It seems the “launch” of the Big Society press exercise is going to be nothing more than a guilt trip.
In reality though, how can it be anything else? The world has moved on. Communities are fragmented, populations moving around all the time, and mistrust of neighbours is a rather common occurrence, just because we don’t know who they are.
David Cameron can hardly legislate to change any of that. You can’t pass a law that makes people have a cup of tea with their neighbour, or attend the Reverend’s village fête, perhaps baking some cupcakes for the hungry attendees, or sticking a bottle of unwanted generic gin in the tombola. It’s all very rural England, don’t you think?
Society is moribund and has been for some time, certainly amongst my generation. Our idea of society, sadly, is what it can do for us. We’re a generation that feels pretty shafted in terms of unemployment, dodgy education systems, ridiculous house prices, and seeing most of our taxes go to finance massive deficits run up by our elders or going as election bribes to the oldest generations. As such, we’re a bit a bit suspicious of “society”. We truly are Thatcher’s children.
Now we are getting some different mood music. First, we’re being told that what we get in return for being members of this society is going to be cut, at precisely the time most of us are going to start using it in child benefits, child tax credits, NHS and education systems, etc.
Then we’re being told that money is not sufficient – that, instead, we need to get involved. Our time, precious enough already due to work and stupid amounts of commuting, is going to be called upon as free labour because the government can’t afford to pay people to, for example, clean up the parks or beaches any more.
I’m painting a picture of a rather selfish generation. Maybe we are. Forgive us, but we’ve been brought up that way. Capitalism did win, after all.
The worst aspect of all of this is that who is actually listening? When the reputation of politics is at an all time low, and the power of the politicians to compel us to be better members of society is almost non-existent, how will it be possible to achieve this grand Big Society?
It all sounds nice, harking back to a bygone age of community spirit. Maybe it would be nice to see some of that again. I would like to give something where I can, but it’s a tough sell. And if it’s just a cynical exercise in cost-cutting, then you won’t see any of us for dead.
Over to you, Mr Cameron.