Martin Bright

We are not a number ... We are a free man

Text settings

Portmeirion is a surreal place at the best of times. But it gets even stranger when you see Clarence Mitchell, the spokesman for the McCanns taking a stroll through this pink and green mini-utopia, shortly before bumping into Yasmin Alibhai-Brown from the Independent, the historian Simon Schama and Julia Hobsbawn, the mad genius behind this crazy trip.

This bizarre fantasy village on the north Wales coast is best-known as the set for the sixties sci-fi series, The Prisoner. What’s happening here is weirder than that. Two coach loads of journalists, PR folk and business people pitched up here yesterday evening to discuss… well what exactly? How to save capitalism from itself? How to put it out of its misery?

How to find a new way of organising human society? All this while being ferried around in Jaguars and Land Rovers courtesy of the event’s sponsors.

This three-day symposium is called We are Names not Numbers by way of tribute to the original catchphrase of Patrick McGoohan’s character in the Prisoner, “I am not a number, I am a free man.” Discussion has been pretty wide-ranging with a vague focus on the individual in the 21



The panel from the world of business struggled to put a brave face on the economic situation. Alice Sherwood, a retail expert and former head of audience at the BBC Digital Curriculum (whatever that means) did her best to provide an example of a successful retail company. Apparently toiletries from an outfit called Sanctuary did very well over Christmas by providing a cheapish version of luxury for the ordinary punter. Mass-prestige they call it, or “masstige”.

Alice warned that what we were facing looked a bit like a wet afternoon in 1973. It certainly feels that way.

There was a lot of talk of the personalisation of products and the importance of training in the downturn. But only Giselle Bodie of Cision, who do something called “media intelligence”, was frank enough to say that during the downturn most companies would be looking to their own survival first rather than helping the government see us out of the recession.

A second session on “social entrepreteurship”- a cumbersome term for companies set up to do good - was pretty lively. David Aaronovitch of The Times chaired with typically drole scepticism. It was good to hear Suzanne Moore say that some people just don’t want to be entrepreneurs and that she had felt forced into it, both in her professional life and in fighting for decent school places for her children.

I was hugely surprised to find Louise Casey (who was once the homelessness tsar and is now some sort of bad behaviour tsar) really quite inspirational. It’s not often you can say that about Home Office officials. She talked about the importance of maintaining moral values in hard times. She warned against the “walk on by” culture of the 1980s returning. But she also said that everyone in the room with any power or influence should be preparing for the crisis ahead and asking themselves: “What’s my role?”