Saturday, 17 November 2012


The Cameron flagship of the Con-a-Lib pact known as the "BS" has officially died. It went to the same graveyard as John Majors Back to Basics. The grey man certainly knew how to get back to the basics. The letters BS also have a number of unfortunate acronyms including Bull Shit but to the "Big Society" proponents bull shit was the least welcome acronym of all.

Paul Twivy writing yesterday in the Grauniad read the requiem mass and also screwed down the lid on the coffin of Camerons big society.

I have touched on the Big Society in previous blog postings Here and Here.

"In January 2010 I was approached by the then shadow cabinet – David Cameron, Francis Maude, Oliver Letwin and Nick Hurd – to get involved in "big society". Steve Hilton, one of the prime architects of the idea, told me that the name and style of this movement had been partly inspired by the Big Lunch, the street party movement I had co-founded to bring neighbours together. They wanted to use my experience in helping to turn ideas into practical, on-the-ground realities.
The decision as to whether to get involved or not was one of the most difficult of my professional life. My political experience and sympathies lay elsewhere. The big society is also in many ways just a new rendering of ideas put forward by both Tony Blair (Giving Age) and Gordon Brown (the Council for Social Action). So, I agreed to be the CEO of the Big Society Network, which we launched three months later. I did so on the basis that the network would be an independent, challenging partner to government and that it would focus on helping citizens take practical action. The first aspect of this – the independence – turned out to be horribly naive, which I always half knew or feared would be the case."
"I realised very early on, from my hundreds of meetings with charities, community groups, councillors and the public, that to succeed, the big society needed to be very practical, very simple and backed by tangible investment and action."
"It became rapidly very clear to me that big society suffered from a number of intractable problems. It was seen as a figleaf for the shrinking state and spending cuts. Or as a cynical repackaging of the civic activity that has quietly kept British society intact for hundreds of years. It was party-political, ergo tribal and divisive. The farther away from London and the south-east one went, the more toxic it became. 'Big' also suggested some seismic change, shifting tectonic plates, beyond the influence of mere individuals. Ironic, given that it was precisely designed to be about empowering individuals. 
When I expressed my honest but constructive views about the big society at various meetings, I got quoted out of context by one journalist. This was subsequently misquoted by Ed Miliband at PMQs. Hilton phoned me to tell me that I must never, ever talk about the big society in public again. Fed up with attempts to gag me and with the lack of independence granted to the Big Society Network, I resigned less than a year into the job."


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