The Chief Executive of Trafford Housing Trust, Matthew Gardiner has written on his blog of his hopes for the Government’s Big Society programme. Matthew is not someone normally associated with political eulogising, so his words are interesting. He writes;
if The Big Society is about reversing that trend and giving power back to individuals, as well as providing a fund of resources that communities can access, then I think it is a game changing movement. This way it will produce stronger citizens, more resilient societies, the essential ingredients that you would need to do away with organisations like ours.
Most of the focus nationally has been on whether The Big Society has been just a cover for cuts. The debate has been about the money. The money is actually a secondary question; because at the heart of ‘The Big Society’ lies a much more fundamental question over the role of people versus state, and we need to tackle that point of principle before we can even begin to look at how the policy is resourced.
For the past seventy years or so, there’s been a general political consensus that the state should take on an increasing role in allocating resources to communities and individuals. The Conservatives have always advocated delivering greater freedoms to the wealthy, through private health and education, but they have never deviated from the consensus that the state is the amniotic fluid that succours the grateful or ungrateful masses. Whether the state is represented by Government Department, Local Authority, Registered Housing Provider or state sponsored charity like NSPCC is really a matter of detail, the state looks after us from the moment we’re born to our burial in the ground. And as the state has increased its role, it seems to me that neighbourliness and collectivity has decreased. It’s interesting how people describe different facets of the State. It is ‘our’ army, ‘our’ health service, ‘our’ roads, ‘our’ parks but it is never ‘our’ Strategic Partnership, ‘our’ Local Transport Authority, ‘our’ Government Office North West. Much of the state has become distant, objects of contempt or bureaucratic obstacles to our own ability to shape our lives and community. Politicians like to be able to say they did this or they delivered that, but the reality is that no politician as far as I’m aware has ever financed a project, laid a brick, or prescribed medication in their role as a politician. And as the language of politicians and bureaucrats has diminished the role of the citizen (it’s their taxes), the individual has become increasingly disinterested in their community. I believe that Socialism has never been about disenfranchisement or surrogation of our influence to our benign political representatives.
The Big Society does have an attraction as a concept to me. I do believe it can be viewed as ‘Power to the People’ rather than ‘Power to the State’. It’s telling that no section is more contemptuous of the Big Society than those on the right of the Conservative Party who see the only legitimate lever of power as the amount of money in a persons pocket. I want to see more of that wealth being used for the public good and I want to see the super-rich taxed more, but I want to see communities mobilised into taking more responsibility for their neighbourhood and their neighbour. Most of all I want communities to be able to take credit for what they have done, and politicians take credit for enabling rather than doing. To me that is socialism and I’m not going to take a partisan position against the concept just because Cameron is for it and the chattering Guardian establishment is against it.