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Big Society relaunch – mais on ne peut pas polir un turd

Posted on 13 February 2011 | 9:02am

Oh dear … poor old Dave has decided not only that he needs a ‘relaunch’ for his ‘Big Idea’, the ‘Big Society.’ … but he is seemingly of the view that the problem is not the policy, it is that ‘we are not communicating it very well.’

Oh dear oh dear.

‘Relaunch’ – he can just about get away with it. The need for better communication … Mmm, ok. But the two together … oh dear oh dear oh dear.

It is interesting that he sees the Big Society as a policy, as opposed to a vision. As a vision thing, it is fine, but only provided there is policy to make it work. And Ed Miliband has come up with something of a killer blow when he says that there is no point volunteering to work in his Big Society libraries if the libraries have been closed.

There are two possibilities here, and neither reflect well on the PM. Either he realised he was short of a vision for Britain when he was running for office, and Big Society was the nearest thing he could find to one. And/or he went into it without any regard for the inevitable readacross to the enormous cuts he knew he was going to be making.

One area of current BS difficulty we can excuse him is the existence of the coalition. When he first dreamed it up, he was going for solo power, not realising he would need the wind of Nick Clegg and Co to keep him afloat.

The mood music suggests Clegg has learned from his tuition fees mistake and is not going to use too much of his limited remaining capital to come to Cameron’s aid on BS. But it is not the case, as some of the papers are saying, that the Lib Dems have all downed their BS tools.

I have much enjoyed the retelling of a ministerial meeting recently at which the LIB DEM said he (or might it have been she?) said he/she was worried that the policy under discussion did not have a Big Society element. The (senior) TORY in the team piped up … ‘oh do grow up. That’s code for cuts.’

So as DC thinks through the BS relaunch, he might do well to reflect on the Franglais first rule of spin … ‘on ne peut pas polir un turd’.

  • Robert

    Maybe Mr Cameron needs to organise a few phoney brainstorming sessions?

    The ones with a couple of strategically placed patsies in the audience who’ll come up with the BS ideas that get the “mmm – nice!!” reaction from the session leader and bewilderment from everyone else in the audience.

    Then, surprise surprise, ONLY the patsies’ BS ideas get into the write up.

    And the attendees are told that’s what they all came up with – so buy into it. Or else.

    I went to this sort of thing at work when the business was in freefall from a hyperactive change programme. Ozymandias in action – look on my works ye mighty and despair.

  • Carl Harrison

    I forgot you could speak le francais … tres bon blog. la grande societe n’est pas forte

  • Tommy Lawler

    I think both of your points stack up. He needed a line to make him appear like a modern non Thatcherite Tory and a deliberate contrast with ‘no such thing as society’ was chosen. But he has no idea what it means in practice

  • Olli Issakainen

    In my books Big Society is the silliest ever political idea – even beating the Loonies´ policy of planting crocodiles to the Thames.
    The idea of Big Society is as clear as Nicola Murray´s “Fourth Sector Pathfinder Initiative” in The Thick of It. Yet Mr Cameron has banked everything on it.
    I am not against people taking more responsibility for themselves or others. I, like about 70% of Britons, just simply believe that this policy will not work in practice.
    People do not currently have enough time for it, and Big Society lacks about £4.5bn in funding.
    If and (when) Big Society collapses, it will be the beginning of the end for the Tory-led government.
    Big Society is all what the government is about. It is the KEY concept.
    But Lord Wei has scaled down the time he has devoted to the project. Liverpool City Council has pulled out.
    The truth is that if the public sector shrinks, voluntary sector shrinks too.
    Big Society would have been a total revolution in a way Britain is governed. But you cannot create a society.
    Dame Elisabeth Hoodless has stated that the cuts have imposed too big a burden on voluntary sector forcing them to provide an alternative to state services rather than a supplementary network of support.
    But Big Society cannot protect people, the welfare state can.
    With Big Society Mr Cameron is trying to differentiate himself from the individualism of Mrs Thatcher and the statism of Gordon Brown.
    Every strong political tradition has had place for community, solidarity and localism including socialism. But New Labour never quite came up with its own version.
    The net objective of Big Society is to shrink the state. But Mr Cameron has not been able to sell his alternative to the big state.
    The scale of cuts has weakened the confidence in Big Society.
    What the state can do is to fund the creation of social capital. Ed Miliband is now starting to back some of the good parts of the Big Society idea.
    Labour is talking about the good society. The Big Society idea is not either a left- or rightwing idea. It is critical of both the market fundamentalism and the state-first Fabianism of modern Labour.
    The centralised state provision of public services is no longer affordable in many cases. So Labour should back the “good society”.
    David Cameron has said that there is indeed such a thing as society, but it is not the same thing as the state.
    But there is no such a thing as Big Society – and never will be!

  • toni

    Not only that but the title ‘Big Society’ wasn’t thought through either.
    Every article I read that refers to BS, I automatically think ‘Bull Sh..’

  • To sell the Big Society, the Tories do their utmost to convince us that the public sector is doing a worse job than the private or voluntary sector could do. This is too often unchallenged. While there’s plenty of room for public sector improvement, decentralisation and greater efficiency, it’s a myth to believe that voluntary or private organisations are the magic answer.

    Many voluntary bodies are excellent, but many are far less effective and efficient than their public sector counterparts. Meanwhile, work is going on in parliament to limit the valuable campaigning work of charities like Shelter. The plan is clearly to make them shut up and mop up.

    As for the private sector, it cannot be desirable that profit maximisation is the incentive for public services. A quick look at the disparities across the Atlantic should cure any fair minded person of that notion.

    One could go on for ever, but a good example of Cameron’s warped new Britain is in the plans for the reformed NHS. If Andrew Lansley gets his way, our GPs will receive bonus payments for NOT sending us for treatment.

  • Anna

    Why was the welfare state created? Because charities and volunteers, however well-intentioned, could not cope with the complex social needs of society. Volunteering still has a valuable place but it is not simply a matter of making cakes to fundraise for a hospice or helping out in a charity shop – worthy and laudable though those contributions are. Many of those who need support have multiple problems – mental or physical ill-health, addictive behaviours etc – that need very skilled and experienced help. In effect, volunteering is not simply a matter of a kind heart and a friendly hand. Volunteers need intensive and thorough training – and that means money. And that is what Cameron & Co. need to understand. Government needs to ensure financial support for volunteers and work with them, not cut them adrift to float alone so that their ventures and initiatives sink with all hands.

  • Ehtch

    Je suis un unimpressed, again.

    Voici blarney, blarney et blarney, once again.

    But good like Irlande v. our cousins from the other side of La Manche. Should be a good battle/game.

  • I have shared via Facebook, Alastair. I marvel how simple it is to get everything wrong and how obvious the correct way is! But, in stating (above) the obvious, I mean you no insult – on the contrary, your writing always educates while entertaining the reader who enjoys good language. And Labour!
    I read that the BS was coined by a speech writer of DC’s employ who is no longer taking the PM’s shilling…can’t think why!
    I also read recently that ALL housing benefit claimants are to lose up to £60 every 4-weekly month because they will no longer be permitted to keep back up to £15 excess payment. Now then, that sounds plausible…unless you are the soul living on an already substantially reduced income – it equates to a £780 per annum reduction which buy a lot of peanuts – or nappies, or a lawn mower to keep the property’s garden up to scratch. It is not a luxurious amount of money but losing it will devastate the budgets of many low income families. And it will certainly affect the family’s ability to take part in the BS.

  • Ray Merrall

    BS is the resultant of the function of defaecation by the male of the male of the bovine species.
    And David Cameron is full of it.

  • Ehtch

    Tres bien La France, well played. Vous et impressed me.

  • Teresa

    I live on a large council estate, it’s a decent place to live and bring up my children with decent schools, shops and everything you need really and has a nice community feel to it. I feel scared that with all the cuts, and not living in an affluent area that areas like mine are going to be left behind. By the time Labour can get back into power it’s going to be too late the damage is already going to be done, are we going to end up like America with poorer parts of the country becoming like ghost towns, or more crime because the community police officers we see regularly will disappear. It genuinely frightens me and makes me worried for my childrens future, even a small room in the local church which is used for Citizens Advice would be really missed as most mornings when it’s open the queue is round the block, these things help people so much and would be really missed.

  • Always the French, Alastair, never the German!

    “Man kann nicht eine Scheiße polnisch”?

  • Mark Wright

    The BS is a load of BS.

    My newborn son has a better sense of what makes this country tick than David Cameron and his days merely consist of sucking on a boob and filling his nappy eight times a day (my son not David Cameron).

  • Ehtch

    Whatever, La France,

    Je suis like Jacques Tati, Ms’s,

  • Nicky

    The reaction to Dave’s piece was like an internet version of being pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables.

  • Chris lancashire

    It’s better than having one of these vision thingys about invading another country though.

  • Philip Craig

    The key components of the Big Society idea were originally mooted around 2005, when the economy was growing and appeared to be resilient. So there appeared to be  no need to think about cuts to public expenditure and the impact on the policy. By 2008 there is a significant shift in the Tory’s economic policy, as they departed from the shift from Labour’s spending plans and proposed deeper, faster cuts but nobody in Central Office thought through the implications for the policy. The reason? Was the policy was always a useful tool to decontaminate the Conservatives brand. If it wasn’t why didn’t somebody think of a programme more substantive than localism and the National Citizenship Service? For example, If you look at the ideas underpinning the policy like the Big Society Bank and localism, Labour was shifting in that direction anyway i.e. social investment bank and double devolution – although much too slowly, without any great direction. Today’s big idea – create opportunities through public procurement – is hardly new and no government to date has been able to act on it effectively. Plus the localism agenda may work against it (i.e. We are already seeing the implications of front loaded to Sure Start, youth and children’s services, etc)

  • Hafod76

    Nein, don’t take it that way, mein godt!

    How about some Sabine Schmitz then, the fraulein that turns up on Top Gear, the one that gets Jeremy Clarkson’s trousers stirred?

  • David Challinor

    Isn’t it true that Cameron’s simply trying to steer the perception of ‘society’ away from Maggie’s infamous ‘there is no such thing as society’ quote? The more column inches on ‘Big society’ the more her damaging quotes recedes in the collective memory Of course the Big Society is BS because essentially hollow and only a tactic. labour should say so and say why the tories are doing it

  • Ehtch

    Hafod 76?!? Interesting. Someone is on my case, again.

  • Ehtch

    Rita Pavone, Italia, bella bella, la luna,

  • Ehtch

    Saw this incrediblbe middle European film again on Channel 4, by La France mainly, they put their name and language to me. Almost sounds Alsation, say no more.

    Incredible thought provoking with europes whiteman’s dabbling in eugenics in sertain past times in the middle of the vingt-et century,

  • Ehtch

    People like heroes, madder the better, any way….

  • Nobody

    BS is BS (as in bull) This man hates everyone and disabled people the most – I DIDNT ASK TO GET DISABLED CAMERON IT JUST HAPPENED I had a plan for my future and it wasnt go get the DLA that I didnt even know existed till the specialist told me!

  • BS stands for Bullshit with a capital B in my dictionary…