Tuesday, July 20, 2010

David Cameron reveals 'big society' vision – and denies it is just cost cutting.

Ever since David Cameron first talked of his vision of a "big society", I have been scratching my head trying to work out what exactly it means. Cameron promising to deliver communities with "oomph" leaves me perplexed as I have have no idea what he is talking about.

He denied to the BBC that this was simply another way of making cuts, even as his communities secretary - the man who ought to know what Cameron is planning to do within communities - directly contradicted him.

Cameron denied his plans were a cover for public-spending cuts. Speaking on BBC Breakfast, before his speech at Liverpool Hope University, he said: "This is not about trying to save money, it is about trying to have a bigger, better society."

The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, said that "big society" was about getting more for less.

Ed Miliband has said that this is "essentially a 19th-century or US-style view of our welfare state – which is cut back the welfare state and somehow civic society will thrive," he said.

From what I can gather the "big society" appears to be reliant on volunteers taking over services which the government is cutting, something which Cameron bizarrely thinks of as "the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power" from the state to individuals.

Michael Stephenson, of the Co-op Party, said Mr Cameron was guilty of a "big con". He added: "It's not handing power back, it's opening the path to privatisation and reduced services."

Why is it, no matter what title the Tories give to any project, it always boils down to this? Reducing the role of the state and allowing the private sector free reign? In this case done under the guise of redistributing power to the local community.

I mean let's be frank, Cameron is only using the phrase "big society" as a way of making the Con-Dems seem different from Thatcher's conservatives, as she famously said that there was "no such thing as society".

But, at the heart of his big idea, there is certainly the notion of volunteers. The government is going to stop doing things and is asking tax payers to step in and do what it previously did, only you are being asked to do it for free.

Apparently this is, in Cameron's eyes, a form of emancipation.

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