Another week closer to the new government and I’m still bogged down trying to decipher our Big Society. It struck me that if an international development programme was all about ‘empowering communities on the ground to take charge of their own lives’ and ‘doing away with centralised donor conditions’ I would be cooing along happily.
It’s also worth noting, in a time where we’re routinely told radical progressive politics have no place here, the sentiments and language of Big Society is reminiscent of Hugo Chavez. You’re left to wonder what could have been if New Labour ever dared to tap into this.
In The Observer today, Cameron powerfully outlines the ideals of a bottom-up society.
So if parents want to set up a special school to fill the void in their locality, why should we not help them? If nurses believe they can deliver a better service, why should we not encourage them to form a co-operative and do it themselves? If a pioneering social enterprise can help people escape the spiral of drug addiction and crime, why should we not let them? If a private company can get people off benefits and into jobs, why should we not allow them?
Why indeed? Reading the (Orwell Prize shortlisted) blog of a guy who works in care for ‘bad teenagers’ emphasises the problems of over-centralised social care.
The criticism is not with the ideal but simply the fact that the Tories have committed so little funding for it. The Big Society bank will mop up dormant bank accounts, but is it really enough to unfurl a massive programme of social reform? The government is likely to spend £170bn on benefits alone this year, and we can see from this lovely picture how much is spent elsewhere.
Without the investment in things like Community Links I guess Big (Broken?) Society is just an excuse to cut the support government offers. So my questions to you all are, what do you make of the ideas? Could there be a left-wing version of the Big Society? What would it entail?
My first suggestion would be pushing co-operatives and co-operative-type legislation into the private sector, not just the public sector as Cameron suggests. What else?