At the end of the previous week Big Society was on the ropes. Polly Curtis reported that Nat Wei had to reduce his time on the project, Liverpool Council pulled out of the Governments Vanguard project. This led to a huge amount being written about the concept and where it will go next. Peter Oborne posed the question: Big Society RIP? “The big problem with Cameron’s idea is that it requires time. It means changing the culture of schools, hospitals, local government and the British people themselves. This will not take place overnight. The Big Society could not truly take root for a generation.” 63% of people do not understand ‘Big Society’ well but only 31% think it’s a bad idea. The Writer thinks she likes it, but to be honest is not sure.
On Monday Nat Wei wrote about what Big Society means to him. “Big Society is about a belief that people are often best placed to solve local problems and improve their community, when given the right information, tools, and opportunities.” I challenged those who conflated cuts with Big Society. Phillip Blond also argued that it has nothing to do with cuts. “If Britain was still in the la-la land of finance, leverage-driven growth and asset-bubble inflation – the Big Society would be, in part, its necessary corrective, helping to evenly distribute growth, innovation and prosperity across all of Britain.”
The anger can be understood by reading It’s Mothers Work 10 problems blog. “For this reason, it privileges the ‘wants’ and ‘demands’ of the already well-resourced, aggressive, organised or time-rich over those whose need may be greater but whose capacity for activism is less.” But, as Chris White MP and Nick Hurd MP – Civil Society Minister – blogged, government is working to increase people’s ability to participate. Toby Blume talked about why he remains optimistic. “The resilience and strength of community groups never fails to amaze and inspire me. Communities, even those too readily written off as ‘failing’, have an incredible capacity to bounce back from shock and crisis. And I am confident the community sector will innovate and adapt in the face of adversity.”
Francis Maude listed some of what the Government is doing. The unashamed Big Society romantic – Steve Moore – said the vision is worth pursuing. “Most of all I like the ambition of building a Big Society founded upon an optimism about human nature and a faith in people’s ability to take more responsibility for their lives and those of others. Moreover, it has the potential to restore civic mindedness to its proper central position in our public life.” Nik Darlington on the new Egremont blog covered Cameron’s announcement that £200m would go into the Big Society Bank.
A piece on the No10 blame game soap-opera was drafted by Allegra Stratton for the Guardian.
Back to the ideas, Tim Hughes had some ideas around: “Instead of seeking to bend peoples’ lives to fit participation, we should instead be thinking about how we can bend participation to fit peoples’ lives.” The group Our Society asked everyone to contribute practical ideas for what a free standing platoon should try to achieve. I wonder how many of the five things Dominic Llwellyn suggested to renew Big Society will be done? Julian Dobson took us on a journey from Blair to Big Society to explain why he has some cynicism around how it is being implemented.
Sir Stephen Budd almost choked on his bacon croissant when he read these words from the Times interview with Shaun Bailey. “ ‘Liverpool are one of the most cohesive groups of our society and they would run it (Big Society), the problem is their council.’ Many local authoprities, he says, ‘are attacking the Big Society to try to cover their own inadequacies’.” The Economist thinks it’s an idea worth pursuing: “At least the term has caught on, even if people are doubtful about what it signifies.” Andrew Laird pointed out that radical reform takes time, while Fiona Melville wrote: “The whole Big Society project rests – and will live or die – by how much people engage with it.” The Hoodie Hugger blog concluded that: “You can’t ‘buy’ a Big Society, but you can pay the salespeople.” Luke de Pulford pointed out five reasons why the right of the Tory party should support Cameron’s project. For Fiona Murray Big Society provides mission-driven altruism.
Matthew Taylor from the RSA speculated whether Big Society was ripe for a hostile takeover. “Ironically, Labour is in a stronger position to use Big Society rhetoric; in attacking cuts, in describing the way Labour councils are trying to defend communities from those cuts and even to start describing the future that Labour might want to offer at the next election.” David Skelton concluded: “The response of the left towards the Big Society remains incoherent, disjointed and uncoordinated.” By the end of the week BBC were reporting: “Ed Miliband has called on Labour activists to “take that term ‘big society’ back” from the Conservatives to become the “people’s party” again.” Lib Dems have been pretty quiet but can be very supportive, as Mathew Hulbert shows.
Yesterday Cameron came out fighting for the concept. “The first objection is that it is too vague. I reject that. True, it doesn’t follow some grand plan or central design. But that’s because the whole approach of building a bigger, stronger, more active society involves something of a revolt against the top-down, statist approach of recent years. And neither is it about just one thing.” Matt Chorley reports that next week: “A series of high-profile announcements have been scheduled across the Downing Street media grid after senior figures were spooked by a run of headlines attacking the idea as little more than motherhood and apple pie.”
Instead of killing off ‘Big Society’ the negative stories at the end of the previous week brought the debate out into the open. Though there are still negative things being written and said there has also been lots of constructive and positive comment. Big Society is still in it’s early stages but as the Government will show this week it is a concept that they very much still believe in and will work to make happen.
*Please let me know if I have missed out any good articles/blogs related to Big Society.