Sunday, 1 August 2010


 Before making any comment on the idea of the leader of a party I didn't vote for, it's probably a good idea for me to state where I stand as regards to politics and society as this will inevitably shade any comments I do have to make.

So, my basic stance is of the libertarian left (see the website The Political Compass for more details -the link is on the sidebar). One fundamental I do accept is that we live within a society which is run on the capitalist system and, currently, we have to work within the framework that this imposes. The days of smashing capitalism are over; controlling it, however, is something I'll get onto in a moment.

My belief is that the duties of the state or government (as far as this short essay is concerned I'm using the two terms interchangeably) are:
to create a viable growing economy which will benefit society on all levels;
to create a society which is just, fair and equitable to all individuals.
The devil, however, is in the details. To do this, I believe, the government should control and restrain capitalism according to the needs of society. The capitalist system too should serve society; it is a means not an end in itself.
My belief is also that the individual should serve society in order to facilitate the creation of a society which is just, fair, etc. I believe wholeheartedly in the welfare state but the problem with the system that we have is that it has created a dependency culture where generation after generation live on benefits and contribute nothing. This is just as wrong as letting the weakest go to the wall.

So, what does David Cameron's Big Society actually involve? Funny thing is that no-one seems exactly sure. It does involve devolving some central government powers to local authority level which, in theory, is a good thing as it implies giving more power directly to the people. He also wants to involve local organisations and volunteers and, presumably local charities, to create active community involvement which, again, in theory is a good idea. What I've read and heard so far is somewhat vague but the noises sound right to me. It's way to early to argue whether or not it's going to fail but what is good about it is that it's actually an idea which could empower society and the individual.

From The Guardian, 19th July 2010
Cameron also outlined three strands of the big society agenda. These included social action for which the government had to foster a culture of voluntarism and philanthropy. There was also public service reform – getting rid of centralised bureaucracy "that wastes money and undermines morale" – and community empowerment, "creating communities with oomph", the neighbourhoods being "in charge of their own destiny".

In theory this does sound a good idea but what Cameron will need to do is to motivate society as whole, to change the current collective and individual way of thinking about the way the system can work. As I've made clear I'm not a Conservative supporter but I'm more than willing to have an open mind on this venture and actually hope it succeeds.

Another idea announced just three days later is National Citizen Service.  I'll quote from The Daily Telegraph:
Among the activities involved in the National Citizen Society projects will be an outdoor challenge like orienteering, “a set of structured tasks involving visiting and helping the local community,” and a “social action task” such as clearing wasteland.
Youngsters will work alongside teenagers of different backgrounds, with a residential element of at least 10 days. 
New National Citizens with Dave

Again I like this idea because it  fits in with what I believe about the individual contributing to society.

What I hope Cameron will also do, and has indeed indicated this, is to reform the benefit system. so long as it fits within my creatia of being just, fair, and equitable. The last thing I want to see is people being forced into work who are genuinely incapable of it as is happening now, particularly with regard to the disabled. But what I would really like him to do is to wean able-bodied people of the dependency culture. Too many individuals see no reason to work when the State will pay for their needs. This is wrong: these people are not contributing to society and are effectively stealing from their neighbours who do contribute. To put an end to this I believe that the government should instigate a local community service for all those who can work but are unemployed and thereby these people can contribute to society and their community in particular.

I realise that the above could make me sound like some rabid right-winger when that is so far from the truth. It stems from my belief that contributing to society not only improves society but enhances the individual. It uplifts the individual. I've spent all my working life helping in my work as a librarian and I'm spending a large number of hours a week helping animals. I'm not claiming any great virtue in this: I worked as a librarian because I enjoyed it and I help animals because of my love for animals and I enjoy what I do. Doing something positive is life-enhancing -and this also fits in with my vaguely Buddhist sympathies.

Of course I'm still pissed off at the new government because as part of their savings they have cut free swimming for under 16s and over 60s. Tomorrow I'm forking out £180 for a year's swimming subscription at my local sports centre.
 Tough shit, kids. Tough shit, granddad.

Expect more from me on Big Dave's Big Society as it gets going.


Anonymous said...

... and whatever happened to my first comment from earlier today?

IanW said...

You sent one?

Anonymous said...

Reply to above also disappeared. If this one does, you'll never know....