Peter Hoskin

Cameron sells the Big Society to the public sector

Cameron sells the Big Society to the public sector
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David Cameron clearly wants us to waltz into the weekend with the Big Society on our minds – so he's written an article on the idea for the Sun. It rattles through all the usual words and phrases, such as "responsibility" and "people power", but it strikes me how he applies them just as much to the public sector as to the general public. This is something that he did in his conference speech, describing the "Big Society spirit" of a group of nurses:

"It's the spirit that I saw in a group of NHS maternity nurses in my own constituency, increasingly frustrated by the way they were managed and handled, who wanted to set up a co-op to use their own expertise, their ideas, their contacts to provide a better serice for the mums in their area."

"Workers in our public sector have been bossed around to breaking point...

...We're giving nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers much more power over the work they do - scrapping the rules that held them back and giving them the chance to come together, form co-ops and take over the running of public services."

Michael Gove's speech


The idea, I'm sure, is not just to counter Ed Miliband's argument that the Tories don't care really about our nurses, police, teachers, etc. – but also to force a wedge between union memberships and their belligerent bosses. Alongside a fundamental dividing line between Labour and the Tories on universal benefits, we may well get one on how to treat the public sector: money vs freedom.

P.S. For posterity's sake, and as Cameron claimed on Wednesday that he has been pushing the idea of the Big Society for years, here are some snippets from his 2005 leadership pitch that suggest just that:

"I joined this party because I believe in freedom. We are the only party believing that if you give people freedom and responsibility, they will grow stronger and society will grow stronger."

"[I want to be able to say] to the people living in our inner cities of all races and religions, grappling with the problems caused by family breakdown, poor housing, and low aspirations: "We know we have a shared responsibility, that we're all in this together, that there is such a thing as society; it's just not the same thing as the state."

"So let's build together a new generation of Conservatives. Let's switch a new generation on to Conservative ideas. Let's dream a new generation of Conservative dreams.

There is a new generation of social entrepreneurs tackling this country's most profound social problems.

There is a new generation of businessmen and women who are taking on the world, creating the wealth and opportunity for our future.

We can lead that new generation. We can be that new generation, changing our party to change our country. It will be an incredible journey. I want you to come with me."