Friday, 18 February 2011

A Society That Is Neither Big Or Clever

The third thing, also important, though put into perspective by the revolutions going on elsewhere, is David Cameron's proposed "Big Society". This is the Conservative policy that has in many ways become the flagship policy of the coalition government, or at the least the Tory half. It centres around the idea of councils, and volunteer groups taking up some of the work load from central government, including the running of a whole range of services within communities. It centres around the classic Conservative aim of reducing the power and role of national government and reducing the involvement of the government in every day life. Now anyone who knows me, and probably anyone who only knows me through what i've wrote on this blog, will be aware that i'm a LONG way from a Tory and in many ways despise Cameron, Osbourne and all the other Tory MPs. However at an ideological level i am not entirely against this particular idea. The idea of the concept of community being strengthened, the idea of people doing more volunteer work, of helping each other, of leaving local issues to be run by people who understand those very same issues. And on a completely partisan level, the less direct power and influence David Cameron has on my life, undoubtedly the better.

The major, defining and unforgivable flaw with Cameron's entire philosophy is that he seems to believe that this can be achieved while savagely cutting the funding of the very councils and organisations he hopes will start doing his job for him. I'm not overwhelmed with enthusiasm about Ed Miliband but i loved his question to Cameron during February 9th's PMQ's (a remark brought to my attention by Alastair Campbell) of, and this is a rough quote, "How does Cameron expect people to volunteer at the local library if it's being shut down?". It perfectly summed up the aforementioned giant flaw in the concept of "The Big Society".

The simple reality of the situation is that more funding rather than less is required to set up and organise the situation in which Cameron's envisaged "Big Society" could operate. Without a doubt eventually the government's role could be massively reduced, the work left to willing volunteers, councils in majority control of their own problems, but to reach that point, investment, not cuts, would be needed. Council's require money to set up the necessary facilities, to regulate and monitor the volunteer organisations so that people don't exploit the vacuum left by central government retreating, to provide the volunteers with the equipment and opportunities to make a difference. As a concept "The Big Society" is not without it's good points, as a practical plan to be implemented now in the manner Cameron suggests it is idiotic. The plan is so poorly formed and ill thought through that it is quite worrying it comes from our nation's Prime Minister.

I hope the set backs his plans have suffered recently, especially Liverpool City Council pulling out of a proposed test run due to similar concerns to the ones i have raised, will make the Tory's re-evaluate and either abandon it for now, or at least come back with a much more solid and fully formed plan.

"The Big Society" is not without redemption as an idea, but i fear it is in entirely the wrong hands.

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