Simon Carr: How we long to believe that our leaders know what's actually going on

Sketch: The state's apparatus is so enormous and so intricately regulated no one can describe it all
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The Independent Online

While the launch of the Big Society's fightback was under way in London, an Even Bigger Society was announced: China overtook Japan as the world's second-largest economy. We really ought to get a move-on.

Why has the conventional wisdom gathered around the idea that no one understands what the Big Society is supposed to be? In two words: Oliver Letwin.

What I don't understand is why volunteers get paid, how big charities speak the same feculent dialect as politicians, why aid workers travel business class, and how anyone would intervene to stop a fight knowing they'll be arrested if the police come.

So much of this campaign depends on the personal qualities of its proponents. The amateurs have and haven't got the goods.

A peppy and engaging Cameron said a couple of things you don't expect from a prime minister. The cuts "will make me unpopular". On past evidence, being prime minister makes you unpopular, no wonder he's moving at speed. When a headmistress told Cameron his plans to devolve power were likely to increase centralisation he said, "Give me a for-instance." Neither of his predecessors would have said such a thing. They firmly let it be known they knew everything worth knowing.

Again, he related how he'd got a number of charities into a room to ask "What is stopping you? Tell us the national laws and rules that are getting in your way."

We are still inclined to believe, even we cynics, that our leaders know these things already. How we long to believe someone knows what's going on. But the state's apparatus is so enormous and so intricately regulated no one can describe it all.

To their credit, the amateurs don't mind admitting this, and operating accordingly. But to their debit, the amateurism has failed to win hearts and minds because they haven't taken the precaution of gaining attention.

A small for-instance. Cameron mentioned the CRB checks that Labour put in place as a child protection plan. Eleven million adults were to be on a central register. Ed Balls took his radical axe to the matter when he was the minister and reduced it to nine million adults. The coalition has reduced it to two million. It's an opinion-forming figure but Cameron failed to mention it. Maybe it was in danger of sounding like a soundbite.

It may not be necessary to have a Head of Story Development, a rapid rebuttal unit, some declarative laws to send a message out and a Tsar. But some crisp little examples, surely, wouldn't pollute the amateur ethic?