The quest for good governance is a long and ongoing struggle. When Colette and I were on our honeymoon in Italy we saw a lot of paintings, but it was ‘The Allegory of Good and Bad Government’ by Ambrogio Lorenzetti that impressed us the most. It is a series of six paintings depicting the effects of good and bad governance, painted for the Councillors of the republican city state of Siena in 1339.
Today, as in the Fourteenth Century, ensuring peace and freedom from the fear of violence are the most basic requirements of governments. This week a historic peace deal has been signed in Columbia ending 52 years of civil war that left 260,000 people dead and six million internally displaced. Congratulations go to President Santos and to the Farc rebel leader Timoleon Jimenez, to the Columbian people and to all those who helped bring this agreement into being. President Santos said “Columbia celebrates, the planet celebrates because there is one less war in the world”. There are of course still far too many countries wracked by civil war and chaotic and sporadic violence: Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Southern Sudan, Zaire to name but a few.
If ensuring peace and freedom from fear of violence is the most basic requirement of governance, what then in the highest aspiration of governance? Scandinavia has for decades led the world in good human rights, social justice and much else. Danish politicians like Ida Auken are trying to establish a circular economy to make the best use of resources, and the Danish Green Party is campaigning to end the import of fossil-fuelled cars by 2025. The Swedish coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens have created a strong economy with falling unemployment, strong economic growth, where the deficit has been eliminated and they are now introducing a system to give tax incentives to people who repair all manner of goods rather than throw them away and buy new. This should reduce the materials through-put of the economy and create more jobs. Scandinavia is pioneering so many ideas focused on ecological sustainability and social justice, and that for me is the very essence of good governance in the Twenty-first century.
The Danish word hygge is sometimes translated as ‘cosiness’. It is also associated with being comfortable in ones community, with social solidarity, with being at peace and with happiness. Perhaps ensuring it is how all people feel should be the highest ambition of governments. We all have a lot to learn from Scandinavia.