Despite a news conference, some interviews and several comment pieces, I still don’t get exactly what The Big Society is supposed to represent; or what, in reality, it will deliver. Cameron’s press conference this morning certainly leads us to believe that, for him at least, this is the Conservative’s reason for being.
“There are the things you do because it’s your passion,” he said.”Things that fire you up in the morning, that drive you, that you truly believe will make a real difference to the country you love, and my great passion is building the big society.”
But still not much of a clue on how it is going to change Britain for the better. The early examples given this morning – a local buy-out of a rural pub, efforts to recruit volunteers to keep museums open, support to speed up broadband supply, and giving residents more power over council spending – were an eclectic mix but nothing to make the public stand-up and take notice.
But then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. My experience is that if it feels like gesture politics, then often that is exactly what it is. With Gove effectively redesigning education policy on the back of a cigarette packet; Rawnsley seeking to dismantle the NHS; and Osborne relishing 25% across the board cuts with ideological vigour the Tories are in desperate need of an alternative news agenda. Enter stage left ‘The Big Society’ – nobody knows what is, but then that is rather the point. What is more, it might even transfer accountability and cost away from the state – as Eric Pickles acknowledged:
“If people are doing things for free then you don’t have to pay public servants to do them for you.”
Don’t be fooled by the warm words about power to the people – this is a cold, calculated attempt to bring a different narrative to the new coalition government. There will be no dramatic shift from the centre and if there is it will the product of swingeing cuts, not an orchestrated attempt to devolve power. This is nothing more than an attempt by Cameron to help sweeten the bitter medicine currently being delivered by the rest of his cabinet. In short this is not The Big Society, it is The Big Fraud.