Tag Archives: liberal democrats

Why We Should Fear “The Big Society”

The Big Society is ostensibly the centerpiece feature of the Conservatives’ policy for this election; their manifesto was titled “Invitation to Join the Government of Britain” in reference to it.

For such a centerpiece policy, it is breathtakingly vague. Nobody understands it properly, not even many people within the Conservative party. One shadow minister said: “The ‘big society’ needs to be turned into more practical, voter-friendly language. We need to turn Oliver Letwin’s Hegelian dialectic into voter friendly stuff.” When you’re using the phrase “Hegelian dialectic” to describe why something is tricky to understand, you know you’re in deep trouble.

Not many people (who don’t have philosophy degrees) are going to know that Hegel was German philosopher, one of Marx’s influences, and like the philosophy of Marx the ideas of the Big Society display an earnest idealism totally stripped of even a single iota of pragmatism.

The Big Society is supposed to conjure up an image of us as a country spontaneously coming together to fix “Broken Britain”, volunteering to fix our social ills, to cure a culture of entitlement, to restore power to the people, etc. It speaks of a social movement to bring about change, and in the face of the Big Society, the Big State will wither away.

That’s bollocks. It’s the same mad utopian dream as that of Communism.

There is no social movement, no grass-roots activism for the Big Society. Cameron didn’t even mention it in the debates, and their polling is hovering steady in the low thirties; this is no popular movement. It’s just words, words with nothing but vague appeals to working together for change. It’s all just political hot air.

The real intent, the real policy, is a return to something like the libertarian aspects of Thatcherism, or worse. The state will not be allowed to wither as vounteerism takes up the slack; the state will be hacked away with glee, cut to the bone. Provision for the poor, for the weak, will fall through the cracks as charities and volunteers struggle to cope. It’s a reversion to how things were a hundred years ago or more, before these functions were absorbed by the state. Police and Fire services were once run by dedicated volunteers, and there’s a damn good reason that we don’t do things like that any more. Similarly with social services; look at what’s happened in Hammersmith and Fulham as council provision has been stripped away. It’s ugly, so very ugly.

In many ways, the individualism inherent in Thatcherism, the belief that “There is no such thing as society” is part of the root of what is wrong with Britain today. We were told, as a nation, that we should look out for ourselves, that greed was good, individualism was king. Are we surprised that people took this to heart? That kids who grew up in that time, and in the time since, act as if they have no responsibility to anybody? There’s a thread running directly from Thatcherism to the rise of the ASBO.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for charity or volunteering; absolutely there is. It’s a noble thing to give of your time and money for a good cause, but it should be in addition to the services provided by the state, not an alternative. The richest and strongest have a responsibility to the poorest and weakest, whether they like it or not.

The Big Society is also economically nonsensical. The wealth of nations is at least partly based on the division of labour. If I do my job well, and efficiently, it will generate wealth. That wealth can partly be used to fund somebody whose job it is to provide social services, which they too will do efficiently. If social services are performed by volunteers, then they will be performing both their day job and their volunteer work, reducing overall efficiency.

Before I’m accused of being a mad Big Statist, I’d like to point out that I am a Liberal Democrat; the first paragraph of the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution includes the words “we aim to disperse power”. The state doesn’t need to be large, monolithic and centralised, and that has been a major failure of the current Labour government, but it also shouldn’t be wiped away entirely.

The free markets and spontaneous individual action are not, and cannot, be the solution. When individual initiative is allowed to run too far, unrestrained, the consequences are usually disaster. Look at the banking crisis. Look at the Roman civil wars in the first few decades B.C. Look at the dictatorships of the world. We have a democracy because we know that pluralism, not individualism, is the way forward. We are stronger together than we are apart.


Since my crazy inflamed passion for politics is driving me crazy, I reckon if I just open a release valve, blog it out, I’ll be able to settle down and get some work done.

So here’s me, speculating on what might happen.

I think, barring a spectacular performance by Cameron over and above Clegg (and that’s not to discount Brown, who for all his faults has substantial economic nous) in the final leader’s debate on economics hosted by the BBC (who I confidently predict will have the least shit studio for the occasion) the poll numbers should hold steady going into the final approach to the election.

Unfortunately, because these waters are so uncharted, it’s hard to predict exactly how that’s going to translate into seats and votes on the night, but it seems like the most likely outcome will be a narrow margin between either the Tories or Labour as to who will be the overall largest party (probably the Tories) with a substantially increased Lib Dem contingent. I very much doubt any party will be able to form an overall majority.

That gives Brown first move, as he’s the incumbent. What he does with it will be interesting, and depends on the Lib Dem posture; there’s a reasonable chance that the Lib Dems would consider coalition, or at least a promise of support, at a price.

The Lib Dems are certain to want electoral reform. That is absolutely non-negotiable, and given the result is likely to be fairly absurd in terms of proportions of votes to seats, they’ll have a substantial popular mandate for moving to a more proportional, fairer, system.

A second condition is likely to be that Brown promptly fall onto his own sword. He’s a liability to his own party, let alone to the fortunes of a coalition. A¬† third condition might well be the installation of Vince Cable as the Chancellor, a move likely to be publically popular. I doubt the Lib Dems will win enough support to justify Clegg taking over as PM, but it’s an interesting possibility, especially in the power vacuum left by the Brown murder-suicide.

Note that those things get increasingly more unlikely as they go on; Clegg for PM is practically a fan-boy’s pipe-dream. But a Lib-Lab pact founded on electoral reform and the toppling of Brown is an attractive possibility.

What if conditions make it such that we end up with a Tory minority government? This is possible in the case of the Tories having a reasonable lead in seats over Labour, or Brown rebuffing the Lib Dems in attempt to claw onto power.

The Tories are going to be a lot warier of siding with the Lib Dems; electoral reform might well be a price too high for them to pay. It would mean the end of any hope of a Tory majority government ever again. Fundamentally this is a progressive, centre-left country; between them Labour and the Lib Dems have nearly 60% of the vote. If our votes were ever allowed to count equally, the Tories would never see power again.

In the absence of coalition, this would mean a weak and unstable government; Cameron would have to pull off some pretty damn good politicking to save his hide and win a proper majority in a hypothetical second election. Considering this the man who’s managed to turn what should have been a slam-dunk victory into a hung parliament, and almost brought his party to the point of being made irrelevant by proportional representation, it doesn’t look good for him.

That’s, of course, assuming his party doesn’t stab him in the back. The New Conservatives under Cameron (why that appellation isn’t more widely used I’m not sure) is much more of a surface veneer than the transformation of Labour under Blair, who truely fought for the heart and soul of the Labour party.

Cameron’s makeover of the Tories is mere lubrication designed to help him squeeze down the corridors of power. Which is possibly the most unpleasant metaphor I’ve ever written. There are lots of Tory backbenchers who are still the nasty Tories of old, untouched by Cameron’s campaign to change the party’s image; look at some of the homophobic statements that have leaked out in recent weeks. These people tolerate Dave because they believe that he can put them back into power, where they believe they belong. If he fails to deliver, they may well see Dave as expendable.

The more right-wing Tory who would replace him would, naturally be a lot less electable; this is the same party that tried tacking to the right three times before they realised it was a losing strategy.

Anyways, I guess the only really firm conclusion to be made is that this election is both incredibly interesting and unbelievably important; we could be on the threshold of real political change in this country.

The Smearing of Nick Clegg

I can smell blood in the water, and it ain’t Nick Clegg’s.

The debate and the Lib Dem surge it provoked have thrown this election campaign wide open, and it’s scaring the Fourth Estate shitless. I can’t blame them; they’ve been witness to an event which aptly demonstrated their own irrelevancy.

A Liberal Democrat was allowed to speak – unmediated – on equal terms with his rivals directly to the public, and the public liked what they saw. They didn’t need pundits or commentators to view events and decide what to think on their behalf (although various papers did try to sell conclusions totally at odds with the evidence; despite what the Mirror thought, Brown was not the winner). The journalists are used to setting the narrative, creating the structure of events as much as reporting them, and the story they wanted, expected, to tell us was of Dave, the compassionate Conservative, brushing Brown aside on his inevitable ascent into power.

But that hasn’t happened, and the papers are crapping themselves.

The current smear stories are laughable; one is an out-of-context quote from 8 years ago, the other is a non-story: Clegg received money from donations into his personal account, the money was declared with the relevant authorities, and the donors are satisfied that their money was used for the intended purpose. The worst case scenario you could claim, I suppose, is that he pocketed it. That would be a pretty serious allegation, and one the Telegraph is studious to avoid; likely because such an allegation would probably attract a libel suit that they would almost certainly lose.

If anybody had any real dirt on Clegg, they would have used it by now. Toppling a Lib Dem leader makes a pretty good story even when there isn’t an election. No, this latest behaviour just reeks of desperation. If this is really the worst they could dig up, you have to wonder what weak stuff they didn’t print.

They’re throwing whatever they can at Clegg to try and recapture their narrative for this election; to try and spin the Lib Dem surge as a temporary blip, a blip that will be corrected back to story we’re supposed to be reading, the story of the triumphal coronation procession of David Cameron, finally taking his rightful place behind the famous black door of Number 10.

Fuck that.

I think this election can be different; we finally¬†have a chance here to smash two-party politics that we haven’t had in decades. Power doesn’t have to shift from Labour to Conservative and Conservative to Labour as sure as the swing of a pendulum; we can vote for something different. We can have something different. Words can’t quite express how happy I am that in my first General Election the choice isn’t just between the lesser of two evils.