I have mused about the possible prospects for a left-wing alternative to the ‘big society’ for some time. Thus, expect repetition of previously covered ground. I intend to frame past debates, and the need for a leftist alternative to the ‘big society’, in the context of Caroline Spelman’s speech at the Conservative Party conference re the big society and the environment.
There is much discussion, one of which is going on at my blog over here, regarding what the big society is. Some of us (rightly) regard it as an empty slogan required to cover up the bitter reality of the illogical economic ConDem cuts, you could say it’s a bit like the LibDems. A rather good summation here:
“The ‘Big Society Day’ is just patronising nonsense, particularly for the thousands of dedicated people who are working to make their communities better every day. David Cameron will say anything to get a headline. Instead of gimmicks, the Liberal Democrats will give people real power over things that matter like their local police and health services.”
Pity it was by LibDem Julia Goldsworthy hey? Maybe Greece also changed their views regarding the Big Society?
Others believe it is a genuine expression of localist aspiration and will help localism and local democracy to flourish. I like the idea of local power, I like the idea of changing the state relationship, but I fail to see how cutting at such a rate and level, removing the support that already exists for voluntary work etc, will in anyway improve local power. Put simply, it’s a recipe for reducing local power.
Caroline Spelman, in her speech today re the environment, proclaimed:
“But the fact is, politicians can’t do it on their own. It needs everyone to do their bit. Protecting our environment is the very essence of Big Society. Whether it’s getting directly involved by helping with our tree planting campaign, or insulating your loft – it all counts. Even if it’s just little changes.And we want to provide incentives. It’s not about a life of abstinence and inconvenience. In fact it’s the opposite.”
It all feels a bit too much like DIY. Yes, planting trees and insulating your lofts are good things to do – but the state and organisational structural relationship to the environment needs to change as frankly this attitude is what makes many people feel as though the environment is just a middle class thing. Real investment into renewable energy is required, and this wont be achieved by promoting voluntary groups. Instead, a left version of the big society could foster cooperative and workers council arrangements in conjuncture with the production of renewable energy, for example. Also, these organisational structures could be promoted through new transport policies, such as nationalising the rail way line and changing the structures involved in this line of work.
These new structures could be key to an alternative localist agenda. Instead of cutting voluntary sector’s provision whilst ironically championing them, we could put real power into people’s hands. New organisational structures and new state relations, which would result in real local power would also be central to changing the attitude towards the economy so we are no longer steered towards growth with no sense of where it is going and what it is costing (and I am not talking economically) and instead would help highlight the need for a zero growth policy.