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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

`Big Society' hits stormy waters?

Could The Big Society face problems over its credibility, in the same way that the famous Labour idea of The Big Conversation did?.
This blog post can be read at

There are a lot of hopes pinned on The Big Society being at the heart of the provision of fibre to Notspots, by the people in those Notspots, but this article in the Guardian sounds a warning note about the concept. One of the biggest challenges facing politicians is tapping into The Zeitgeist, tuning yourself into the way that the majority of people are feeling.

As the article above shows, there are signs that The Big Society could be seen by some as another part of the cuts armoury. The Zeitgeist could turn against it.

Whilst those involved in the Fibrevolution know it is something very different, a means for achieving the aims of dragging the country, and the countryside's internet provision into the 21st Century, we must be alert to the fact that if it becomes politically inconvenient to the government, or used as a symbol of the unpopularity of the cuts, it could be dropped quite rapidly.

I suppose that what I'm saying is that there should be a Plan B, just in case. Perhaps focussing on the removal of obstacles to communities putting in their own fibre networks, something which can be de-coupled from the Big Society if necessary, but still achieve some very useful things . The removal of obstacles is far less politically vulnerable, as it isn't directly associated with the cuts

Lots of shouting at one public meeting may not spell the end for the concept, but it could cause problems further down the line, especially if it is widely picked up by opponents of the spending cuts, and at the moment feelings are very fragile amongst many people who may have voted for the government. Watch the Zeitgeist very carefully.


chris said...

I think the backlash is because many 'officials' haven't quite grasped the concept that the big society has always existed, and will always exist, especially in rural areas. What won't work is a top down approach where suits try to muscle in and tell people what to do. We have been helping our communities for years without their help. What would be really useful is for them to watch what we do and help us by removing the obstacles that have built up over the years. Obsolete taxes, stupid planning laws, out of date procedures. The idea of big society is genius. Its a shame if the very bureaucracy it is trying to eliminate beats it back into the dustbin of good ideas. Aye, never underestimate the power of the suits. If only they would join forces we could achieve some great things.

Cybersavvy UK said...

The cuts have come about because we (who must take 'corporate responsiblity' for what happens in this country) have pandered for far too long to unsustainable expenditure, not just in govt departments, but also in our own families - hence the huge debt within the country. We have pinned everything on property, even knowing that what goes up must come down.

Now, it is time to operate the country more like a business and stop behaving profligately. Other countries have just had general strikes on this issue. Britain was ...where?

Big Society should not be about cuts per se, it should be about spending more wisely. Put some small business owners or mums in charge of Govt departments and we would see some far more harsh restructuring and cuts.

If we know we can do things more cheaply than an over-inflated quango full of career chasers, let us. That is what Big Society means to me.

Mark Holdstock said...

Chris: Agree entirely. It's the same suits who are looking to take over The Big Society, who are being junked from a lot of the Quangos. I'm afraid there are far too many of the `Good and the Great' whose entire life has been spent sitting on committees, and you're absolutely right about removing obstacles, I've seen this strategy used time and time again on the railways where procedure have been put in place to stop anything useful ever happening.

Lins: Interesting point about a lack of a national strike here. I suspect it's because we're about 6-9 months behind the rest of Europe. The one to watch will be Ireland, where people have in the past, and probably will again, exercise their option to leave. Cameron's challenge is to win the consent of the people for the actual cuts which have to be made, not just the principle.

I think it was interesting to see yesterday that research carried out in this country won two Nobel prizes. I have to wonder if Edwards and Steptoe had faced the funding difficulties they faced in the 1970s, today, would they simply have gone elsewhere, the problem has been that over the past 13 years the spending hasn't just been profligate, and unsustainable, but much of it has been made on the back of `bad' decisions. Again I could cite numerous examples on the Railways.

Cybersavvy UK said...

Rory Stewart put it far better than I could:

Respublica article

Mark Holdstock said...

Yes he does put it very well, but I still suspect that the usual career chasers will be licking their lips...

It should be a no-brainer to put a lot of fibre in without public funding, but the corporate, and legal obstacles have to be removed first. That will be the challenge.

Somerset said...

So we have found a new word 'Zeitgeist' that real people have never heard of. Never mind, it sounds impressive(?) and will make whoever uses it sound like a complete prat.

Meanwhile access to BT ducts is dependant on finding ones that aren't blocked with earth...

Cyberdoyle said...

hello Peter, that is the beauty of having an internet connection - you can allus google the big words.