He seems to think that there is some great conspiracy to entrench government control, but to stop government spending and activities.
I can’t believe we’re still having to explain this. But let’s give it another go.
We live in a democracy. We are governed by consent, not force. We are a developed society with enormous freedoms and choices in all sorts of areas – and, by the way, the point of the Big Society is to increase those freedoms and choices in areas where most people don’t currently have them. It is easier to encourage people to do something that makes sense to them than it is to force them to do something that doesn’t.
Nudging is about making it easiest to make the right choices. A first step in this is ensuring people actually make a choice at all – so for example, recent changes to legislation mean that now, when you apply for a driving licence, you have to choose whether or not to opt in to the organ donor register. You can – of course – opt out but you have to actually make the choice rather than just ignoring it.
The Big Society would be happening with or without the cuts. It is not about saving money (though of course we all have to). It is about enabling people to make choices – often in areas where they currently have none – that suit them best. Take the Free Schools programme – why should the only people with any choice in schools for their children be people who can afford to send them private, or to move into a ‘desirable’ catchment area? It’s immoral that we spend this much money on schools that fail to prepare children for the future, and I for one am glad that we’re attempting to do something about that. As I’ve argued before, we are failing our society and ossifying social mobility if only rich people have the opportunity to make the most of themselves.
Where I think Dave Clements is onto something is when he says, “The big society… is based on people … not relying on the state to make decisions for them”. He says that as if it’s a bad thing. I fundamentally disagree. It is not good for people to feel that they have no control over their circumstances. Conservatism – if it is an ‘ism’ at all –is about individuals, communities and society doing what is best for them, making the most of what is available and succeeding to the best of their abilities.
Dave Clements’ piece is a weird paranoia about ‘The Tories’ and their baby-eating tendencies. It assumes too that governments are actually far more capable than they really are. His final paragraph asks whether we can be trusted to run our communities if the government doesn’t trust us to make informed choices about feeding ourselves or educating our children – once again, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the government’s agenda is. It is entirely about informed choices. It is about signalling what the best choice is – but ensuring we have the choice to make the wrong choice as well.
He fails to acknowledge that we are nudged – influenced – all the time, by advertising, by peer pressure, by experience, by knowledge of what is and isn’t socially acceptable, and by what the state will and won’t do for us. We do all have the capacity to ignore those nudges – and in areas where a government is the biggest voice, it has the responsibility to create the conditions that enable us to make the best choices.