Friday, 3 June 2011

The Big Society- Cameron's new clothes

Having made myself a personal commitment to keep up the blog on a more regular basis, I was looking around for something to write on this week, with a focus on Labour and Northern Ireland. Then David Milliband popped up in Hay-on-Wye.

And this got me thinking about the Big Society. Embarrassingly for me, as someone politically alert, one year on from the election I am still unsure exactly what Cameron means by the Big Society.

I have to admit that when I first heard about it, my first thought was ... "but we do that anyway". So what was the "New" idea? and in a sense I still think that.

Northern Ireland has always been a neighbourhood place, even through the dark years of the troubles. The old joke used to be that when you popped in uninvited to a house, the host would apologise for only being able to offer two sorts of cakes or biscuits.For the past 12 years I have been a member of St John Ambulance and the support from the people here is astounding. As a charity that everyone knows benefits society, St John Ambulance is well respected and liked. And charities like this, long before Labour was even a thought, have been trying to make society better, and to look after those unable to look after themselves. Our Education system, our Health service, even our trade unions have come about through "Big Society".

So is David Miliband right?

Well yes and no. Yes we should not oppose it- we should celebrate these aspects of our society. They are what makes us truely great and what has kept us together through thick and thin, through peace and war. But no- we should not allow this to turn the clock back. and this is the real danger.

John Major rightly labelled the Citizen's Charter as a new advance. never before had we had such a way of measuring and ensuring accountability and service. But the Big Society is not the Citizens Charter. It instead opens the door to turning the clock back to undo the advances made since the Second World War.

I may be wrong on that one, and hope I am. but like the boy in the Andersen tale we need to call Cameron on this one... This ain't a new idea!

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