Have I Finally Decoded Cameron’s Big Society?

I think I have finally cracked it. As if a classmate has tapped me on the shoulder and whispered under his breath the reason my sum was not making sense was because I forgot the minus sign, the answer has come to me: I think I understand Cameron’s Big Society.

At the Tory Conference in Birmingham and confirmed at the spending review, George Osborne has revealed plans to redefine the welfare system. In a move that has shaken the party’s core he has proposed a number of measures that mean more people than first thought will have the welfare carpet pulled from under their feet. Whether it is the £500 a week cap on benefits, the tax breaks (planned for 2015) for married couples or the modification of child benefits that will affect more middle class families, Osborne has inadvertently clarified what this Big Society is.

Whatever image of suburbia we conjure up in our heads, not far from this image is the sight of two neighbours chatting as they check their mail, the parents gossiping as they walk their children to school or the customer taking his time, talking with the shop owner as he buys the paper. Society is populated and developed by these moments of discourse. To catch up, natter or gossip strengthens social relationships and in turn has shaped the Conservative view of Britain as a whole; everyone connected as if a town, sharing intimacies, looking out for each other, everyone invested in the lives of others and the shared experience of their community.

I know you are growing impatient to know what my grand epiphany is, but bear with me. Subjects that are discussed, of course, differ according to person, place and situation, but after Labour’s tenure in office corresponding with the economic downturn and with the deficit overshadowing the coalition’s first steps and the end of conference season, the government’s decision are at the forefront of many people’s minds.

Fear not I am nearing my conclusion.

Nothing allies people more than a good rant, a good outburst of frustration, a jolt of anger; it wakes you up to the day. Osborne’s announcement that child benefits will be removed from households with at least one taxpayer earning more than £43,875 has hit the right’s base hard. Targeting, especially middle class stay at home mothers, the chancellor has widen the coalition’s target area in the name of deficit reduction. Now suburbia, the enclosure of such families, will be electric with discontentment. Seeing themselves in the crosshairs, many more people will air their newly found grievances with their neighbours, friends or family members. While some neighbours have not spoken since the calamitous event concerning a hedge and an overzealous trim, nothing will bond and repair relationships more than a good heated discussion about how the government are screwing them.

There lies the Big Society.

 With people sharing their frustrations, they may be more willing to take over. The ‘we’ll show them how it’s done’ mentality is the mentality that needs to prevail in order for the Big Society to work. With many people time poor or unwilling or inexperienced to take on the mantle of running a school for example, this exasperation, this forced hand may be the only way Cameron’s vision will solidify.

But are the Tories that self-sacrificing? So willing to throw themselves from the carriage as a service to this piece of grand idealism? I doubt it. They are a democratic party remember, who are as hungry for votes as every party and their ideologies are moulded to that end.

Okay maybe I haven’t cracked it. Maybe by fervently seeking out a definition of this spirited, although deeply flawed ideology, I have sought out an answer to the unanswerable, allowing myself to get drawn into any resolution I can muster. So my big revelation about the Big Society? Well, it is an unworkable policy forged through ideologies with no real grasp on reality and its larger implications. At its most harmless it is a jovial dream of war-time camaraderie, more Dad’s Army than This Is London. But at its more dangerous edge it could be the curtain raised before our eyes, disguising the party’s true goal that is to privatise all that we hold dear, allowing those accountable, to drift off into the murky half light of public volunteering. So in fact I am right where I started only seven hundred and fifty three words later.


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