Danny Rogers: The PM's Big Society strategy is flawed

The Big Society is David Cameron's big idea: a dash of high-minded philosophy amid the hard drudgery of the Afghan war and slashing Britain's public services.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

It was launched on Monday via a speech, although the key media outlets had clearly been briefed. Tory-friendly newspapers trailed it nicely. The Daily Telegraph put it on the front page on Monday; the Daily Mail stuck it on page two; and The Sun made some spurious links between headteacher Philip Lawrence's tragic murder, 'broken Britain' and the need for a social responsibility.

But by Tuesday, the concept had largely disappeared from the media agenda. Even on the BBC Ten O'Clock News on Monday, Hugh Edwards' intro questioned whether it was a big idea or just another excuse 'to cut public services'.

Sadly, this was the second time that Cameron had 'launched' the Big Society. He first did so during the general election campaign, when it was largely ridiculed by the intellectual establishment and even by Tory MPs, who claimed it was not something they could 'sell to voters on their doorsteps'.

Some commentators on this issue believe it is a strong idea that has been poorly communicated. But this could be a case of unnecessarily shooting the messenger. Rather than blaming the comms strategy, as usual, could it be that the idea just wasn't very good in the first place?

As pointed out in many vox pops during Monday's coverage, it is difficult to disagree that we should all make more efforts in our communities. The media dutifully dug up examples of where citizens had grouped together and achieved marvellous things on a voluntary basis. But that's the problem. They were doing this anyway; long before Cameron and strategy guru Steve Hilton came up with their grand concept. Intellectually, there is also some dissonance in a centrally elected Government machine preaching extra-state civilian action.

Equally, regardless of the concept's rigour, such a message is mistimed. We should remember that Cameron didn't actually win the general election. And while his coalition Government does indeed have public support for cutting the deficit - all credit to Cameron's political skills and Downing Street's comms strategy - I would argue this is a popular mandate based on expediency and grim reality, rather than on philosophical support.

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