David Cameron’s latest remarks regarding the big society should help clear up any doubts amongst anyone who was confused by what it meant, and for anyone who had false hopes that Cameron could be talking about something truly progressive. The dude (I have just been warned about calling Cameron a dude – sorry for curtailing the brilliance of this word) is cutting thousands of jobs and he needs an escape route; aka. the big society. However, it is important to remember that through this, he is in danger of undermining a progressive vision/movement, as Stalin did for the left, with his simplistic assumptions of local democracy and power.
Central to the big society for Cameron are businesses, businesses and businesses. He talks about the need to reduce red tape so as to ‘free’ businesses so that they can ‘help’ community projects. I am all for alternative forms of business, such as social enterprises; but I am afraid Cameron is hung up with businesses that will do little to promote an alternative vision and help challenge the structures that create the damaging barriers to public and democratic participation.
Cameron’s big society is just another attempt to help capitalism adapt to the multifaceted pressures against it. What local democracy should incur is a fundamental shift in power – not some mediating profit, capitalist driven company to ‘help’ community participation. Instead, with these new forms of participation and local action there should be new values (such as ecological values) and structures promoted. Cameron has announced that businesses should help with reducing carbon emissions in line with the big society, but again, Cameron’s solutions are framed within the very problems he ‘seeks’ to overcome. For example, Cameron says:
We need the commitment, the creativity and innovation of businesses to help tackle the challenges that confront us.
For a truly progressive, alternative and creative movement, businesses (above) should be replaced by people – people who have control and self-determination, to take ownership over their production and lives in general. Cameron is sadly using his big society as little more than a capitalist adaptation tool.
Ed Miliband has recently talked about taking back the big society. What this necessary means for Labour, we will have to see. Hopefully it will provide a more radically orientated challenge to the dominant structures that prevent people from having a voice; but I wouldn’t count on it. Ed Miliband seems to be a cautious social democrat, not a democratic socialist. For one, he talks about the fallacy of Cameron’s ideas regarding the reduction of government interference when it comes to the big society. Whilst I agree that it is clear that Cameron is using the big society to pass the responsibility of basic and fundamental services to the voluntary sector, governmental intervention should not undermine the local democracy and power that people have through creative orientation (H/T Murray Bookchin re communalism).
However, Ed Miliband’s talk of the need to look at things in reference to idealism is encouraging. Whilst he obviously has to look at things with pragmatism, there is a need for Labour and the left in general to approach things with what could be (i.e. idealism), for future visions to be realised and promoted. We need to make sure that the power local people can utilise through face-to-face democracy and the like isn’t undermined by Cameron’s big society agenda.