Tessa Jowell: The rhetoric is fine, but what about the action?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One year into the Big Society, David Cameron's big idea has stalled. Soaring political speeches may get headlines, but in practice this rhetoric is contradicted by his Government's actions.

This is a pity, because the result risks discrediting a cherished principle which has defined decently lived lives in communities for generations. Our country is better when communities are strong.

While it is easy to support the rhetoric, the Government's failure to pursue the Big Society through progressive principles in practice means it will fail. Cameron's failure to give leadership, and to ensure action that gives practical definition and consistency to his vision, has been fatal. This is because his real problem is ideological: he is convinced you can either have government or civic action but you can't have both.

This is where free market fundamentalism undermines the Big Society: our economy and our communities are expected to spring to life as soon as government leaves the scene. The invisible hand of society is assumed to replace the invisible hand of the market.

As it says in ACEVO's report, "if we want people to take more responsibility... we will need to give them the encouragement and the vehicles to do so... Government's role must be one of acting as partner, catalyst and mobiliser."

I agree. The Government is foolish to see this essential partnership as statist.

According to a survey of charity leaders, 55 per cent of community groups will cut staff by next month, and 35 per cent will cut services. What we lose in two years may become impossible to rebuild in 10.

So, while we support its aspirations, we call on the Government to recognise that the way forward is to adopt a policy of community where possible, government where necessary.

Tessa Jowell is shadow Cabinet Office minister