David Blackburn

The return of the Big Society

The return of the Big Society
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It’s back. David Cameron is re-launching the Big Society, the least captivating idea in British politics. There is nothing wrong with the central idea: the grand plan to decentralise power to local communities. Terminology was a problem. The Big Society sounded infantile and patronising. The detail was lost in a morass of wonkery. The overall vision was contradictory: ‘people power’ was the end, community organisers were the means.

The authors of the Big Society erroneously assumed that people care about community. But community is a turn-off for many, and the Big Society sounded like one enormous management meeting from which there is no escape. From Westmoreland to Richmond-upon-Thames, voters hated it.

The terminology has not changed, and neither has the over-emphasis on community. But that no longer matters because enacting an idea only you understand is far easier than selling it. Today in Liverpool, Cameron will introduce a funding mechanism, the Big Society Bank, which will enable charities and social action groups (whatever they are) to raid dormant bank accounts to fund local infrastructure and other projects. This will be piloted in four preposterously named ‘Vanguard Communities’. The scheme will be extended if they are successful. Cameron has staked his reputation on the Big Society and Labour will gun for it on any pretext (a fig-leaf for cuts being the current refrain). Cameron cannot afford to fail twice.