We have all read and heard about it; we have seen government ministers themselves struggle to define it: what exactly is the ‘big society’? A big advance for people power?
Perhaps it is a doctrine striving to promote greater control for citizens in the making of decisions that affect their everyday lives. On the surface of it this would appear to be a laudable ideal.These purported aims, however, do not detract from the reality that, at its best, the ‘big society’ is an utterly meaningless political sound bite, designed to pick up cheap votes and act as a smokescreen for Westminster cuts.
At its worst, it is a cunning decoy while the Conservatives widen the gap between the super-rich elite, and everyone else.After using it as a central theme in his election campaign, David Cameron launched the drive on 19 July 2010, claiming that giving individuals and communities more power over their lives was something that excited him most in politics.
It is difficult to escape the suspicion, however, that his ulterior motive was and is less honourable than this.One thing has to be made absolutely clear here: the Tories are desperate to avoid being identified with the recession.
That is the reason behind their default setting of blaming the last Labour regime whenever the words ‘economic crisis’ are so much as whispered, and it is not totally farfetched either to conclude that this delegation of responsibility to local groups is merely a subtle way of passing the executioner’s buck.
While deplorable, this would not be particularly horrifying behaviour from our government: we have become accustomed to such acts of cynicism.However here is where things get darker. Little-known clauses in the Finance Bill of this year are set, in the words of the government’s own overview document, to “provide an opt-in exemption from corporation tax for the profits of foreign branches of UK companies”. This is accompanied by the intentions of Chancellor George Osborne to cut the official rate of corporation tax from 28% to 24% by 2014.
The counter-argument is that such policy will encourage international investment and inject life into our economy, but again it is difficult to escape the suspicion that something more cynical is afoot, especially given the reality that at least half of Conservative party funding comes from the corporate elite. Whatever your opinion, it is certainly convenient that through this recession the executives of big businesses are able to get richer and enjoy their largely unmolested bonuses, while the rest of us are left to prop up the lingering deficit.
So, is the ‘big society’, and David Cameron’s famous words that “we are all in this together”, merely a ploy while behind the scenes exactly the opposite is true? In reality it is doubtful whether any of us will ever know. The central question seems to be whether our Prime Minister – born into an inherently wealthy family, educated at Eton and Oxford, parachuted into the Conservative Party sphere upon graduation – really stands up for our rights, for the plight of the everyman. We can only hope that he does.