A Big Challenge to Brighton & Hove Tories: Do you believe in the Big Society?

David Cameron has failed one of the first tests of politics. If you have a Big Idea and nobody gets it, try to drop it quietly.  Cameron’s Big Idea is the Big Society and not even his mother likes it.  The problem is, nobody understands what the brand is.

Cuts in funding to national and local government, to schools, the NHS and to charities has resulted that the idea has been rejected at birth.

Cameron has said that the Big Society is “my absolute passion”.  Norman Smith, the BBC’s chief political correspondent, said “The Big Society is crucial to David Cameron’s political prospects precisely because it is his Big Idea, his “mission”.  The danger therefore if it flops is that he will be personally identified with that failure and Tory MPs will point accusing fingers towards him for not focusing on a more clear cut, traditional Conservative message.”

But before that, I have a Big Challenge to local Big Conservatives (Rachael Bates, Rob Buckwell et al): What the heck is the Big Society.  Please can one of you explain what your Great Leader is on about, is the Big Society going to feature in May’s local election campaign, and do you want to pledge your unqualified support to Cameron and to his Big Idea?

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18 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Paul Rogers, BrightonPoliticsBlog. BrightonPoliticsBlog said: A Big Challenge to Brighton & Hove Tories: Do you believe in the Big Society? http://wp.me/pxVNs-n0 […]

  2. Cones hotline, anybody?

  3. The problem with ‘Big Society’ for me is that I think its a great idea – if it means that we help and support each other simply because we share the same planet, and that we are stronger when we work together. The trouble for Cameron and the Tories is that it is fundamentally a socialist principle, and so they don’t believe in it, and will never convince us that they do.

    The danger for Labour (in particular) and the Green Party is that they think the kind of services and strutures to bring this about need to be provided by the state – rather than focus on the outcomes that are being sought and harnessing local, voluntary activity. At least the Green Party have more of a recent tradition of community based initiatives. They must resist the move to statism that would undermine this.

  4. Making little people big! It is that simple.
    Ideas should start from individuals, work up to groups and then influence government (local and national).
    The ‘left’ don’t get it because their only answer is to pour money into everything.
    That has proved not to work.
    Let people decide how their own lives work.
    Bottom up not top down. Simples!

    • Money is generally quite handy if you want to set up some local project or other, that’s the problem. Shame their aren’t some lefties in government to pour some out.

      What tickles me is that the right generally accuse the left of being utopian and silly and blah blah blah, yet here we have a notion – lots of people working voluntarily, for nothing – that knocks all that into a cocked hat for daftness.

      People pay their taxes and expect to get something back, not to be told to go away and do it themselves.

      • The largest group of volunteers in the UK are school governors, who recieve no money for supporting and developing local schools. They don’t expect payment, but want to improve things for their own and other people’s children. Hardly qualifies as ‘daftness’.

  5. It is simple minded to ask what ‘big society’ is.

    The government should be looking at *PROBLEMS* and then thinking about solutions.

    But yet again we have a government vanity project ‘Big Society’ looking for problems to solve.

    Only the state can afford such stupid indulgence, because they don’t need to justify it to anyone other then themselves.

    Cameron announced his passion for ‘Big Society’ a month after the EU announced 2011 as ‘The year of the volunteer’. The EU required each member to design and deliver a programme to support this idiocy, and Cameron obliged.

    What is ‘Big Society’? A label that costs us a fortune and gives us nothing.

  6. I don’t “pay my taxes and expect to get something back”

    I expect government to define what it has to do, and then tax to cover the cost of those activities.

    Lazy thinking has left government bleeding individuals dry (because they can) and coming up with all manner of ways to waste what they take. When the people have been fleeced beyond tolerance and can’t pay any more the government are left wondering which waste (that they previously declared essential) to cut.

    • How is a 20 percent standard tax rate ‘bleeding individuals dry’? Personally I don’t mind paying that, or indeed a bit more, though I’d be happier if it was clearer how it’s being spent.

      And if you don’t expect to get anything back – in terms of public services – from the tax that you pay, then I suspect you may be in a serious minority.

      I think there as at least as much lazy thinking in the ‘bash the state’ mentality as there is in government itself.

      By the way, congratualtions on the the earlier post, when you managed 4 paragraphs (very short ones, mind) before mentioning the EU. Is this a record?

      • It maybe 20% basic rate tax but you are ignoring national insurance, vat, community charge, petrol duty, inflated prices to cover the taxes paid by retailers / distributors / manufacturers / suppliers etc.

        When the mobile phone companies paid billions to the government for licences – where do you think the money ultimately comes from?

        When companies pay for ‘carbon credits’ where do you think the money originally comes from?

        When councils pay the EU ‘landfill tax’ for burying rubbish where do you think the money originally comes from?

        Every penny of tax paid to the government originally comes from our labour – we are ones who create wealth, so there is nowhere else for it to come from.

        Paying tax and *then* expecting something back is like giving your money to a stranger in the hope of getting something worthwhile back. It is simply the wrong way around. I expect the state to offer services that have been agreed on, and *then* for it to raise the money it needs to pay for them.

        The government can’t make a move without referring it to the EU – so if you don’t wan’t to talk about it you best avoid talking about politics all together.

  7. You are right about the extent of indirect taxation and I’d prefer more income tax and less of that, because it is fairer (athough I’m in favour of taxing landfill and pollution and I don’t give a toss if the idea comes from Brussels or from Mars, to be honest).

    You are right too about all tax coming ultimately from ‘our’ labour – but you fail to mention there is a big international dimension. Much of the labour that leads to taxes going into the British treasury is done at a cheap rate elsewhere. That’s where the individuals are really being ‘bled dry’.

    Paragraph 6 seems to come close to saying ‘there is no such thing as society’. Are you asking for some kind of individual opt-out on certain taxes? Not a way to run a modern industrialised society.

    As for the EU, we do at least get to vote for a European parliament. We don’t get a vote in American elections, and they have been running our foreign policy since WW2, no matter who gets elected at Westminster.

  8. Dr Faust: I suppose I should have said that it is daft to expect people to work ‘without income’. Which it is, surely?

    I am not for a minute dissing voluntary effort, by school governors or anyone else. I just can’t see any evidence that there is much capacity for expansion in voluntary working – those who can afford to do it (in the sense of both time and money) probably already do.

    In which context it is difficult to see the Big Society as anything other than PR man’s stunt. Cameron knew the Tories were damaged by the Thatcher ‘no such thing as society’ pronouncement, and this was designed to kid just enough people to think they had changed to give them an overall majority.
    It nearly worked.

  9. The Big Society is about encouraging a resurgence of the volunteer sector and rightly saying that the state is not, and should not, be the answer to everything.

    It is about cutting red tape, decentralisation and allowing people to take proper control of their own lives rather than being dictated to by central government.

    There are many fantastic examples throughout Brighton of the Big Society in action and David Cameron is completely right to allow this to grow and flourish. It is about time we said goodbye to Big Government and hello to the Big Society.

    • How exactly is David Cameron “allowing” voluntary activity to grow and flourish? It takes zero effort on the government’s part for ordinary people to get on with organising community activity as they always have.

      But the government can easily shut down a lot of the fantastic community work that is happening in Brighton and around the country, by slashing funding to local government with the inevitable knock-on effect on the grants that sustain community and voluntary organisations.

      Voluntary organisations can’t run on thin air, even those who rely heavily on volunteers.

  10. I suspect that the dreadful title of “Big Society”, which means nothing, was the result of a “brainstorming” session.

    If people are doing something voluntarily, they do not want David Cameron to come along and hijack it for his own purposes.

    • I’ve blogged about the ideology of the big society elsewhere – http://notesbrokensociety.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/big-society-blues/ – but it strikes me that Christopher Hawtree has hit the nail on the head when he talks about a brainstorming session. The Big Society is a fundamentally rootles idea – the brainchild of Tory wonks in search of a big idea with which to connect to the electorate.

      And, like Christopher, I immediately thought of the Cones Hotline, the Citizen’s Charter, John Major’s Back to Basics campaign – all of which seemed to me to have the same roots and all of which became objects of ridicule. They reflect the inability of a political class drawn from an increasingly narrow economic and social base, made up more and more of people who have never worked outside politics, to connect meaningfully with a wider electorate. The political elite may not have noticed, but there’s a big crisis of legitimacy out there.

      Yes, the big society is a shallow con-trick; at its shallowest a wheeze to hand over the work of paid professionals to volunteers. It evokes the image of that stock figure of fun, the well-to-do do-gooder, like Margo Leadbetter or Lynda Snell bossing – and, crucially, judging – the lesser humanity around them. The attack on universalism, and the reliance on voluntarism, powerfully evokes the nineteenth-century concept of the deserving poor and a belief that the gentry knew best.

      Of course there is a more rooted voluntarism, in which people – often working people – came together to form co-operatives, mutual societies, trade unions, non-conformist religious groups like the Salvation Army. But unlike Cameron’s vision these were based on ideas of universalism and rights – the antithesis of Cameron’s voluntarism and the basis of the idea of state provision. What the Conservative Party cannot understand – not least as its social and economic base narrows – is that the big state they despise is itself a product of, and to a considerable extent still moulded by – voluntarism. But it’s a voluntarism a world away from the Hyacinth Bucket-like ramblings of the twenty-first century Tory wonk.

      So, the Big Society is a con; it’s a flag of convenience to allow the Tories to hack at the state and cut expenditure; it’s a vacuous creation of an increasingly rootles political class; and its a betrayal of what voluntarism really means.

      • You’d know all about shallow con-tricks, wouldn’t you, Sir Anus Zitbum? You portray yourself as a liberal, but in reality you’re an online thug at the forums you moderate, deleting members whose views you dislike, and behaving like the worst kind of demagogue. Thank Christ we don’t have you or the Stalinists you adore in charge, eh? Or you’d have us all in the Gulags inside ten minutes, you moronic madman!!!

        You’ve been outed as a lying, abusive Stalinist sack of excrement who does a nice line in anti-democratic abuse of office and online harassment of others.

        Have a “lovely” weekend, you beardy wanker!!!

  11. Rachael: could you explain how you are promoting ‘a resurgence of the volunteer sector’ by cutting their grants?

    The Standard yesterday ran a short piece about a London-based voluntary network which had been excluded from a Big Society promotional event because it supports the ‘living wage’ campaign.

    Perhaps Rachael and her friends can explain how this squares with not ‘being dictated to by central government’?

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