I spent last night listening to the satirical comic wanderings of Rory Bremner political impressionist extraordinaire. And though most of me was ‘splitting sides’ at the witty one-liners, the theme of austerity measures was enough to make me ‘split hairs’ instead.
One of the most striking gags that featured throughout the BBC live radio performance was when fellow comic Andy Zaltzman stated that the ‘Big Society has captured the people like a baby spider catches an apache helicopter in its web,’ and unfortunately, the negative response rings true. Prime Minister David Cameron claims that the “new proposals aim to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will “take power away from politicians and give it to people”.
However, commenting on Cameron’s ‘big society’, Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, the UK’s largest public service union, said: “Cameron’s “big society” should be renamed the “big cop out.” […]The Government is simply washing its hands of providing decent public services and using volunteers as a cut-price alternative.
“Public services must be based on the certainty that they are there when you need them, not when a volunteer can be found to help you.” And there was a similar rhetoric in terms of humour in which the comedians suggested that anyone could open up a school, an army, and even a militia group to solve Britain’s problems. If this is the case, then essentially the public will be acting as a civil service and the government in turn should have reduced wages.
No doubt, a sense of community spirit goes a long way without all of the cliché labels. In ‘The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace,’ Scott Peck argues that the almost accidental sense of community that exists at times of crisis can be consciously built. And though it has not necessarily been exemplified in the way Cameron envisages, the current occupations are symptomatic of “community organising.”
According to the ‘Building the Big Society’ manifesto, “It is the responsibility of every department of Government, and the responsibility of every citizen too. Government on its own cannot fix every problem.” And so it seems that the Con-Dem coalition are attempting to repair the damage caused by the financial crisis on the back of the welfare state, despite the cuts ensuring that the public sector are the worst hit.
The issue that seems to perplex me is what the incentive is for citizens to actually want to be part of the ‘Big Society.’ Apart from a rather disgraceful revival of the ‘British Empire Medal,’ described as the working- class ‘gong,’ it’s likely to offend those working in the voluntary sector. The Government in this case is acting as the middle-man whilst reaping the benefits. I remember a similar strategy used during the end of the Tony Blair days. When the idea of ‘extremism’ was prevalently used, Blair had said: “The government cannot alone root out extremism in Muslim communities and defeat the terrorism it creates.”
And a comparable reaction ensued, accusing Blair of having done little to win Muslim “hearts and minds,” as well as alienating these communities. If the government are supposed to be a representative of the public, yet are unable to approach the people in which they are supposed to support; I have to question whether the constituents voted into parliament actually come from the ‘Big Society’ or ‘high society.’