If the Big Society were a horse, it would be shot. The wounds are too deep, the contamination too great, its legs are broken. And, worse, the Big Society is giving a good idea a bad name. David Cameron tried manfully today, but we only ever hear about the BS (as most Tory MPs call it) when he’s trying to relaunch it. No agenda can be sustained with such thin support. It has become hopelessly confused as an issue. Myths have crept in that volunteering relies on heavy state spending, so Cameron is talking out of his hat. It ain’t so — Jonathan Jones did the digging — but people still believe it. Cameron gives multiple definitions of the BS, confusing the issue further. Does it mean families? Diversity of public service providers? More volunteering? Charitable donations? All of the above?
A large part of Cameron’s problem is timing. He’s asking people to volunteer more while his government is taking away more of our money by higher taxes, and — as Jeff Randal says in a brilliant Telegraph piece today — decimating our purchasing power by failing to control inflation. Right now, Cameron should be offering to do more stuff for the country. Not asking us all to do more. He rightly pays homage to civil society, recognising all the good done by non-state actors. But if he wants more of this philanthropy, he should cut taxes so people have more money to donate.
Cameron said today that this is what makes him tick, what gets him up in the morning. It says a lot about him, and in a good way.