Followers of UK politics will know that David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has a bright idea which he calls the ‘Big Society’. The idea has been greeted with rather a lot of indifference and confusion so Cameron is giving it a re-launch. He spoke yesterday about the Big Society being ‘a different way of governing’ that is ‘going to get every bit of my passion and attention over the five years of this Government.’ Stirring words, eh? Or does it still leave you cold?
Well I thought I’d have a go at explaining what the Big Society is, seeing as so many people say they haven’t got it yet. Masochistic, I know, although I’d prefer to say that I like a challenge. I was prompted to do this by something I read on the Political Betting blog the other day and then something that a workmate told me earlier this morning. Here goes:
You see a problem of some kind; say a neighbour who struggles to get to the shops or a park that is full of litter. The Big Society response is to think, ‘I can do something about that’, and to get on with doing your bit to resolve the issue. You and a few friends keep in touch with the neighbour and offer to help with their shopping. The Big Government response is to complain that the Council should be sorting things out better. Maybe you do tell the relevant authority but you don’t do anything about it yourself.
My workmate gave me a practical example. A friend of hers has been in a nursing home for a couple of weeks and was talking to the staff before he left. The guy lives with his parents, who are both very elderly and need a lot of support. But they manage due to a wide network of family and friends who are always popping by to help with whatever needs doing. Big Society. However, this wasn’t good enough for the nursing home staff who said something like, ‘Oh, so there’s no professional help.’ Big Government. That is the assumption which David Cameron is trying to wean the country from; if a paid official is not involved then it doesn’t really count. And I wish him well.