James Forsyth

The Big Society conundrum

The Big Society conundrum
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The children’s minister Tim Loughton is in danger of having ‘gaffe-prone’ become his suffix. After rather putting his foot in it at conference by suggesting that the policy George Osborne had just announced on child benefit could be revisited, he has now suggested that not even ministers know what Cameron’s big idea, the ‘Big Society’ actually is. He told a dinner last night: "The trouble is that most people don't know what the Big Society really means, least of all the unfortunate ministers who have to articulate it.”

A friend of Loughton tells me that this was meant as a joke. But the problem is that it cuts far too close to the bone: Cameron still can’t really communicate what he means by the ‘Big Society’ despite having talked about it for years.

To a certain extent, this problem will be solved with time. As the Big Society emerges, the Tories will be able to show people what it is rather than just trying to tell them. They’ll be able to point to the new free schools, the prisoner rehabilitation groups being paid by results and the public service mutuals to show what they mean when they talk about it. But there is a real question as to whether the phrase is now obscuring more than it reveals.