Not that you’d know it, but the summer of 2012 was the summer of the Big Society. Coupled with the country’s phenomenal sporting success was a national mood that David Cameron and his advisors could have only dreamed about when they first thought up their big policy idea, the Big Society.
2012 was the summer of mass volunteering, of victory parades, of street parties, of national pride, of community spirit. It was, in short, a summer of the Big Society.
Whatever you think about the Big Society, the idea is a good one. In a time of austerity, if society can take some of the burden from the state, that’s good. When people are willing to volunteer their time, to get involved in their community, to become more connected with their neighbours, the result will almost always be positive.
And that is exactly what we saw this year. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, for instance, caused people in communities to not only talk to each other but to actually eat, drink, and celebrate together. We even hung bunting in our streets and flew the Union Jack with pride!
And then came the Olympics and Paralympics.
Leading up to the start of the Games, the press coverage made fairly unpleasant reading. Indeed most coverage focussed on how terrible the traffic, the cost, and the weather will be. And yet, when the Greatest Show on Earth began, all of that was forgotten.
Again, we found ourselves in the unfamiliar territory of feeling a strong sense of national pride and togetherness. Again we found ourselves wanting to display the national flag. And perhaps the deepest feeling of all was the immense awe and gratitude we felt towards the thousands of volunteers who made the Games run like clockwork.
If ever a policy needed a springboard from which to propel it upwards, it is the Big Society. And the summer of 2012 has certainly provided such a springboard. And so what has the Conservative Party done to capture this feeling of togetherness and to use it to strengthen the Big Society concept? Unfortunately, very little.
We’ve heard very little recently from the Conservatives about the Big Society. The policy that David Cameron once described as “my mission” seems to have vanished. This was, remember, the party’s flagship policy for achieving “social recovery as well as economic recovery”.
This is a great shame because it is actually a really good idea. As Iain Martin has pointed out, it is “actually a great idea killed by atrocious marketing”, most notably the failure “to realise that the acronym for the Big Society is BS.”
And now, we understand that the idea has been taken on by the Labour Party. Good luck to them. I hope they can make it work.
The Big Society is dead. Long live the Big Society.