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 )

School of Everything teams up with BIS

11 01 2010

The excellent School of Everything have just announced that they are teaming up with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in what looks like a huge coup for the startup. The new arrangement, will provide financial support to allow the School of Everything to offer the following:

  • You’ll be able to find free or low-cost venues to run classes or meet up with other people to learn stuff
  • You’ll be able to upload and find more resources related to the subjects you’re interested in (videos, documents, images… all that kind of thing)
  • You’ll be able to find courses near you as well as individual lessons and teachers for particular subjects
  • You’ll also be able to embed School of Everything search widgets on other websites

Partners in Learning

The School of Everything submitted a proposal to BIS to become its partner to implement its ‘learning revolution’ initiative, published in a White Paper last year. The government’s reason for choosing the School for Everything as a partner is interesting:

“School of Everything has already proved itself as a platform so we don’t need to start from scratch. It already has hundreds of thousands of unique visitors a month and this is now set to get much bigger. It uses web 2.0 social tools, has access to the open source development community and will bring a simple, easy to use solution for everyone which is what The Learning Revolution is all about. At Becta we talk about Next Generation Learning – this is an excellent example of what you can do with technology to make a really big impact for learners.”

The long arm of the Prince of Darkness?

These reasons are all perfectly valid, but such moves do provide a headache for David Cameron. It is no surprise that BIS is Mandy’s own department. Could Labour be trying to eclipse the Tories as the champions of the PBA? It would be an ingenious strategy in some respects – say Cameron offered nothing concrete versus Labour achievements ( will be launched soon as well). It would leave the Tories lacking a distinct, positive agenda, and might force Cameron to drop the PBA as a campaign priority.

Ali Unwin ( @aliunwin)

UK Digital Economy Bill: No Teeth, No Investment

19 11 2009

The Government’s Digital Economy Bill was announced in the Queen’s speech yesterday.

The bill is perhaps not as radical as it could have been, although it includes the power to disconnect persistent pirates in a manner akin to Lord Mandelson’s ‘three strikes’ (#threestrikes) policy. There was no mention of a broadband tax, which had been mooted earlier in the year. Other elements of the bill include a shake-up of the radio spectrum (switchover to digital due 2015) and a classification system for video games which are for children over twelve years old.

The bill is light on detail: Ofcom will be required to assess the UK’s communications infrastructure every two years, but there is no plan for encouraging mass investment in key broadband infrastructure. This will be a key feature of the Post-Bureaucratic Age, and it is the government’s duty to ensure that all citizens have access to fast, reliable broadband connections. The UK currently sits mid-table worldwide, in terms of broadband connectivity and speed. The government has resolutely ignored this crucial area, focusing instead on headline-catching (and most probably illegal under EU law) plans to disconnect illegal file-sharers.

The Open Rights Group is urging people to contact their MP to oppose the plans.