The “big society” message is not working

Posted on

The Guardian reports that even the Tories aren’t convinced by David Cameron’s “big society” message.

This is unsurprising. The idea is that lots of people should volunteer and take over the role of the state in supplying social services. There will be no law to back this up, no provision to let people have time off work to do this, no compensation for their effort.

It’s a ludicrous idea. It assumes a world in which there is a class of very able people who do not need to work for a living, who want to give and do not wish to consume, and who will make sound judgement for all without direction of control of any sort to make sure optimal outcomes result.

This world does not exist.

It harks back to the time of a rentier class.

To a time when business owners, professio0nal people, medics and so on could spend most afternoons either on the golf course or sitting on the odd charitable committee to pass the time whilst their minions made the profit for them.

To a time of non-working wives.

To a time when mortgages were small.

To a time when “I consume, therefore I am” was not the mantra for living.

Jonathan Raban deconstructs the idea beautifully in an article for the London Review of Books entitled “Cameron’s Crank” – a title referring to Philip Blond, the so called “Red Tory” who I admit I steered clear of when he sought to make overtures to the Tax Justice Network on his way to becoming Cameron’s darling. As he notes:

Stripped of its obscurantist rhetoric and foggy sermonising, Red Tory issues a moral licence to government to free itself from the expensive business of dispensing social services and to dump them on the ‚Äòthird sector’ of charities, voluntary organisations, non-profits and the like. It won’t make Britain a more virtuous, civil, courteous or moral society. It certainly won’t restore us to that happy state of grace and comity in which, apparently, we all lived in medieval times.

That’s a good summary of the absurdity, and impossibility, of this idea.

No wonder it’s being rejected.