Monday, August 02, 2010

What the 'Big Society' is really all about

Peter Wilby writes in the New Statesman:

Cameron's speech refers to the "big society" ensuring we "don't always turn to officials, local authorities or central government". He doesn't want to stop us turning to business. On the contrary, Cameron wants to connect "private capital to investment in social projects". That, I suspect, is what the "big society" is really all about. Parents may decide to start a school, but they will soon find it's best to bring in private money and hire private management if it is to get off the ground and survive as a ­going concern. Several private companies, most earning millions from outsourced public projects, are already offering their services. Some openly admit that they aim to create branded chains of schools which they will largely control even if they do not legally own them.

Remember what happened to those classic 19th-century self-help institutions, the building societies. Thanks to Tory legislation in the 1980s, their owners - the customers - were bribed to "demutualise" and sell out to commercial banks. For "big society", read big bonanza for big business.

Not so long ago, Britain did have a 'Big Society'. Where there were thriving communities and people were kind to one another. But that was before big business and 'market forces' took over every aspect of our lives.


Chris Hall said...

Peter Wilby has hit the nail right on the head. Cameron's big society is all about big profits. It's about sourcing and opening up new opportunities for the money industry. They've done the utilities, transport, defence, personal banking, opened up the NHS and now they're offering up the education system.

Mr. Piccolo said...

Cameron's "Big Society" just seems like a PR scheme to put a happy, populist face on austerity and privatization. If the Conservatives and their allies were really interested in self-rule, why not apply those ideas to the workplace? Most people probably spend more of their time working than engaging in community or political activities, so aren't the Tories leaving out a big part of life in their self-help crusade?

Why are bureaucracies bad when they are part of the government, but good when they are found in huge, labyrinthine private corporations? Why not support authentic self-rule across the board, for example, by supporting worker cooperatives?

My guess is that Cameron and friends would oppose real self-government in the workplace because then the highest-paid workers might only make about 5 times what the lowest-paid worker made within the enterprise. This is in contrast to many corporations where the top-level executives can make as much as 500 times what the lowest-paid worker makes.

Also, it is unlikely that workers would agree to offshore their jobs and ruin their communities if they had real control over their own enterprises.

This whole "Big Society" program sounds a lot like George W. Bush's "Compassionate Conservatism," which is definitely not a good thing.

Undergroundman said...

Most of what Cameron says is guff designed to soften the agenda of enforcing market mechanisms on an entire society and to dominate the public sphere and the individual by giving over control of his life to large corporations.

The threat to liberty the privatisation of schools would pose could lead to some form of authoritarianism, even of Fascism as "the Big Society" becomes one in which individual is squeezed out of public life and critical dissent is not encouraged.

The late writer J G Ballard looked at the real question that could face Britain sooner than people are aware: 'Could Consumerism become Fascism' ? The terror at the critical outsider, of those which demand rigid conformity to an increasingly militarised corporate state in which freedom is perfect customer service.

Every year we slide towards this when private greed and affluence condones public squalor, as people retreat away from maintaining civic institutions and towards an incessant media induced system of indoctrination and manipulation of the emotions instead of appeal to reason.

Noted with sadness today that Tony Judt died. His seminal Ill Fares the Land, his last book, should be read by all.

Undergroundman said...

"If the Conservatives and their allies were really interested in self-rule, why not apply those ideas to the workplace?"

Mr Piccolo

Because the fake Conservatives are no different from New Labour in holding to a vulgar and reductionist utilitarian neoliberal ideology in which sovereign consumers have rights that non-consumers or lesser consumers do not.

Forget the idea of citizenship. In 2010 the concept of the morally educated citizen is seen as outdated and people are now mere consumers and some consumers are more equal than others. It is considered the only way to motivate people by brand status and differentiation.

It never seems to cross what passes for their minds that such a degraded worldview is both vulgar and unbecoming of honourable that treats people like commodities, as though 'human resources', a term first coined by the Nazis.