The problem with Dave's Big Society concept is the basic assumption that we've got the time to get involved. Cameron's speech to his party conference last week reaffirmed his regularly stated passion for the idea of communities working together, for people power and so on – but the latest evidence is that we find ourselves with less "me" time than ever. That's the precious few hours when we're not working, running our homes, looking after our families and travelling to and from work. This diminishing downtime is when Dave thinks we'll be taking more community responsibility, running schools and getting involved in local services. He faces a hard task.
Official figures show that although hours at work have fallen since the 1990s, more of us take work home, and use email and mobiles to lengthen our working day. One survey concluded that we've ended up with eight and a half hours a week less to spend on ourselves than five years ago, and many people can spend up to 10 days a year working on their BlackBerrys outside office hours.
Over half the people in the latest survey work five days a week, and half brought work home. In London, the situation is worse, with 60 per cent of men claiming to work a 60-hour week. Women now have roughly 50 minutes of "me" time a day, compared with 75 for men, and typically finish the housework at 10.30pm, it emerged last week. Most shop for food, care for kids, and run the home. These statistics show how the working week has been expanded by modern technology.
Work intrudes into every aspect of our lives. At present, the number who do voluntary work, help out at schools and community centres and so on is very small. This socially committed minority is unlikely to be joined by a platoon of Dave's new fan club members. The only way to sell the Big Society is for politicians to lead the way and give up their time, instead of taking lucrative speaking engagements and consultancies; and for bankers and high earners to give time, rather than cheques (which represent a very small fraction of their wealth), to help the less fortunate. Asking ordinary voters to give up time to help run democracy is never going to catch on. It's too late.
Another indication of how little time we have is our obsessive love affair with lists. In truth, 99 per cent of lists (unless they include food and cleaning materials) have no merit whatsoever. Lists may have started out as a harmless bit of fun, but they are now routinely used as the yardstick of modern values. Last week, for example, Forbes magazine announced that Michelle Obama was the "most powerful" woman in the world, while the Queen only rated 41st. Neither woman has been elected to power. One has got her status by birth and the other is married to the right person.
The Forbes warped notion of power reminds me of Geri Halliwell's pathetic remark about "girl power" as if it was a new, extra-strength, modern kind of power, not some second-division concept only those with a vagina could sign up for. Why should we care what Forbes thinks? It's just a PR exercise. The environment charity Earthwatch has compiled a list of five threatened species, and eminent scientists will be speaking in a debate arguing the merits of the bumblebee versus the song thrush or the oak tree. The public is being asked to vote on Britain's "most treasured" species, which will be adopted as a mascot. How can you compare a tree, a bird and a bee? About as bonkers as the list of the "three best" meat roasting tins I was perusing the same day.
Television is constantly asking us to choose our favourite view, our favourite composer, our favourite invention. We were asked to send in suggestions to end Neil MacGregor's interminable A History of the World in 100 Objects – nothing more than a list, when all's said and done.
List culture is an easily recognisable shorthand, a substitute for thinking for ourselves. Perfect for a society with about eight hours less a week in which to do anything cultural or spiritual. We don't have to read books, listen to music or spend time birdwatching or walking in the countryside. We can just vote with the click of a mouse, and the job's done. Mr Cameron's Big Society is one club we won't be joining, because it requires that precious commodity – time.
Poor old Cliff – great body, but no sex appeal
Hail to the god of youth, Cliff Richard, 70 this week, who will be spending every night from tomorrow performing at the Royal Albert Hall, promoting his new album. Cliff looks remarkable for his age, but he does seem to live a very monastic existence. He used to exist on just one meal a day for years, and now follows a "blood group" diet. Cliff, who is blood type A, denies himself wheat, dairy products, red meat and carbohydrates. He also shuns drugs and drink. Cliff admits that he's completely obsessive about his physique, lifting weights and playing tennis three times a week. Although he admits to being vain, that's no different from most big stars. What sets him apart is his total lack of humour. Anyone who takes themselves this seriously utterly lacks sex appeal. He's no Tom Jones.
So, Aston Martin isn't posh?
The class war is currently being fought out at a most unlikely venue, Portsmouth ferry terminal. Lord Sterling, boss of Swan Hellenic Cruises, is furious that his passengers might use the same facilities as the commoners booked on the car ferries to France and Spain. He said: "There will be young people, looking to travel as cheaply as possible, lolling around." Worse, he's worried his customers might encounter "lorry drivers, who in the summer suffer from BO, wear shorts and no shirt, and may not have shaved for days". I've regularly used Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth, and the passengers are far posher than Lord Sterling's pensioners. Last time, there were at least 10 valuable old racing cars, Jaguars and Aston Martins, whose wealthy owners were participating in a rally at Le Mans. Ferries have good food and comfy cabins – and they're not cheap.
If this is art, the axe will fall
Artists and curators including the Tate's Nick Serota, are signing petitions against proposed arts funding cuts. Sir Peter Blake says it won't make any difference to him, as the Tate doesn't like his stuff anyway. And this year's Turner Prize exhibition, which has just opened at Tate Britain, doesn't offer a strong case for its subsidy. The exhibit by Susan Philipsz consists of an empty room in which a tape is continuously played of the artist singing a Scottish folk ditty about a ghost. I watched a bemused Peter Bazalgette, one of the most creative TV executives of the past decade (Big Brother, Ready Steady Cook, Deal or No Deal), view this piece of conceptual art. He, like me, was deeply unimpressed. Perhaps we're too lowbrow.Reuse content