Daniel Korski

The Wei forward for the Big Society

The Big Society was dealt another blow with the resignation of Lord Wei yesterday. Sceptics will see this as a vindication of the concept’s problems. Most people, however, won’t notice that he has gone. The debate about the Big Society has long since become an elite sport, a jousting match between a determined promoter — the Prime Minister — and equally determined detractors in the media. Most people don’t care, and it won’t help or hurt the Tories at the next election.

That’s a shame. For the Tories could use a positive post-Thatcher narrative about their administration. They may not need it if the country returns to economic growth. But they might.

However, the Big Society never worked for a number of reasons. The cleverness of the juxtaposition between a “small” state and a “big” society helped the Tories in opposition but has hurt them in government, especially as they started explaining the idea in terms of voluntary action, which made them vulnerable to NGOs opposing deficit reduction. The PM should probably have called the idea “Your Society” not the “Big Society” — much harder to knock.

The Tories should probably also have been clearer that the Big Society was not a programme — and not exclusively or even predominantly about NGOs — but a way to conceptualise the kind of place Britain would become if a range of policies were enacted. Policies on decentralisation, empowerment, etc. Like a happy society is a product of many factors — growth, health, peace — so a big society is shaped by many things, not one or two programmes.

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