What’s The Problem With The Big Society? (3)

I suppose I could just say that the problems with David Cameron’s
re-re-relaunched Big Society are just as I outlined them here:


and here:


A bad idea doesn’t get any better because a few months has passed. But
in the three months since the last re-relaunch the increasing clarity
about the coalition government’s policies and practices throw the
problems into even sharper relief. So let me just reiterate the main
bad bits in the whole slew of badness:

1) Cameron’s ideas of “devolved power” bypass established arrangements
for ensuring fairness (see what’s happening around Free Schools and
the Admissions Code for examples of this) and put power into the hands
of those who can mobilise publicity and resources in pursuit of their
own issues and agenda. They privilege the already privileged. They
also bypass established arrangements for local democracy (see localism
bill and planning, or academies programme for examples) while
dangerously politicising public services that should remain outside
the political sphere (elected police commissioners, oh dear!).

2) Cameron’s “opening up of public services” will replace important,
valued, skilled public service workers with either their newly
redundant selves on low or no pay in third sector organisations,
un-qualified non-experts where revised rules allow (e.g. Free
schools), or staff (again on lower pay) in organisations devoted to
the profit motive (showing “no mercy” to the NHS). Much money is
available for consultants, “change agents”, and people who can drive a
PowerPoint presentation, but there’s nothing but disparagement,
pay-freezes and “at risk” letters for skilled professionals in jobs
Cameron and his cronies don’t even pretend to understand. Lansley,
Gove, May and others are all in trouble because they have engaged in
sweeping idealogical reforms without a good understanding of the
services they seek to improve. The Big Society rhetoric does not
disguise the shabby amateurism of the cabinet. Leave public services
in the hands of the experts, please. Let’s acknowledge that the real
“vested interests” in all this are those who would make money out of
newly privatised services, by exploiting a newly unprotected

3) The ‘encouragement of volunteering’ shows a woeful misunderstanding
of the absolute embeddedness of the funding structures and governance
arrangements of third sector organisations with local government.
These organisations are already delivering many of our public
services, but are doing so currently because they are supported and
funded through local government grants and contracts. This is not a
scandal. This is good, evidence-based commissioning, secured through
good local leadership and held accountable through local democracy. As
this funding disappears, the organisations are not sustainable to
provide comprehensive service delivery, and without supportive local
government infrastructures around them, they can’t hope to adequately
integrate with each other to achieve seamless delivery to clients. I
assume this mistaken view of volunteering arises because Cameron and
his pals don’t do enough of it. Certainly the suggestion that members
of his government should do a day a year just makes me laugh. If
millionaires are too busy making ends meet to have time to volunteer
more than a day a year what does he think the rest of us are doing?
And how will his volunteer army replace the skilled workers he’s so
sanguine about throwing on the scrap-heap.

Mr Cameron – you are fundamentally wrong in your vision for the
so-called Big Society. The biggest clue to your wrongness is the way
that you and your colleagues in the cabinet have ignored some of the
most important mobilisations of community expression for years – the
March 26 March against public service cuts, the #hardesthit protest,
the Save our NHS protests. You and your pals don’t depend on public
services as the rest of us do. We can see that you want to exploit our
goodwill, take away services we value, pay our hard-earned tax
revenues to your friends and – irony of ironies – give yourselves a
pat on the back for any shreds of service that we (the rest of us, who
really are all in this together) manage to fight to retain.

Shame on you!

I may be repeating myself a bit in this blog, but as you
re-re-re-relaunch your shabby idea for the umpteenth time, I’ll be
back again to point out what we all know: your Big Society Emperor has
no clothes….


2 thoughts on “What’s The Problem With The Big Society? (3)

  1. "There is no such thing as society.There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate." Is the famous quote from Thatcher. The bit after no such thing is oddly poetic, beautiful even..A bit like the Zen warrior. Extremely beautiful till you get to the bit where the warrior is hacking an opponent to pieces witha sword, whilst focussing on ’emptiness’. It’s a Zen thing, achieving ’emptiness’Big society seems somehow connected with emptiness, in the sense of devoid.But the sharp eyed amongst you will notice that Big Society is in fact simply the second bit of Thatchers quote, as policy. How can Dave be that much in thrall to her? Well as a psychotherapist I might have one or two thoughts about that. Tell me about your mother Dave?What the type of person that Thatcher is do not get is the contradictory nature of us humans. We are individuals because of of communality. Society makes us, not the other way round. So get rid of society and you get rid of the individual.It’s something to do with dialectics, which I blog a little about here, http://bit.ly/mo9wXd It’s about the inability to hold complexity: or put simply, grow up. As infants we can’t cope with complexity and have to find easy tagets to evacuate out difficult feelings on to. In psycho-dynamic terms this is the primary nurturing object (mom). Now mom, at this point in our development is ‘society’. Because the baby has a limited world view you see.As we develop (grow up) we begin to cope with disappointment and other adult stuff and learn to tolerate it and learn to stop blaming mom, or society.Well most of us do, but some folk, and most notably for this point, some politicians insist on blaming mom for the rest of their lives.Stop blaming mom Dave, get a therapist, grow up and get into complexity. It just aint as scary as you think mate :)hugsNoel

  2. I agree with much of what you say – in fact, we had a little of this discussion at work yesterday (regarding 1) that some of the ideas will favour those with the loudest voices who already hold a level of privilege in society. The problem is that the minority with these loud voices can easily push their kind of services and societies onto the proverbial silent majority. Sometimes I think that Cameron’s big society is imagined in Witney rather than Newham. It is about people who have the luxury to volunteer. Because that is and can be a luxury.

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