Big Society v Big Government

In the Indy this morning the left-wing columnist Steve Richards identifies the key truth about the ideological under-pinning of the heavily under attack Big Society programme which seems to have escaped most of his allies on the left. When Cameron said “There is such a thing as society, but it is not the same as the state” it wasn’t a rejection of Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum, it was a restatement of what she said:

“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.”

That he set the chattering classes into paroxysms of delight over a Tory leader’s supposed rejection of Thatcherism shows that on the whole, with a few exceptions like Jon Cruddas, most of the left don’t understand right-of-centre thinking because they hold a mental caricature of centre-right and right-wing ideology in their minds, attributing malice to their opponents. The Big Society is about displacing Big Government as the key actor in society, so when the left-wing quangocracy, unions and their media allies complain that charities are losing their taxpayer subsidy and this undercuts the Big Society agenda, they misunderstand completely. A charity that relies in the main part on taxes is no more a charity than a prostitute is your girlfriend. Since Edmund Burke conservatives have wanted Little Platoons to take the lead in civil society. If David Miliband’s Movement for Change had actually set about being the change rather than just (as his brother Ed wants) campaigning for Bigger Government, it too would have been one of Burke’s “Little Platoons”. Radical whigs and liberals have always wanted to disperse power away from first the monarch and in modern times from the state. The Big Society agenda is not about the state delivering through para-statal bodies, it is about society delivering for itself. Ask not what your government can do for you, but what you can do for society…

Expect the Prime Minister to very soon deliver a speech reaffirming his Big Society agenda, when you are right, you cannot be too radical. The speech will have a touch of a mea culpa, though it will not be a retreat, it will be a call-to-arms at the start of the Big Society revolution unlike Blair’s late recognition in 2005 that “Every time I’ve ever introduced a reform in government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further.” Expect more squeals from those still advocating Big Government solutions…



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