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Gervase BS: Election Debates UK (97* d) RE: BS: Election Debates UK 20 Apr 10


To get back to the election debate and the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, I found it interesting that Cameron failed to bang on about the central plank of his own party's manifesto; the idea of 'Big Society'.

Perhaps his reticence is undertandable when one actually looks at the policy. For all its fine words, you have to remember that it comes from a party which did more than any other to centralise government and emasculate local decision-making by removing power from parish and district councils and centralising everything on Westminster.

And the premise would seem to me to be one of abrogating responsibility. As I see it, the Conservatives want to break up public services and hand them over to individuals, charities and private enterprise. Does anyone honestly imagine that a poorly-performing school in an impoverished area is going to be galvanised by parent power or by a local charity or a private company?
Encouraging people to take on the delivery of local services is fine in an area where you have an involved middle class and people with entrepreneurial experience, but what about those areas where arguably such things are most needed? As such, the 'big society' plan would merely reinforce difference and inequality.

What's more, to set up a host of small organisations, each responsible for a small patch, would surely massively increase bureaucracy and hugely duplicate an enormous number of administrative areas away from the 'sharp end'.

You would also have the problem of accountability. Who will ensure that all these little satrapies and fiefdoms are run honestly and fairly? The scope for corruption is pretty huge, to be honest.
The overall impression is one of a Thatcherite philosophy rigged out in new clothes but with the old notion of ordinary people left to sink or swim depending on where they have the good fortune to live. The same old ideology persists that state intervention is intrinsically bad.

Perhaps that's why Cameron has rather reined back on the 'Big Society' notion and didn't mention it in the television debate. It's not a new political philosophy; it's an old one that was tried and found sorely wanting in the 1980s.

To try to distance themselves from the policies which led to more than three million unemployed and which really did threaten a 'broken society', the Tories have come up with some wonderful waffle. This is from the Conservative manifesto. Read it, and then try to imagine it actually working. It really is from cloud-cuckoo land:

Our ambition is for every adult in the country to be a member of an active neighbourhood group. We will stimulate the creation and
development of neighbourhood groups, which can take action to improve their local area. We will use Cabinet Office budgets to fund the training of independent community organisers to help people establish and run neighbourhood groups, and provide neighbourhood grants to the UK's poorest areas to ensure they play a leading role in the rebuilding of civic society.
To stimulate social action further, we will:
transform the civil service into a 'civic service' by making sure that participation in social action is recognised in civil servants' appraisals;
launch an annual Big Society Day to celebrate the work of neighbourhood groups and encourage more people to take part in social action;
provide funding from the Big Society Bank to intermediary bodies with a track record of supporting and growing social enterprises; and,
develop a measure of well-being that encapsulates the social value of state action.

It's little wonder the Cameron is reluctant to submit such nonsense to public debate.


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