The Big Big Society Failure?

21 04 2010

Senior Tories have come out against David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ idea, and the Tories look out-of-touch with an electorate who is expressing its frustration by turning to the Liberal Democrats in droves.

The ‘Big Society’ is a fundamentally post-bureaucratic idea: ween people off their dependence on the inefficient, autocratic state, in favour of civic activism and social responsibility. However, the Tories have been way off on delivering the message. A staunch Tory friend, who has campaigned ardently for a smaller state and greater civic activism, gave me the following response to the Conservatives’ proposals:

“The Big Society is an atrocious idea – can someone get them to stop talking about it. Imagine what the young professionals are making of it. Life is complex enough without saying as well as struggling to earn money and bring up a family you have to coach badminton to some illegal immigrants in Ilford!”

What went so wrong that someone fundamentally in favour of the Tories idea (and a longtime party supporter) can become so outraged at how it has come across?

  • The stress on civic activism placed emphasis on what people would have to do, rather than the idea that they would be ‘granted back’ their freedom.  The ‘Big Society’ appeared to be, somewhat perversely, another burden imposed by the state.
  • The ‘Big Society’ undermined the Conservatives’ commitment to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’. This let Peter Mandelson portray the well-meaning Big Society idea as the ‘agenda for abandonment‘. The Conservatives failed – totally – to demonstrate how being anti-Big Government could also be pro-Compassionate Conservative.
  • The presentation of the  ‘Big Society’ agenda agitated a nagging feeling amongst those skeptical of Cameron himself. The synthesis of Thatcher’s famous comment on ‘Society’ and the Tories’ anti ‘Big Government’ drumbeat was a little bit too PR-savvy when it came from CallMeDave’s mouth.  It sounded too-clever-by-half, as well as being too progressive: in other words, too Dave. Perhaps David Willetts could have made it stick.

Ali Unwin ( @aliunwin )



One response

25 04 2010
Indonesia’s “Big Society” – Jakartica

[…] did Cameron fail? Conservative activists have noted that Britons were considerably less enthused to hear Cameron go on about the responsibilities of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: