The Big Society versus chilling out

Big society or cafe society, which to choose?

Gosh! Cafe society looks to be both fun and fullfillingGosh! Cafe society looks to be both fun and fullfilling
I have a feeling that before the general election few people took much notice of David Cameron, or anyone from the Tory Party for that matter, going on about 'The Big Society' (TBS). While this was one of Cameron's pet subjects, he did indeed go on about it a great deal, there was so much else to consider. For example there was the economy, a subject both complex and boring. Most people knew, instinctively, that the cuts like the hidden costs would be considerable when they came to be known. There was also the ghoulish factor, watching Gordon Brown and Nulabour disintegrate.

Another thought was that the Tories would get an overall majority and quietly drop TBS having only talked about it to make them sound a bit leftie. Well here we are in the age of the coalition and now here comes TBS for real. Now imagine this is the TV show University Challenge, "your starter for 10 points and no conferring, what is The Big Society"? - - - - - - - - "I shall have to hurry you"! As so few people I've challenged seem neither to know nor care I think Cameron has got himself into trouble here. I wonder if some Tories are annoyed about this? If so it's their own fault. So c'mon, TBS, what is it?

If you search you will find opinions galore on what might happen if TBS goes right. However, few people can say what WILL happen and many feel it's risky. But, and it's a big but, it gets off on the wrong foot by trying to use money in dormant bank accounts, this smells like grave robbing. I detect a growing unease with this aspect of TBS. Why not raid people's lofts too? If my old family home is typical there must be a fair weight of saleable stuff within easier reach than going through the rigmarole of trying for the dead bank accounts.

The fact is TBS is wholly philosophical in nature; so is it going to be practical? When Cameron talks about his 'vision' out come words like 'social action' and 'philanthropy'. He's really keen on 'a new culture of voluntarism' too. What does all this mean and what was wrong with the 'old' cultural norms? Cameron cannot claim to have either invented any of these things nor that they had vanished under Nulabour. It's true that the number of people working for the state had soared and this was part of a scheme to boost employment, at any cost, and to create a culture of dependency.

Even so, such was the quality of the 'service' from central and local government assorted agencies and service providers the public simply lost confidence and, emotionally, withdrew their support. The public reaction to the police is typical, they don't call them so often, in many districts you get the feeling that 'crime is going down' because the victims can't be bothered to report it as a way of reducing their frustration. So dependency on the state goes down but how does 'a new culture of voluntarism' help in that case?

It, TBS, has a jarring twang, it could even be an American Presidential style slogan. Several US commentators see it alongside Clinton's 'New Covenant', Johnson's' 'Great Society', Kennedy's 'New Frontier' and Roosevelt's 'New Deal'. Obama had something to do with 'change', although this is already less well remembered, perhaps even in the land of such sloganeering it is falling out of favour, so why bother here? It won't be long, the first really big TBS failure, before someone links it to 'Strength Through Joy'.

On the other hand it's easy to see why the Tories fell in love with this idea. If you're a 'Small State' disciple then TBS is an ideal counter-weight, in theory. But that was before the election. Now the Tory Party is in coalition with the LibDems. In practice a political party at best ambivalent about the EU is chained to another party fanatically in favour of it. So a smaller UK state runs parallel to TBS but is dominated by a large and growing political confederation. And that's progress?

TBS could end up like John Major's 'Back To Basics' and Tony Blair's 'The Third Way', these things can be sloughed off easily if needs must. The somewhat creepy thing about TBS is we are told it is to target the young. They are to give up their summers to, well to do 'good things'. Speaking on behalf of my young relatives I know they would prefer to 'chill out' and continue to enjoy themselves. And I don't see why not, our MPs have absurdly long summer holidays and don't get into trouble, do they?