Monday, 13 September 2010

Light at the end of the crossing...more Big Society ramblings

Once upon a time, dearest reader, our world was not bounded by the strictures of officialdom - or at least not the officialdom that believes it know better than the man with the job to do. Now understand that there was not - sadly - some mythic age of wonder when we were free, when the sun shone and the birds sang in joy at our liberty. But there was a time when Mr Smith could mow the verges outside his house secure in the knowledge that his local council would appreciate such a selfless act let alone consider actively preventing the activity from taking place. Indeed there was a time when the bloke from the council, the copper, the councillor and the doctor were all on the side of the people.

Now I know that you all understand this but you will also know that elsewhere people seem not to appreciate how we must cross back over the bridge - how we must return to that sunny swathe of grass where local people worked (at least metaphorically) hand-in-hand with local officials. Where there wasn't an endless discussion of 'funding streams', of 'capacity building', of something called "The Third Sector" - a place where there were things to be done and where people saw that these happened.

But onto all this landed the grandiosity of Big Government - starting with Morrision's gerrymandering of London (a far more unforgivable act of political vandalism than anything allegedly tried by Shirley Porter) we saw the panjandrums of municipal socialism matching arm in arm with the developers to a grand future. Whether we speak of T. Dan Smith's corrupt destruction of Newcastle (the spirit of which was captured so well by Lindesfarne in 'All Fall Down') or of the examples described by Julian Dobson more recently, we see the principle that "we know better" writ large.

As often the case the words arrive that capture part of the problem - I've explained my rage at Government, at its uselessness, at its incompetence, at its obsession with efficiency to the point of ineffectiveness and at the sheer brutality of its ignorance. So when I read this (even though perhaps the author didn't quite mean it my way) a little skip, a little glimmer of hope arises. Julian Dobson speaks to Nat Wei of Big Society renown:

So I’d urge you to engage with people’s anger, because if you can’t convince those who are already involved in community action that you and your government colleagues are listening seriously, then the Big Society idea, like so many before, will shrivel and die. Allow the angry and frustrated people to help you and those you work with to define what a Big Society should be.

But what Julian still needs to get is the scale of the anger, the growing revulsion for the socialist nanny state constructed by the successors of Herbert Morrison. The ghastly, interfering, busybody state. The 'we are the masters now' society. A world where bossy barrack room lawyers take command. A world were the mushy comfort blanket of control smothers fundamental liberties. Where banning smoking or hunting is more important than helping people start out in business or build a house or get together with neighbours to fix a fence.

And, Julian, those activists aren't the ones who turn up at conferences, have well-funded community groups or who see it as a political aim. Round here the activists are ordinary men and women who want to do something - tidy up a corner, fix the village hall roof, take the neighbours to the clinic, run a kids football team or clean up the stream. Real folk who don't get on the grand radar of the new panjandrums of Third Sector. They are the Big Society.

There is light at the end of the crossing but only if we let go....



SadButMadLad said...

Here is one person who would love the "Big Society" -

Julian Dobson said...

Simon, thanks for the response. I happen to think council officers and public servants generally should be on the side of ordinary people, and help them to make things happen. And - believe it or not - most of the community activists I meet and talk to are 'real folk' and don't go to conferences.

What a lot of them are angry about is the way that government promises one thing and does another - and as you'll have seen from previous posts of mine, that was my criticism of the last government as well as this one.