I don’t think even David Cameron knows what the “Big Society” is. He’s found a nice-sounding phrase and has decided to run with it. So what is this grande société? Many commentators agree that it is another way of hiding cuts. Even the rotund Eric Pickles admits this is all about saving money. In order to convince the easily susceptible, Cameron has chosen a form of language that makes the whole scheme sound more appetising than it actually is. Using words like “freedom”, “individual” and “empowerment” he hopes to convince Britain that we don’t need things like the NHS and that hospitals are better off being run by local healthcare companies who will operate under a franchise model. In other words, the NHS will be reduced to a kind of brand name. Franchises are a common feature of the high street, think McDonald’s and you’re already there.
As I reported in an earlier blog, the Tory idea of handing back power to the individual comes from Ayn Rand’s badly written novels and her cod philosophy. No one should be fooled into thinking that it is anything other than a means to reduce the size of the state. The BBC reports that
The initiatives being championed include a local buy-out of a rural pub, efforts to recruit volunteers to keep museums open, support to speed up broadband supply, and giving residents more power over council spending
As a wag noted on The Guardian article
Buying a local pub? Yes, we could all pull together & be just like the locals of Ambridge! I guess all those unemployed youngsters will be queueing to volunteer to keep their local museum open. I’ve got an even better idea – pay them a living wage to do it!
A living wage for everyone would be nice but we can’t expect that to happen anytime soon – especially while the bankers continue to pay themselves vastly inflated salaries and massive bonuses. But with around 39 pubs closing a week, how economically viable is it for a group of concerned locals to buy their own pub and what will they buy this pub with? Another one of Cameron’s big ideas is to create a ‘Big Society bank’. But as the Financial Times notes, this bank will only have an initial reserve of £60m to operate with. That won’t last long.
But this Big Society has nothing to do with participatory politics; the electorate will still exist on the periphery of real political power. How does Cameron hope to attract armies of volunteers to run museums and public libraries? People’s time is a valuable commodity and in return for their time (and labour) they are remunerated in the form of wages. What will these volunteers get apart from the promise of a ‘warm glow’ inside? Britain already has the most overworked workforce in Europe; we work longer hours and are now expected to take pay cuts. Exactly how much time will the average worker have to spend when he/she has neither the time nor the money at their disposal?
Big Society, my arse.