The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
by Peter

It's a book, of course: the work of Lib Dem guru, David Boyle. It features on the ConservativeHome reading list for moral Conservatives. David Boyle is someone you either love or like, and I am someone who likes him. I probably would not have got around to reading this book if not for the coincidence that, a few days after seeing it on that Tory reading list, reaching for a completely different book in a bookshop. I found it a few inches from my eyeball. I saw this as some kind of karma and added it to my shopping trolley (ie placed it on top of a sleeping baby in a Maxi Cosi - no, not on her face).

In between the seasonal over-indulgence, I read the book through. Perhaps at another time of year I would have given it a more sympathetic reading (but don´t bet on it - books don´t come to my house for sympathy, you know).

It is not easy to summarise the argument. Boyle himself says "I am only too aware that there may be contradictions in this". But his attempt is "People are simultaneously reacting against the artificial world they are forced to live in - much as they may enjoy some of it - and rediscovering the importance of authenticity".

What's it all about? Well, Boyle comes up with ten attributes of the "real". Real is ethical, natural, honest, simple, sustainable, unspun, beautiful, rooted, three-dimensional (think Forster) and human. (Just writing it down makes you realise how difficult it would be to argue the opposite point of view - although conceivably more fun.) The primary contrast is with the "fake authenticity of a brand name". This seems reasonable enough, although my inner contrarian could not suppress the counter-argument that, for consumers, authenticity is essentially a brand without a label.

The economics of the book includes celebrations of local business ("if you've lost your network of small shops, the chances are that most of the spending power of the community will be siphoned off...A network of local businesses means that local money is used over and over again in the vicinity, creating wealth each time"). It also includes some extravagant condemnation of busineses as such:

In the end the main problem is that companies just aren't real. They are legal fictions clawing their way to some kind of reality, yet undermining that process by behaving as if they have only have two dimensions. So often they behave like corporate brontosauri, blundering along as Anita Roddick says, unable to feel anything more sophisticated than greed or fear. They can´t because, like computer programmes they can only demonstrate what's programmed in...'A corporation cannot laugh or cry,' said David Loy of Tokyo's Bonkyo University...

I'll spare you the rest of the paragraph, but you get the picture. At times this book is depressing close to those American management books that have a neo-Miltonic approach to the oxymoron and amount to nothing more than advert for the inspirational (if expensive) seminars run by the author.

Boyle writes well on the marketing of "authenticity": I couldn´t help thinking he will be raking in some corporate dollars from those two-dimensional, greedy and fearful dinosaurs hoping (if they could but hope) to sell their products to the New Realists of whom Boyle writes. There is also a good section on Real Food. Boyle saw the cult of the tv chef as an indication of people's yearning for authenticity. This may be true, but Boyle is alive to all the contradications here.

Well that's enough for now - and more negative than I intended to be. I will write something in a day or two on numbers and targets (Boyle hates these too). In the meantime, although I cetainly got something out of the book, I don´t think this should be added to the essential reading list for Lib Dems. But let me know if you disagree (and David Boyle, if you're reading this, let me know why I'm wrong!)
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 6:21 pm  
  • At 28 December, 2005 01:48, Blogger James said…

    I have to say it is the weakest of David's books that I have read. I'd recommend the Tyranny of Numbers though (if only because the Americans changed the title).

  • At 28 December, 2005 09:29, Blogger Peter Pigeon said…

    I havn't read tgat either, James. Perhaps I should before I commenton the target-setting section of this book. OTOH one can overdo the research...

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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


The Apollo Project seeks to put together new ideas on policies and campaigning to help broaden the appeal and enhance the impact of the Liberal Democrats.

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