So finally my roving satirical eye turns to the general election. A month ago, I thought the Tories would walk it. Now I’m not sure. David Camerons needs to take 116 seats to get even a technical majority. The polls are in his favour but under first past the post this means nothing if the votes are not well targeted. Camerons has realised that the Daily Mail manifestos of the previous three elections will get him nowhere. He needs big ideas.
The Camerons idea is the Big Society. Launched this week, the Conservative manifesto is titled ‘Invitation to join the Government of Great Britain’; quoting the American founding fathers as well as JFK, Camerons said that: ‘It’s about we, the people. And it’s time to say to those who think it’s all about unchecked individualism: no, it’s not about me, the individual. It’s about we, the people’.
In policy terms, this means ‘enabling parents to open new schools’, ‘letting neighbours take over local amenities like parks and libraries that are under threat’, and ‘giving the public greater control of the planning system’. Boring, creaky old state delivery will be replaced by a new era of social responsibility and community activism. From the manifesto:
Our ambition of every adult citizen being a member of an active neighbourhood group … our alternative to big government is the big society: a society with much higher levels of personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibility; a society where people come together and improve life for themselves and their communities.
The problem with Dave’s idea is that what with work, family and social commitments most people don’t have time to set up a boarding school or decide the allocation of new brownfield sites. Moreover, many state services need to be delivered by people with the necessary skills and training. This central flaw has produced a CiF thread that’s actually worth reading.
Following Armando Iannucci’s plan to set up his own police force in Wigan, commentors chime in with ideas including: ‘I have decided to set up a school in my shed’; ‘I have a hosepipe so I can be the fireman for my street’; ‘I’m going to collect tax on everyone who passes my house’; ‘I’m tackling Britain’s immigration policy by installing Total Wipeout – style obstacle courses at all our borders’; ‘I’m setting up a co-operative to float the local library on the FTSE’; ‘The kid next door and I are going to run the local hospital. He’s really good at Operation, and I’ve got a white coat that I took off one of the people chasing me with butterfly nets.’
Of course the Tories know perfectly well what’s wrong with the basic idea. All the Big Society spin would mean in practice is that more and more public sector services will be farmed off to charities and faith groups. The website even says it: ‘Promote the delivery of public services by social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups, encouraging them to get involved in running things like Sure Start’.
It’s a very old Tory idea that’s worked for them since Victorian times. Vote for change and the Salvation Army can look after your kids. That’ll be the only option when Dave’s little platoons are marching over the hill.