Thursday, 17 February 2011

Mr Cameron’s Big Society – an explanation

Dear Reader,
Once upon a time there was a politician with a big idea. That politician got to be Prime Minister which gave him the opportunity to implement this big idea. As it was a really big idea it needed a really big name – Big Society. That politician is the current UK PM David Cameron. If you are unaware of this big idea, or like many people don’t understand it, I am here to help.
A couple of links may be helpful:
David C, speaking in Liverpool about the “big idea”
DC launching the big idea. Not the most popular video on YouTube, my cats have considerably more hits, but that’s for another day. However the comments, all two of them, are amusing.
If you can’t be bothered to waste 1:48 mins of your life watching this you could read the full transcript of this speech as published by 10 Downing Street here. This may take you even longer than 1:48 mins of your life.
Using the transcript above I will attempt to paraphrase the published speech above with some comments of my own, thusly doing something that may well take even longer to read, but hopefully sort this thing out. DC will say his piece and I will dissect.
DC: I’ve been in Downing Street for a couple of months now and it seems to me that the business of government falls into two categories.
There are the things you do because it’s your duty.
Sometimes unpopular – but you do them because it is in the national interest.
But there are the things you do because it’s your passion.
The things that fire you up in the morning, that drive you, that you truly believe will make a real difference to the country you love.
Moi: Wow, government sounds so easy, unpopular things and popular things, I get it.
DC: And my great passion is building the Big Society.
So I can’t tell you how excited I am that, after all that talking, we’re now finally doing.
And today, I want to take this opportunity to explain some of the real, practical steps that we are taking to help make the Big Society a reality.
Moi: Strap in, the ride could become bumpy…
DC: But before I get into the details, let me briefly explain what the Big Society is and why it is such a powerful idea.
Moi: I’m listening…
DC: You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment. You can call it freedom. You could call it responsibility. I call it the Big Society.
Moi: I would call it confusing.
DC: The Big Society is about a huge culture change…
…where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace…
…don’t always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face …
…but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities.
Moi …?!?…
DC: It’s about people setting up great new schools. Businesses helping people getting trained for work. Charities working to rehabilitate offenders.
Moi: Sounds like it’s about people doing stuff the government won’t be able to afford to do anymore as a result of spending cuts. People will be getting paid for this, right?
DC: And this is such a powerful idea for blindingly obvious reasons.
Moi: Consider me blinded.
DC: For years, there was the basic assumption at the heart of government that the way to improve things in society was to micro-manage from the centre, from Westminster.
But this just doesn’t work.
We’ve got the biggest budget deficit in the G20.
And over the past decade, many of our most pressing social problems got worse, not better.
It’s time for something different, something bold – something that doesn’t just pour money down the throat of wasteful, top-down government schemes.
Moi: So it’s time for something that pours money down the throat of government in different and amusing ways.
DC: The Big Society is that something different and bold.
The question is: how can we build it?
The truth is that we need a government that actually helps to build up the Big Society.
Moi: Hmmm. The Big Society is a whole new bunch of quangos and bureaucracies that replace the old bunch of quangos and bureaucracies that have new and different names. They will undoubtedly have the word Big in their titles and require a Big building.
DC: These are the three big strands of the Big Society agenda.
First, social action.
The success of the Big Society will depend on the daily decisions of millions of people – on them giving their time, effort, even money, to causes around them.
Moi: The success of the Big Society will depend on tax payers giving more than they do currently.
DC: Second, public service reform.
We’ve got to get rid of the centralised bureaucracy that wastes money and undermines morale.
And in its place we’ve got give professionals much more freedom, and open up public services to new providers like charities, social enterprises and private companies so we get more innovation, diversity and responsiveness to public need.
Moi: We would like charities and private enterprise to run bits of the country we don’t want to run anymore.
DC: And third, community empowerment.
We need to create communities with oomph – neighbourhoods who are in charge of their own destiny, who feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them.
Moi: Communities with oomph? Could this mean club together and work with a whole new bunch of red tape you don’t understand and that has just been invented to make the old bunch of red tape that you were getting a handle on redundant, just as you were making something happen.
At this point I thought it would be best to move onto the conclusion…
DC: It’s my hope – and my mission – that when people look back at this five, ten year-period from 2010, they’ll say:
Moi: I’m still in power…
DC: ‘In Britain they didn’t just pay down the deficit, they didn’t just balance the books, they didn’t just get the economy moving again, they did something really exciting in their society.’
Moi: Here’s to hoping…
DC: Whether it is in building affordable housing, tackling youth unemployment, inviting charities to deliver public services…
…the people in Britain worked out the answer to the big social problems.
A big part of that answer is the Big Society.
I think we are on to a really big idea, a really exciting future for our country and today, I hope, is one more, big step towards that.
Moi: Well, if you think that pigeons have big steps then give yourself a big pat on the back.
OK, back to little me. Now I may be coming over as a little negative and cynical, but that’s because I am a little negative and cynical. I think I really do understand the Big Idea now, and it is a Big Plaster over some very Big Spending Cuts.
Over and out, dear reader.

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