Monday, February 14, 2011

Big is the Word..

You can't move for the Big Society at the moment. It's everywhere, like the Very Large Bloke on the bus, trying to edge past but, without meaning to, putting his armpit in your face.

Clearly, it's time for the other Big Man (in Downing St) to rescue the Big Society following the loss of Lord Nat Wei to employment of the paid variety. Cameron's intervention was a sure sign that there was nobody really Big enough (or both willing and able) in the current line-up to sell the idea to our Sceptical Isle.

Personally, like most people of the centre ( I am pro Big Society. I recognise its critique of the creeping state and its desire to place power back in the hands of communities and individuals. Love it. It's what I'm all about too.I see every day of my life how much more could be achieved if we didn't have so much State.

But changing the country is a bit like changing a massive company. Culture shifts slowly. You need to work very hard on gaining agreement about what's wrong and then start working up ideas, then solutions about the new world. More than any other policy, you can't just pour this stuff on, like Brill cream, and remould society.

Which is why the left's objections sound so powerful. How can you volunteer in a library asks Ed Miliband, when it's closing down? He's right, of course. It takes ages to develop the skills and confidence in communities to take things over.

I am working with a group right now to take over a community centre with a £35k turnover. It's taken months just to get a business plan. And these are quite capable citizens. As a response to cuts, Big Society looks painfully inadequate. Cameron has now started to address this but the damage, I fear may be done.

I have to go to Council this week to vote against Suffolk's budget. Nearly all our youth services are going, and the libraries have a three month stay to allow community bids to run them. We have put in an amendment listing equivalent savings, most of which are cashable. Unlike Labour, we're thankfully not going down the 'cut's aren't necessary' route.

However it is good to see Ed Balls back isn't it? He's great value on the economy, even through he's a Deficit Denier, and he knows how to put one on the Coalition.

What I fear no politician can current tell us is much about where our country is going long-term. We have got by so far by climbing the value-chain as our old industries migrated overseas. While I am sure the tree has many more branches to climb, I am not sure how many jobs that will sustain.

Indeed if we didn't have the English language, a fortunate time-zone and a knack, as a country, for inventiveness, I would be very worried indeed about how we are going to make a living in 30 years time, as China and others supplant us in science, technology and, one day, financial services.

When I am in my old people's home - or more likely my Elective Life Termination Suite - I will probably be looking out on a world which is not longer US and Europe dominated, but in which, like Australia and New Zealand now, we're a quiet corner with the real action thousands of miles away. I just can't see even British soft-power surviving more than a generation.

How 'Big' a society we will be by then is one to ponder. However, we will, beyond a modium of doubt, be a very Old one.


Anonymous said...

Cheerful for a sunny spring-like day Craig.

Rob 'Arris said...

Its a correct assessment though - although i am not as convinced as you are about the Big Society. Its simple to be cynical and i am disproportionately good at that but Cameron has chosen such a flimsy mantra without substance, strategy or even clear objectives. And he has chosen to wander seemingly alone and desolate in search of support for his vacuous and empty idea. The notion of local control and power i support, but i still havent seen anything that tells me what the Coalition actually means - give me a blimmin blueprint!
We already have communities that develop innovative and user led services both benevolent and commercial. We have communities that dont want to or cant contribute to that because they are busy caring or bringing up kids or simply working to pay the mortgage. We have retired folk that give a bit back when they have the time and they are mobilised by a 3rd sector that is able to do that and provide cheap services to disadvantaged groups. We have people who dedicate most of their free time to community activities, running the kids football team etc. Its what we call diversity and difference!
If its about devolution of power, then its about politics surely; if thats the case then be up front about it and call it what it is cos in my view big society already exists in respect of volunteering. If its more than that then show tell David.