David Cameron Stands By Big Society; Others Stand Askance
The ‘Big Society’ debate continues vigorously (13 February 2011), not least because Prime Minister David Cameron has himself chosen to write about it in The Observer (‘Have no doubt, the big society is on its way‘). But Cameron’s optimism is not shared by everyone, as many respondents to his piece have very clearly demonstrated.
It really does appear, in the current political climate, as if the Coalition Government’s intention is to raze the ground first, and then permit selected and new projects to (re-)emerge into the community as part of the Government’s Big Society plan. Few of us can see how extensive public and third sector blood-letting (income stream reduction), even if there’s a bit of a reverse transfusion later, is an intelligent, constructive or honest way forward.
Liberal Democrats on the ground need to be pressed very hard on this. Do they really believe that David Cameron’s Big Society as currently presented will deliver?
State dependent or affluence dependent?
It’s probably true that in some communities there are people who depend on the state and don’t understand that they have (some small degree of) freedom to do things differently; but it is equally true that people who have known only affluence often don’t begin to understand the massive weight of worry and inertia – some of it fundamentally because of lack of opportunity to be otherwise – which burdens people who have almost nothing.
People of privilege might believe from their rarefied experience that in social enterprise they have discovered something new, but many of those who live and (if they still can) work at ground level know the unreality of what David Cameron is saying.
Contemporary Britain is complex place
And there is another really critical issue as well: Contemporary Britain (UK) is a technically very complex (‘advanced’) and densely populated country. There’s no point at all in harking back to romanticised stories of how folk helped each other out in some mythical past.
The era of do-gooding with no co-ordinated guidance and support is very largely past. Nor is it likely to return, however much those of a conservative inclination might wish it to.
Densely populated and complex societies absolutely must have mechanisms from the centre to keep things on an even keel.
Fairness is essential for sustainable futures
What’s needed is an even(ish) playing field, so that people can coexist even though there is fierce competition for increasingly scarce resources, environmentally and in other ways.
Avoiding further population growth would help. Even now only about half of conceptions are intended, so people obviously still don’t always know how to limit their families to just the number of children they want – surely an education and informational role for the state here somewhere, given the future costs in many ways of the thousands of extra people who are currently born sadly univited?
But we also need to understand that the state has a fundamental responsibility to ensure a degree of equity and sustainability in society generally, and between its various communities. Why should anyone enter politics if they don’t want to accept that responsibility?
The ‘small state’ can’t resolve these massive problems
The ‘Big Society’ certainly won’t – and by definition of it being ‘small state’, couldn’t – resolve things now.
We are not all in this together as matters stand. Perhaps the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats inside government don’t even agree about what the state must as a minimum deliver.
Densely populated technological societies require complex and responsible governance, not de-governance as the Coalition seems to be intent on establishing (largely without a mandate) before anyone can stop them.
Halting destruction is in the gift of Liberal Democrats
Will the juggernaut of cuts and closures grind to a halt before it’s too late?
Liberal Democrat politicians are the only people who can actually stop the destruction now. They, as Vince Cable has acknowledged, hold the ultimate levers in the corridors of power. They could very honorably cross the floor, or they could simply refuse point blank to support the speed of the cuts.
Whether they choose to do any of this may depend on whether the electorate grasps the situation in time to make such brave moves by LibDem MPs the option of preference. But they will have to do it soon, or it will be too late.