The Big Debate
â€œThat great project in your community â€“ go and lead it. The waste in government â€“ go and find it. The new school in your neighbourhood â€“ go and demand it. The beat meeting on your street â€“ sign up. The neighbourhood group â€“ join up. That business you always dreamed of â€“ start upâ€¦ Society is not a spectator sport. â€œ
â€œAll over the world, governments are wrestling with the same challenges,â€ he said. â€œNot just building prosperous, competitive economies, providing good public services and paying for pensions but creating strong societies, improving quality of life, ensuring that everyone feels they belong.â€
That was Prime Minister David Cameron in his keynote speech to the Conservative party conference last week. The response from the floor and the press has been mixed. What do you think the Big Society should mean? What role do you think Streetbank can play in fostering the Big Society?
op - 28 2010 Kirsty R zei:
I don’t know that many people could disagree with the philosophy espoused by the concept of ‘the Big Society’ (well, maybe they could), but I entirely agree with Sara’s practical points. 500 volunteering roles will generally be filled by 100 very busy people. I would be genuinely interested to know what volunteering roles the cabinet and their partners/families have taken on over the last 10 years, and how much time they have spent doing them. (It may well be a massive amount, but it would be very interesting to find out. I wonder if that info is out there? Anyone feel an FOI request coming on?)
I spend a lot of my working life butting up against local councillors (some Tory, some not) who will not allow communities to really have a voice for fear of ‘democratic deficit’. I hear again and again from councillors that “WE are the elected representatives, and WE must speak for all our community”. That’s a great idea IF everyone accesses their Cllr and the Cllr a) knows how to listen b) passes on messages regardless of whether s/he likes them c) is able to understand the message d) doesn’t fall asleep in all the important meetings (seriously, I see it all the time) d) is capable of passing on the message without getting it completely cock-eyed (again, it happens all the time). BUT that isn’t the reality. I just don’t know how this kind of reality can gel with a Big Society ideal. Its certainly not just Jo Public that needs to change its spots. Mr Letwin doesn’t seem keen on much of what DCam says- he’s openly criticised campaigning organisations, and basically says that ‘things don’t change with campaigning, organisations should focus only on DOING’. But at the end of the day, is the Big Society a real aspiration that will have appropriate and effective backing, or is it just a bit of fluff? Sorry, I went off on a bit of a long rant there – never written on comment board before!
op - 14 2010 Roy K zei:
Sara, I think you raise some really good points. The Big Society is flawed. But I think the opposite (which is close to the way that most people operate) is more flawed. The opposite is a deal where once we have paid our taxes we are free of responsibility to engage with society in any shape or form. That, it seems to me is the unspoken contract between individuals and the state. It doesn’t work. We need to not just pay taxes but also to engage with those around us. It will make us happier if we do it and – to address your first point Sara – the more that people engage with it the less work it will be for the minority – but we need that minority to enthuse about it! For that reason I’m in favour of the The Big Society.
op - 13 2010 Sara Nathan zei:
I’m still not sure I understand quite what the Big Society is or how it works…does anyone else? If it’s essentially getting communities to take over decision-making, care of the unfortunate and community organising and policing – which it might be – then there are two real problems.
1. People who want to volunteer/contribute/organise/help have many opportunities to do so already and, in many communities it’s the same few people engaged in many activities to help and support local enterprises. It’s incredibly difficult, as I know to my cost as the chair of a community association, to find people willing to share in the work, to take responsibility and to volunteer. People have children to look after, and/or parents and jobs and homes and stresses and not enough money or leisure. They get tired. They don’t want to turn out of a weekday night to do something for the good of the community. Dave probably can’t make them.
2. it could be pretty undemocratic verging on the vigilante. Where’s the accountability? Who takes responsibility? I’m only asking.
Someone told me that it’s a new take on the Thatcherite “there’s no such thing as society” can’t see it myself…except as an occasional glimmer.
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