This posting is going to kind to David Cameron - not, I assure you, something that will be a regular occurrence.
We have heard yet again in the last few days of yet another plan to resurrect his vision of the 'Big Society'. Yet again, it's almost complete lack of resonance with the public to date is explained as merely a matter of poor communication, and we are promised this time it will be different.
It maybe true that poor communication is an issue. Also true that the 'push me pull you' effect that this wretched coalition government has on policy generally means that, while some policies will help the voluntary sector (e.g. "free schools") others are destructive (recent changes in tax policy; the Equality Act) or profoundly alienating to important players such as religious groups (e.g. gay 'marriage').
However, the bigger reason that the policy will never catch on is that in runs counter to human imaginative capabilities.
John Lennon famously said: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans".
This encapsulates one of the problems with selling the Big Society vision perfectly. Unfortunately, especially in our younger years, what grabs our imagination are the great dreams we have for ourselves: the beautiful trophy partner, the powerful sports car, the big house and the glittering career. It's true that, even if these great dreams are realised, they often leave us strangely unfulfilled, and what we look back with affection at is often the very small things that seemed entirely trivial at the time but in fact were our happiest moments. Often, a good number of those moments are provided by involvement in local voluntary institutions such as our church, cricket club or scout troop. Apart from the social good it does, it is for that reason that increasing voluntary participation in society is a very good idea and likely to significantly increase the sum of human happiness.
However, even when voluntarism does grab our imaginations, it does so because its impact is small, local and impacts people we care about. To try to sell what is by necessity an intimate experience as a remote, grand vision for society generally is completely contradictory, impossibly confusing and doomed to fail.
David Cameron is entirely right in trying to build a 'Big Society', but extremely foolish to think he could ever sell this vision to the wider public. By trying to do so, there is tragically now a significant risk that he will make such initiatives the focus of widespread derision. Instead, he should have quietly got on with taking the measures necessary for creating a more fertile ground into which voluntarism could have spread its roots and flourish, knowing that he was very unlikely ever to get any credit for doing so.
Thursday, 5 April 2012
Why Cameron's 'Big Society' vision will never catch on