On the Big Society and a recommendation for a much better blog than this one!

In response to my challenge to local Tories to explain the Big Society, and to say whether they share their Great Leader’s enthusiasm for the idea, a couple of brave Conservative candidates have raised their heads above the parapet. 

One comment comes, of course, from Rachael Bates who comments in true Momma Grizzly fashion: “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.”

Clive asks 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’?”

When reading what Momma Grizzly says, I begin to lose the will to live.  Rachael, you’ve just turned 22, for goodness sake.  Go out, have some fun, get a life.  If I can find the strength to respond, if there are so many examples throughout Brighton (any in Hove?) of the Big Society in action, why do we need Big Government to tell us we need to do it? It is about time we said goodbye to Big clichés and hello to a bit of Original Thinking.

The other Tory to comment was Peter Booth, one of the ill-fated candidates in East Brighton, who says that it is “making little people big! It is that simple. Ideas should start from individuals, work up to groups and then influence government (local and national).”  So, if I get this right, the Big Society that little people have worked in groups and then influenced the government to launch the Big Society?  I thought that it was an idea conceived by David Cameron and forced on an unsuspecting Conservative Party and nation.  Silly me.  But Peter says that “the ‘left’ don’t get it because their only answer is to pour money into everything.  That has proved not to work.”  Pouring money into everything has proved not to work?  I thought the Tories supported subsidising the banks, bankers, etc.  Finally, Peter suggests that the government should “let people decide how their own lives work.”  I DO get it, the Big Society allows Boots, Vodaphone et al decide for themselves how their own tax lives work.

‘Clive’ rejects Peter Booth’s explanation: “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.”

Paul Perrin (UKIP activist par excellance) thinks I am ‘simple’ minded to ask what ‘big society’ is. He says that “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.”

Clive congratulates Paul by observing that when he managed 4 sentences before mentioning the EU and asks if this is a record.

There is more of the Clive / Paul Perrin love in in the comments section of this blog.  If you don’t have a life, you might enjoy the exchanges

Dr Faust has a problem with the Big Society (surely not!).  He writes: “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.”

Christopher Hawtree’s view will resonate with many: “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.”  If you are right, Chris, I imagine it was a brainstorming session of one, DC himself. 

The best comment, I feel comes from ‘Dani’.  (Great to have you on board Dani.  I have been a long term admirer of you and your politics).  She writes: “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.”  Spot on.  Rachael Bates should listen and learn from your experience in Brighton politics over the last 20 years or so.

And finally, Serenus Zeitblom writes eloquently on the subject.  “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.”  Serenus has written a great blog of his own Notes from a Broken Society which I commend to you.  A great read, in fact a must read.  Much better than this blog!

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6 Responses

  1. The columnist Johann Hari did a good turn on this in the Indy recently. He pertinently pointed out that high tax areas states in the US have the most volunteers, low tax areas the least. It’s the same in Europe with high tax areas like Sweden having volunteers in spades and low tax areas like the old Sov Bloc having the least.

    Hari says the reason is simple: a well-funded state can recruit, train and direct volunteers. And in a high-solidarity society, people are less panicked about losing their own jobs and more likely to trust their fellow citizens enough to want to give something back to them.

    Makes sense and shows the Big Society up for the cynical spin it is.

  2. Gosh, I’m flattered – many thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Flattered also – thanks, BPB, for your kind words of welcome.

  4. So Mr (or maybe Ms) BPB
    Our campaign in East Brighton is ‘ill-fated’. Ill-fated usually translates to doomed!
    However much you may think that – we do not.
    I would rather describe our campaign as daring, plucky, hopeful and above all positive!
    We will not indulge in negative personal campaigning against other candidates (the current spat between labour and greens in Queens Park is unedifying and does nothing to boost the image of politicians with the electorate).
    Our campaign is based around ‘a lot of small changes make a big difference’ and above all that is what we seek to be – local councillors dealing with local issues and of course actively participating in debate about the future of our City!
    Yes – it may be David against Goliath in EB
    – yes we are the underdogs
    – and YES we are fighting to win!
    Peter, Kelvin & Chris.

  5. Michael I note your comments with interest

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