It's rare for a comment on a newspaper website to be enlightening (unless I write it, of course) and almost unheard of for one on the Evening Standard's website to be so, but this comment needs sharing. It comes from a piece by Paul Waugh about Boris Johnson's latest apparently off-the-cuff suggestion that his mate Dave doesn't really know what he's doing:
I genuinely don't understand the big society. Once upon a time we all got together and thought. "Wouldn't it be a good idea to pool our resources to buy services like schools for our communities. We could elect people to govern them so that they would be accountable and they could hire professionals who know as much as they can about these services to run them day to day." That is the Big Society, we call it government. But for some reason tories are allergic to it...
This is basically it. What Cameron appears to have imbibed, quite possibly with the aid of political Rohypnol, is this Year Zero revolutionary concept that literally *everything* about the existing way the UK is governed is tainted with something called 'Big Government'. What's wrong with this, we aren't told, but it'll be something to do with the Welfare State, unwashed hippies, feminism, the Sixties, Harold Wilson, the Winter of Discontent, faceless Eighties corporatism, I don't know, but strangely whatever's wrong with it isn't apparently insufficient localism, given that the pilot schemes will apparently be nursemaided direct from Whitehall. Hmm. I could have sworn there was a political party around here somewhere that proclaimed the benefits of localism. Wonder what happened to it.
Anyway, once they've got it into their heads that everything is worthless and therefore expendable, it is therefore quite in order to throw it all in the bin and trust the British people, possibly aided by the Underpants Gnomes, to transform overnight from 'passive recipients of state help' into dynamic, able social entrepreneurs able to come up with their own ideas. It's not clear whether this idea will either resemble very closely what's there already (because we're a *conservative* people, Dave) or end up not existing at all, because all but the existing 1% of the population who give a toss about voluntary work are already doing it and aren't in great shape financially to take any more on. It also occurs to me that quite a lot of the things society does for itself already depend on a level of state provision - for instance, our school football tournament depends on the existence of local authority owned playing fields we can rent affordably for the day. The effect of cuts on local authorities is highly likely to be an increase in rents, thus making the economics of holding the event increasingly marginal and pricing local grassroots organisers out of the market. This has knock-on effects on all the football teams, which are also grassroots locally organised. In truth, the 'Big Society' depends on a high level of state organisation and subsidy, and removing this will kill a lot of what currently exists.
Of course, to the true believers, not contemplating the consequences is a strength. Ignorance Macht Frei. Don't ask us, ask yourself what the hell is going on. However, possibly the scariest single aspect was the jolly smiley and frowny sad faces on the launch bumf. Is that what the New Politics has reduced us to, Mr. Clegg? Happy smiley yellow man and frowny sad red man? Jeez, at least Stalinism had better iconography.
Other Big Society coverage, curiously focusing on libraries as often as not: