Junior member of the Cameron government, Nick Clegg, appeared on LBC this morning. Presenter Nick Ferrari asked him repeatedly whether or not he likes the Big Society (BS for short). Clegg repeatedly tried to dodge and waffle his way out of an answer. First, he claimed the government had removed the right of councils to ‘spy on your bin’.
Is that really a core principle behind the Big Society? I wasn’t aware of people lying awake at night wondering if Lambeth Council’s Special Wheelie Bin Intelligence Squad was on the prowl for refuse-niks. They are rather more likely to be concerned about whether or not their bin will be emptied as regularly as in the past,which, given savage government cuts to local government now and in coming years, is a justified concern. Or perhaps the idea is that the community will be empowered to spy on each other’s bins. Who knows?
Clegg then haltingly attempted to explain the BS ‘concept’. In my experience, when politicians haltingly attempt anything it’s fair to say they are either filled with bafflement or they are plain old reluctant. In Clegg’s case, it would be reasonable to conclude he is filled with both bafflement and reluctance. But contrast his subsequent remarks in favour, confirming he is in fact full of BS.
Ferrari then turned to Clegg’s apparent lack of community activism, asking why he isn’t running a pub or taking over the local park. Clegg responded that he would be too busy explaining student fees policy to serve any drinks. Perhaps, especially in a pub in a studenty area. More probably, Clegg would be sorting through the ashes and rubble of The Cremated Phoenix.
Here is part of the interview I’m referring to .
NF: Are you a fan of the big society, does the big society as a proposition, has it been sold well, does it work, do you like it?
NC: Look it is a label, a set of words which I think actually speaks for something which runs quite deep in the British psyche which is that people don’t like to constantly be told what to do, what to think, they don’t like, last week, a good example, we actually talked about it on the radio last week, and I took a lead at this, we’ve repealed the right of local authorities to spy on your bin, to break and enter into your home, to have a sort of poke around your house and I think what we are doing is we are restoring peoples sense of privacy.
NF: So you do like the big society?
NC: I like the whole underpinning of a big society in which people…
NF: Golly, why won’t you say you like the big society…
NC: No, I’ve just said of course I like the big… of course I like the concept of the big society, I’m trying to explain the concept of a big society…
NF: You do like it?
NC: Of course I do…
NF: So why aren’t you doing it?
NC: Why aren’t I doing what?
NF: Because we are all meant, even if we have got 3 young children, as I know you have, we are all still meant to be running our village pub and becoming school governors, and taking over the local park, shouldn’t you lead by example?
NC: Well I think if I tried to run the local pub now I’d be too stuck trying to explain the fees policy, and too busy to serve any drinks… I think the whole idea and the big society bank, which was announced over the last few days, will be a real boost to giving social enterprises and voluntary groups and others the kind of means they need to get going and take control of their own areas in the way in which we think really works.
So there we have it. It’s big. Eye-wateringly big, whether as a label, some words or a concept. And it’s got something to do with society. The Liberal Democrats, who a year ago thought it was ‘patronising nonsense’, now think it will be a ‘real boost’ that ‘really works’. Nick Clegg came out of the closet today to say so.