At Lib Dem conference where I am courtesy of Charities Aid Foundation and the Charities Commission, whose respective Question Time events I took part in yesterday and today.
The big talking point is the Big Society. What is it? How is it going to take shape? What are the implications for charities large and small. The sector seems to split into three camps. One is deeply cynical, adopting a Unite-like attitude. `What if no-one shows up to the Big Society?' scoffed a TUC delegate, unaware, it seems, of his own movement's drive for a more associcative and communitarian society
For this lot, it's all about mocking the idea that everything can be done with volunteers. Then they switch off.
The middle group, me included, feel energised and optimistic but a bit disenchanted with the rather simplistic and un-inclusive approach of the administration to date. This seems to paint the charity establishment as a fat, left-leaning, self-regarding force of conservatism which mustn't be allowed into the tent. Naive stuff, if you want this agenda to fly.
The third group - and there aren't many of them - are the direct beneficiaries - the chosen few of the Big Society who are being directly sponsored to make it all happen. These are often new arrivals, refreshing new faces which, quite appropriately, have taken new angles on old problems, giving the existing charity sector major food for thought.
Four months into the administration, the Big Society has, perhaps to everyone's surprise, become a defining theme. Cameron himself has nailed his own reputation to its success. The difference between this and a Labour Mega-theme is that there is no master-plan. Indeed, they appear to have gone the other way and we have No Plan.
The truth is that they could have done with saying more. Not much more, but at least a laying out of idea - an opener for discussion. We are at a perfect moment for a national conversation on the issue - but every conversation needs an opener, every party needs an animating spirit.
So too do we need a clear, visible champion for this who can communicate comfortably and who is willing to `put out' in ways which centre the conversation, give it traction and reality. As it is, we're all floundering. Which is a shame because people are willing, at this early stage in the Coalition, to engage and help. Even the traditional charities.
So let's make the Big Society a Big Tent and we will soon be able to give this young idea its underpinning.