ann Pettifor must be screaming at the wrong attack on the wrong enemy – it is the internationalism of banking and the rentier progress of the international banks; Nick Shaxson must be amazed at the simple-minded attitudes of politicians that go for quick sound bites rather than tackle the core issues – how massive banking centres like in the UK damage our economy.

We cannot bank on politicians clearly – they don’t understand. So, the question is who does? While I may not grasp all of the issues myself and while I may not agree with all the remedies that Messrs Pettifor, Shaxson and Christensen propose (and I propose different ones in my earlier post- like a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for banking), I am sane enough (I think) to grasp the intensity of the problem and to see that our politicians seem either not to have a clue or to be in hock to the bankers (a point I made in that earlier post).

Either way, the two books show the problems starkly but maybe we need a bunch of NGO’s and radical economists (at least as radical as Keynes) to help understanding and an economic overturn of the new rentiers that are destabilising our economies and leading to vast wealth (in money terms) going to fewer people at the top and the destruction of the middle classes.

Left-right, left-right: Parties and cliff edges

In the UK, Members of Parliament go back to work after the summer recess. All the talk is about Cameron’s reshuffle and leadership issues: Cameron is accused of acting like a “mouse”; Clegg’s leadership is under threat from his own party; the two Ed’s of Labour (Miliband and Balls) are said to be continuously arguing and that the phrase “two Eds are better than one” may not be true in this case.

More seriously, as the post-summer issues are traditionally short-term nonsense, last week’s Prospect Magazine has Peter Kellner (President of the pollsters, youGuv) writing an intriguing article on how the Liberal Democrats’ support has collapsed since the last General Election  http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/death-by-coalition/. As a result of entering into coalition with the Conservatives, their support has gone from 24% to 10% – which would result in a fall from 57 to around 10-12 seats if an election were to be held today.

While much of Kellner’s response to the polling made good sense, one aspect of the questions his pollsters asked concerns me greatly. This aspect focuses on how much to the left or right the party is.

The concern is this: surely, this form of questioning is out of date in the realpolitik of 21st Century thinking and 21st Century politics. Surely, in an age of individualism and the lobbying by NGO’s and many one-issue organisations of one issue arguments, the left / right analogy is no longer relevant?

Is politics really about left vs right anymore?

The left and right of politics were named after where the French parties sat in the National Assembly in 1789 at the time of the revolution. In 1791, the Legislative Assembly had the “innovators” on the left, moderates in the middle and the defenders of the Constitution on the right. This became the dominant march of politics in the 20th Century. Different and violently opposed political doctrines literally fought it out on the battlefield throughout the 20th Century. Fascism and Nazi-ism on the right, Communism on the left were the extremes in the battlefields of China, Spain, Cambodia, Europe (in WWII) or wherever the post-feudal wars (those that we fought up to the end of the first world war) were fought. Innovation became muddled with socialism and communism; defenders of the constitution became muddled with economic rigour and libertarianism capitalism (never the manner of the “ancient regime”).

Right and left became doctrinal and, with the fight for the rights of labour against the owner class, the 20th Century adopted the political norm.

Is economics an argument of right and left?

Now that the 21st Century is into its twelfth year, the left / right argument appears completely out of date. Sure, there are arguments about economics that will be with us forever: from libertarian, tea party protagonists all the way to Keynesian interventionists. But, because capitalism is now the standard economic and accepted model, the battle is not right vs left in economics but which form of economic model around the capitalist norm. Arguments are much less severe in developed nations and turn on moderate changes in taxation.

Much bigger issues, such as ending tax havens, transfer pricing, corporate power, corporate governance, the role of banks, corruption and many other crucial issues are stymied as politicians argue over the short-term vote catching issues – 1p or 1c on income tax, for instance.

Is the way we are governed right vs left?

Communism or socialism now only survives on the periphery. China is not a communist state – its economics are capitalist within a statist structure and the party ensures a legalist control (it is above the law). This is not communism. Russia is now a centrally controlled capitalist enterprise (run as a large corporate machine). The rest of the world operates in a democratic to quasi-democratic state. Hereditary monarchy is now mainly for the tourists and the press (celebrities within a celebrity culture).

There is little traditional right vs left in government.

Is the environment a subject for right vs left?

Here, confusion reigns. Traditional right-wingers in the UK (from a Tory mould) can be classed as conservative when it comes to the environment. They often oppose untrammelled modernity and defend the right to conserve (as “Conservatives”). Yet, they oppose green movements because they associate them with restrictions on economic growth. Roger Scruton in “how to Think Seriously About the Planet – the case for an environmental conservativism” http://www.amazon.co.uk/Think-Seriously-About-Planet-ebook/dp/B00829L62C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346585639&sr=8-1 puts the case for the right to take back control of the agenda.

The affects of CO2 are now disputed only at the periphery but the case for changing our ways is not agreed. This is now much more about individual nations wanting their own freedom and more about the problem of worldwide agreements – not a right vs left issue at all.

Does politics need right vs left?

Less and less people vote in general elections. Maybe the reason is that the left vs right arguments that drew people’s interest and motivation are no longer prevalent. The motivation to vote for broad platforms which mainly focus on short-term issues designed to entrap voters based on their short-term economic concerns is weak. Tradition still subjects most voters to choose their party and most political parties focus on swing votes – the 2% that Romney and Obama will work to win over in the USA, for example. The 2% that means that 98% are virtually disenfranchised!

The traditional view of politics is one where political parties are formed to organize themselves so that they can attract votes from the individuals who are not organized. This is changing.

Individuals have always formed into non-political party groupings – from trades unions to employer associations, from charities to NGO’s. Many of these groups are single-issue campaigning groups or lobbyists that work hard to influence political opinion and political parties directly and via the media. These range from economic groups to environmental, from governance to charitable, health to education – the spectrum is vast.

This third sector (usually a reference to charities, but comprising all citizen action groups, from sports clubs onwards) is not primarily left of right, but single focus – taking up an issue or cause around some issues. Their influence on government is substantial. Most Government Bills are developed as a result of significant lobbying from single-issue groups. For example, the Bribery Act came into being as a direct result of such lobbying and formal meetings between Government and a diverse range of lobby groups from CBI to NGO’s.

This means that the ancient Greek form of democracy – where every individual is supposed to have an equal say in Government – which was never the norm in most democracies as political parties formed – is now fractured into more layers. Government now relies on the lobbyists and reacts more to them than the community or study groups assembled from the general populace prior to elections.

This means that the left and right of politics (already under strain anyway) are meaningless. Single-issue groups lobby on single issues and political parties, no longer fighting on the issues of left vs right, sway as they are buffeted by those who are able to articulate the issues and now the means to communicate effectively. This means that the individual voter is now even more disenfranchised as it is only a small fraction of the population that is engaged in this process – and that, even at elections, the driving force behind vote-catching is bound to short-term or lobby focused.

A new politics?

In an era of globalization and instant communications, individual nations are less able to maintain an individualist position. Nevertheless, as the Olympics and Paralympics have shown in the UK, national pride remains important and is a reason why the Eurozone crisis will endure much longer than hoped.

However, within this national pride, it is likely to be an era when individualism is also crucial. The mass movements of left vs right are no longer relevant and single issues are much stronger in motivating and exciting.

If there is any truth in this then it is interesting to note the preamble to the Liberal Democrats Federal Constitution:

“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.”

In the nonsense over cabinet reshuffles and personalities, it is probably the case that very few even know where to look for the above statement http://www.libdems.org.uk/who_we_are.aspx  – (which is found on the Liberal Democrat website after its coalition agreement – which is all short-term).

Yet, it could be the clarion call for our age – a liberal theme that is far more “of our age” than the 20th Century arguments of right or left.

If right vs left is truly out of date, then open society, balancing liberty, equality and community, individualism cherished, developing talents, creativity and the rest within a coherent community is a proper and enticing call that should be further developed. Apart from a better focus on the environment (our natural capital) which demands more from us, the preamble is not right or left – it is also not middle ground but moves the argument away from traditional left vs right.

Citizens of the 21st Century world maybe deserve something more from our governing elites that have not moved from their 19th Century models.  How we balance our competing single issues and how citizens get to have their say in the crucial issues that determine how we spend our lives is what 21st Century politics should be about. Maybe parties like the Liberal Democrats should think of the themes that will dominate thinking in the 21st Century. Maybe that is a way to get some common ground with citizens – the voters.