Martin Bright

Searching for the Big Society

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I had been hoping for some answers at the Policy Exchange fringe meeting last night, helpfully entitiled "The Big Society, What does it really mean?" Unfortunately, I wasn't alone at Conservative Party conference in my search for some clarity on this issue and it was quite impossible to get into the event. Note to my friends at PX, the Big Society needs more room to breathe.

Everyone here is scrambling to get a piece of the Big Society action. There is something a little unseemly about it. This is because there is business to be had as the functions of the state are further contracted out. For the fragile organisations of the voluntary sector being inside or outside the Big Society marquee is a matter of life and death.

One minister told me recently that if he sees any correspondence from an outside organisation mentioning the Big Society more than once, it goes immediately in the bin. A former shadow cabinet member told me last night that the Big Society and the Prime Minister's "sharp-elbowed middle class" amount to the same thing.

Unlike some of my friends on the left, I am not offended by the Big Society. I don't see a lot wrong, in principle, with this kind of ultra-devolution. There is an anti-authoritarian element to some of the thinking that should be hugely attractive to those who have supported the co-operative movement, for instance. Indeed, if they had any sense, Labour politicians would start moving into this territory, arguing that they are the party that really understands the Big Society on the ground.