Amol Rajan: What's Cameron's Big Society? A lot more quangos

FreeView from the editors at i

Share

In May 2007, Oliver Letwin, probably the biggest living intellectual influence on the Coalition government, gave a speech in which he set out what Cameronism means.

The coming Tory government would differ from previous ones in two fundamental ways, he said. First, it would shift "the locus of debate from an econocentric paradigm to a sociocentric paradigm". Second, it would stop "banging on about Europe", as Cameron himself put it in his first party conference speech as leader.

Events, dear Oliver, events. The irony of this parliament is that it is now run by Tories who conquered their party as social reformers but, once in power, find themselves obsessed with Europe and the economy. As a result, the social reforms have become a secondary consideration. The unspoken strategy now is to fix Britain's "broken economy" in the first term, and our "broken society" – a disgusting phrase – in the second term. That, by the way, is how two-term American presidents generally try to be remembered.

This is the context in which my colleague Steve Richards has been examining the Big Society in his compelling Radio 4 series David Cameron's Big Idea, which concludes on Sunday. I have taken three main points from the first two episodes.

First, the Big Society represents an audacious raid into Labour territory. Former Labour minister James Purnell admits to Steve that he was struck by the adoption of Labourite principles, such as on co-operatives; Maurice Glasman, now of Blue Labour fame, says he was seeing his life's work with London Citizens stolen from him by the Tory enemy.

Second, even within conservatism, the Big Society has a distinguished and long pedigree. It is in fact an agglomeration of Edmund Burke's little platoons; and David Willetts, another major intellectual influence on the Coalition, who wrote brilliant pamphlets about civic conservatism in the early 1990s.

Third, and most crucially, the Big Society is yet to be reconciled with austerity. It may be a boom-time fantasy. Voluntary organisations might be cheaper and more efficient than state bodies. But they still need money. When their funding from individuals, corporations, and trusts disappears in a recession, they need more state help, not less.

A charity which is funded solely by the government is not a charity. It is a quango. But many charities are having to become quangos temporarily to survive.

David Cameron never envisaged the Big Society as a proliferation of quangos, but as Steve makes clear, that is what a sick economy and misconceived policies have led to.

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Are you a Teacher interested in Special Needs?

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a qualified Teacher w...

**ESOL**

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job:* The Tutor will prepar...

Qualified Teaching Assistant Jobs in Blackpool

Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: Qualified Teaching Assistant Jobs in B...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album