In my first blog post on Platform 10, I commented that “[the] Big Society is so very often considered a domestic phenomenon.” This isn’t surprising, given that we have a huge array of domestic problems from a dangerous high level of public debt, to social breakdown, an aging population and weak economic growth.
But we aren’t alone. Sure, Germany has had a good economic recovery but it is facing a serious skilled labour shortage made worse by a population becoming more and more skeptical to immigration, increasingly divided.
America – once seemingly destined for a century of global dominance – is also deeply divided socially and is having to face with a mountain of a deficit which makes the UK’s look like a mere mole hill, not to mention military commitments which are stretching resources to their limits.
No matter where you look across Western civilization, since the economic crisis, things are looking pretty tough one way or another.
The Big Society is important because it is an attempt to try and turn this around. We need to create an economy which can grow collaboratively and not leave in its wake new inequalities which can hold populations back. We need a more united society, one where all citizens can feel that they have a stake and one which can meet the challenges of tomorrow.
The Big Society seeks to empower and encourage, not emasculate, civil society. It would rather decentralize and not direct. It is hoped by achieving this we can create new citizenry which is active, higher in attainment, more competitive and stronger than today.
But we are not living in a bubble. We don’t have a hundred years to solve these issues. We might not even have ten.
We are making these changes in the face of unprecedented competition globally, especially in the East.
The point is that we don’t a choice in terms of trying to solve these problems. Those that would try to blow off the Big Society as a fad and oppose any effort to radically change the broken economic and social system (be they on the left or right) that we presently operate are living in denial.
We cannot merely go on believing that the world owes us a living – to use perhaps one of the most tired clichés in politics. It doesn’t and it won’t keep paying unless we can pull our weight.
If we allow our public debt to rise, we will be crippled under its weight and ship billions in interest every year to the sovereign wealth funds and state banks abroad. If we allow our society to remain divided and under achieving then we will continue to see jobs pour out of our country to the more competitive (and younger) populations elsewhere. If we do not create a more efficient and effective welfare system – then we will have fewer and fewer resources each year to put into looking after the most vulnerable.
This is not a call for open free market fundamentalism. Of course we need competition, private sector growth and ambition – but we also need to lift everyone up together – otherwise we will create a wave of social, economic and political problems which are incredibly costly in the long term and costs which will force us to raise taxes to pay for them, killing off future economic growth.
The Big Society project has a clear economic dimension as well as a social and political one and Britain is leading the way in seeking to pioneer this rejuvenation of western democracy – to create a system which can compete with the economic juggernauts of China and India, without compromising our democracy or standards of living.
We need to rise to this challenge and David Cameron needs to be firmer in articulating it.
This isn’t just about saving the local charity shop down the road – it is trying to save our very way of life. So everyone should be hoping that the Big Society succeeds.
The only other alternative is the slow but inexorable decline of the economic and political governance of the West to be replaced by a new uncertain global system governed from the East.
I know which I’d rather choose.