David Cameron was on the stump yesterday selling, or should I say ‘re-selling,’ his Big Society vision. It has been pilloried in most of the articles that I have seen but if you wish to read his speech in full and make your own mind up then you can find a copy on the New Statesman website.
The PM’s approach to the ‘Big Society’ reminds me of the early days of the New Labour Government when everything was branded ‘the people’s..’ this or that. Like then, I think the Big Society language jarrs with many people quite simply because it feels as if they are bing sold something they already own.
That, and the fact that the undercurrent running through it – that we are all somehow not pulling our weight in the name of society – probably feels a little too hard to bear for the many people using all their energies just to make ends meet for their own family and friends.
ACEVO pre-empted David Cameron’s speech with a report of its own commission on the Big Society. It said that the Government should be clearer about its vision and give it a bigger push. It welcomed the Government’s ideas on promoting greater giving while saying they could have gone further.
I wholeheartedly support measures to make it easier for people to give to charity, but I do not think this is the issue that needs addressing.
The real problem with the Big Society vision is that it is a totally utilitarian view of volunteering or citizen involvement. It doesn’t encourage us to examine the relationship between charities, citizens and the state, rather it simply asks us to ‘serve.’ It is top-down and top-heavy in tone and style rather than liberating or enthusing. It is of its time but not forward thinking.