Big society and bad policies

Big muddle, but society foots the bill

Bad policy, droppedBad policy, dropped
The big society. It's hard to know where to start. For example, is it the Big Society? Is it capital letters to start the thing off; big letters for a big idea? It's fair to say that at the general election many people were desperate to get rid of Gordon Brown. Equally fair is to say there were not enough of them to give David Cameron an overall majority. This is important as the BSoc is now causing so much bother that it's right to wonder if, with more of a mandate, Cameron would have had the confidence to drop the thing. The Big Society was not a big noise on the run-up to the election, perhaps Cameron is holding onto it as a result of post-election dynamics. The Tory coalition with the Lib Dems has ruined more than it has created. The Lib Dems hang in shreds and the Tories are forced to act so carefully it looks more like dithering than care. With the Big Society policy the Tories can try to out-Lib the Lib Dems. Had the Tories got the mandate to act alone we can imagine it would be very different now, the Tory party would have 'moved on'.

Common sense tells us that Big Society is the opposite of Big State, but what else do we know? Well it does seem that size matters. For 'Small is Beautiful' was also once a very powerful creed. The book of the same name was published by Ernst Friedrich Schumacher in 1973, Cameron would have been 7 years old at the time. The title was seen as a direct assault on the concept of economy of scale that had led to ever bigger factories on the assumption this was better. This belief had been the dominant force in most continental countries as the main part of their post war recovery plan. Only a shortsighted businessman encouraged by an ignorant politician could have thought this was a sensible policy to adopt. But by 1973 this policy, 'big is better', was clearly causing damage so Scumacher's book was well timed and favourably received. An example in the UK was the once healthy and diverse motor industry. It had declined in not only the number of functioning factories but in total volume output. True some of the manufacturers had gone out of business due to their own stupidity but of lot of damage had been imposed by Tory governments.

Yet to this day the Tory party is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It cannot say that market forces might produce less than perfect results; the 'wisdom' of the market is as good as a religion to them. It cannot lean towards yet more regulation either. The Labour party do that and they have not only claimed the territory but messed it up. Perhaps it is this dilemma that is at the root of the fumbling that has marked out the Big Society. How can a government that wants to promote the Big Society which means an end to Big State believe in an even bigger political confederation? There's no point in trying to give more powers to the residents of Witney on the one hand while giving even more away to Brussels with the other.

The forest policy was a litmus test for the coalition. The result shows they can't see the wood for the trees. The idea was that the government need not bother with the Forestry Commission. Supporters of the policy asked "why should the government grow trees"? They also let us know the Forestry Commission makes a loss. Then Cameron went about suggesting that local communities should, somehow, but he never explained exactly how, own the forests. Why, did he want them to lose money instead of the Forestry Commission? This takes us back to the small is beautiful idea, why not just encourage individuals to plant trees?

Bad policy, keptBad policy, kept
The minister responsible for the failed (should that be felled?) forest plan is Caroline Spelman. When in opposition she led a valuable campaign to stop the over development of urban back gardens. This had come-about due to stupid planning laws introduced by Labour. This campaign to retain urban tranquility is very much of the small is beautiful concept. While the forestry policy is the very worst example of bigger is better. The question must be what happened, on the way from opposition to government what went wrong? An ideal way of dealing with the forests would have been to break them up and sell them in smaller areas with suitable protective covenants in place. This is how privately owned farms works within National Parks.But then the Tory party is too squeamish to contemplate breaking up the banks so expecting them to do the right thing with a lot of timber is a tree too far. As you might expect their critics have been quick to describe them as nothing more than a row of planks! Anyway why buy a forest only to find a local authority quango kills your trees? See HERE.

The supporters of the Tory party turned out in force to 'help' with this U turn. Fraser Nelson of the Spectator said -

To drop a bad policy is a sign of strength

Well yes it is. But hang on, the Spectator has generally steered clear of the coalition's energy policy. Now that is a bad policy and will really damage society. Cameron may have made himself popular with some people by having his own wind turbine on his roof, small is beautiful again, but the coalition policy of covering the UK with inefficient windfarms is a clear case of big is bad. The Tory party cannot work out the simple dynamics of society, cannot understand the ideal scale for ventures. Yes the public would like lower taxes and less of the poke-nosed officialdom that pries into wheelie bins to check on what we throw away and misuses the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to do so. The the public would also like good government to make up for the years of bad stuff from Labour. The cuts which the public voted for are, so far, only £2billion more in scale than those proposed by Alistair Darling, this is weak government, not good government and the wider public, (big society?) knows it.