Thursday, 3 February 2011

The big society in the spotlight

When Tony Blair came to power in 1997 he also had a big idea that many struggled to understand - The Third Way. But it slowly died a death because nobody but Mr Blair had any real interest in it.
Could the "big society" suffer a similar fate?

Asks the BBC's Brian Wheeler. I don't think indifference will kill The Big Society. Quite the opposite. It's only thanks to general indifference and the resulting lack of scrutiny that this witless libertarian fantasy masquerading as a coherent strategy has survived for this long. Now people are actually sitting up and looking at the reality behind the slogan, The Big Society looks about as future-proof as Hosni Mubarak.

Even the Telegraph's Geoffrey Lean is sceptical about plans to liberate 258,000 hectares of forest from Forestry Commission control. Transferring all those trees into the tender care of private landowners and charities may well end up costing the taxpayer more than leaving them where they are.

For charities that are losing funding, The Big Society is just a fancy name for cuts.

The big boys don't want to play ball, either. Media and advertising groups have decided to reject the government's suggestion that it would be jolly nice if they could spare a few million pounds worth of adverts and advertising space as their contribution to societal embiggenment.

Plans for councils to dispose of Libraries and allow grateful citizen volunteers to run them in their own free time are also being exposed to Philip Pullman's much-quoted dissection , now there's a danger of somebody actually trying it for real:

Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way?

Maybe Big Society Czar, Lord Wei of Shoreditch could lead a hand? But what's this? A volunteer czar who doesn’t have the time to volunteer?

The man appointed by the prime minister to kickstart a revolution in citizen activism is to scale back his hours after discovering that working for free three days a week is incompatible with “having a life”.
There's nothing like leading from the front for keeping the troops' morale up, is there?

As donpaskini noted in his handy round-up of Big Society news:

Its critics mock it, volunteers and charity workers despise it, its creators are briefing against each other, and its core supporters in the Tory Party and the think tanks are turning against it. The only remaining question about the Big Society is not whether or not it will succeed, but how long it will be before the government quietly drops the term. John Major’s Traffic Cones Hotline lasted three years and three months, and it would be a surprise if the Big Society staggered on much longer than that.

In breaking news, one of the Big Society's flagships has just executed a 180 degree turn and broken away from the rest of the fleet, to head off in the opposite direction:

The leader of Liverpool City Council has written to the Prime Minister informing him that the authority is pulling out of the Government's Big Society plans.

The city was one of four pilot areas for the scheme, aimed at giving community groups and volunteers more control over their local services.
As reported in The Independent.

Apparently a lot of da yoof still haven't heard of The Big Society, which may buy it a short reprieve, but if young people ever get off Facebook for long enough to notice it, there will be nobody left in society unaware of exactly how stupid and badly executed this initiative is. In the light of day, Dave's Big Idea is crumbling faster than a vampire surprised by the rising sun.