Why I now support the Big Society

January 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

David Cameron, author of The Big Society...but is it, in fact, a perfect example of liberalism at its best?

O.k., I admit it, when I first heard about the idea of the Big Society I thought ‘another piece of what Margaret Thatcher might have once described as ‘windy rhetoric”-that might sound all very nice, but was really about dismantling the State and getting lots of well-meaning people to do it all for free.

However, I’ve had something of a ‘see the light’ moment since then; i’ve become a genuine convert to the cause.

Let me be clear from the outset, I do not believe-and have never believed-that Britain is a ‘broken society’ and I think David Cameron and his party were wrong to use such palpably ludicrous statements back when he was Leader of the Opposition.

Many Lib Dems condemned him at the time and were right to do so.

Which is not to say that this country didn’t have its social problems, of course it did, but individual problems are not necessarily examples of a more general societal collapse.

I also must state early on that I believe in an enabling Government and that people pay their taxes and are right to demand that good quality services are provided for them by people on the public payroll.

However, I also now believe that encouraging volunteerism, social entrepreneurship, social activism, etc, is key to making this country the fair and decent place we surely all want it to be.

My own village of Barwell in Leicestershire is a good case in point.

As many of you will be aware Barwell has had its fair share of individual incidents which have made the national news in recent years-by the way I utterly condemn some of the biased, sensationalist coverage of our village by the London-based media-but it is, at heart, a great place to live populated b, overwhelmingly, good and decent people.

Now, begins the work of rebuilding my little community.

That must, inevitably, involve a great many people from a number of agencies; the police, the parish council, the Lib Dem-run Borough Council, etc.

But, official bodies, no matter how close to the ground they are, can do everything.

Barwell’s re-birth, if I can put it like that, will not fully take place unless the talents, enthusiasms and, yes, the power of its people are put to good use in the interest of serving the local community and making it better for local people to live, work and play in.

This means voluntary groups, youth organisations, the local business association, and so on coming together, to come up with ideas that can help not only re-build our infrastructure, provide better services, but also make sure that no one is left behind, no one forgotten, no one feeling they are not a part of this big adventure.

I work as a Centre Co-Ordinator at the new George Ward Centre in Barwell (named after the late former boot and shoe manufacturer and philanthropist who went on to become Hinckley and Bosworth’s Liberal Member of Parliament) and we are working tooth and claw to make sure we are providing affordable activities for people right across the age and social strate spectrum.

Now, yes, I’m a paid employee, but we also rely on our fantastic team of volunteers to man our cafe area, etc.

My village also relies a lot on faith-based organisations.

For example, I’m a Member of Barwell Methodist Church which provides a range of different services/events each week.

I’m reminded that, outside of Government, the Christian Church provides more welfare than any other group/organisation in this country.

Getting back to Barwell and I’m also hoping, with other like-minded people, to try to set up a committee of volunteers whose aim is to put on events for local people and help to promote the village as a great place to live.

So call it the Big Society, call it social activism, call it volunteering gone large…indeed call it what you like, but I believe this is just what is needed to help us turn around many of our areas across the country.

Above all, call it liberal for I, at least, believe it matches perfectly with the all-important preamble to our constitution:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance and conformity.’

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