I didn't get a chance yesterday to comment on David Cameron's speech to the Conservative party conference.
It was a strange affair. He said very little that made any coherent sense, accusing Labour - rather than the private sector - of causing the financial collapse, which left him speaking a language all of his own, where black was white and the greatest hope for the UK is to embrace "the Big Society"; a notion which Cameron has been pushing for quite a while, but which most of us still don't understand.
It's something to do with him closing down our local facilities, but volunteers taking them over. You know, a Nirvana where we now do for nothing jobs for which people were previously paid. In fairness to the Tories, they appear to be as puzzled about what he is talking about as the rest of us are.
That's how out there Cameron's "big society" notion is. He is now abandoning Thatcher and the Tories love affair with individualism, indeed, he calls such a notion selfish and, bizarrely, attaches it to New Labour.
The coalition, he said, was not all about cuts, but "an attempt to create a country based not on Labour's selfish individualism but one based on mutual responsibility". Labour, he said, was now the party of the status quo: "We are the radicals now, breaking apart the old system."
Tackling one of its most common criticisms, he said of his core idea: "The big society is not about creating cover for cuts but an attempt to create a citizenship that is not simply a transaction in which you put your taxes in and get your services out. When we say 'we are all in this together' that is not a cry for help, but a call to arms."
However, he stopped short of claiming the big society could simply replace the government, an impression he regretting giving in last year's conference speech.
The repeated emphasis on the "big society" frustrated some party activists, who regard it as too elusive a concept and a flop on the doorstep at the last election.
Some others reviewed this speech about nothing:
Though fairness was billed as the theme, the speech actually turned out not to have a theme at all, and fairness emerged as only one short under-developed passage among all the other short and under-developed passages. His idea of fairness was entirely limited to the relationship between the average taxpayer and the benefit claimant and based on the perception that now seems to be driving Conservative thinking, that there are large numbers of people turning their back on available work for the pleasure of hanging round all day "on their sofa".It's a classic Thatcher technique where the unemployed are blamed for their own predicament. They are "Social Security scroungers" and, by implication, responsible for their own plight because they choose to lay "on the sofa" rather than to seek employment.
John Harris had, I thought, a very good notion about where Cameron gets his idea of "the Big Society":
And Aditya Chakrabortty highlights what I found the most disgusting aspect of Cameron's speech:
At the tail-end of the election, we made a film in Cameron's constituency: Witney, where the Cotswolds blur into Oxfordshire. A few people we met said the villages therein had undoubtedly played some role in the idea of the "big society". And fair play to them: the charity shops, summer fetes, scout troops etc did amount to what some people call "social capital", and a kind of high-end version of the good(ish) society. Note also: hardly any poverty there, a lot of retired folks, plenty of millionaires, no real sense of the rat-race.
Which brings me to that speech.
Hey you! Do you want to set up a free school? Be a special constable? Turn your workplace into a mutual? Take this or that service off your council and somehow run it yourselves? Put on a fete, or open a charity shop?
It's a nice idea. But watch the film we made during Labour conference about the lives of even pretty affluent people in the Mancunian suburb of Altrincham. They are time-poor. They barely have enough hours spare to feel they're being good parents. Thanks to the cuts, their lives will be getting even more stressed and harried. And then – and forgive me for a bit of class politics here – they behold a very wealthy man with a cut-glass accent telling them their country needs them, it's all about the "big society", and they need to get with it.
Most of this will either sound dreamy and impenetrable or extremely patronising, or both.
Let us be clear: this goes way beyond the usual conference grandstanding – it's a cynical rewrite of the past couple of years. A massive failure of the private sector has been Photoshopped into the fault of the state.Cameron can't even be honest about how we got into this mess, as he is so determined to blame Labour for a world wide economic collapse. It's fanciful and it is extremely dishonest.
And his solution is to talk of a "big society" which is a notion only he seems to fully understand.
For his first ever conference speech as Prime Minister, I thought this was hollow and dishonest at it's core, and simply confusing when addressing where we go from here.
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