To paraphrase Mark Twain: contrary to my previous blog, reports of the death of the Big Society are grossly exaggerated. The Cabinet Office recently released an outline of their plans to give the Big Society legs, and there is a distinct possibility that they will run all over the country, although to stretch this already strained metaphor, the idea may take some time to get its shoes on.
A noteworthy conceptual point is that the document made reference to "Society - the families, networks, neighbourhoods and communities that form so much of the fabric of our everyday lives". That's not quite a definition, but it's good to see the idea given some tangible structure. As I indicated previously, Margaret Thatcher's contention that "there is no such thing as society" is often wrenched out of context, because she actually said:
"There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.” (My italics).
So families and neighbours are already part of the otherwise purportedly nebulous notion of "society", and now we have the explicit recognition of networks and communities too. This is the core turf of our Connected Communities project.
Recent updates on the unfolding Big Society include the fact that Nat Wei, the founder of Teach First, has been appointed as the new Government advisor on the Big Society. Meanwhile, Ed West at The Daily Telegraph fears the idea is too New Labour, and author Zadie Smith doesn't think the idea makes much sense:
"The big society? I don't know. I don't really want to build my own school or my own hospital – I appreciate it if someone else does that for me," she said. "I am not so keen on that kind of people action. I think most people would like their services prepared for them. I am not a great fan of that concept."
You may not have to build a school or a hospital, but the question still remains - to make society bigger and better, what exactly do you have to build?