When I hear the inanity of Margaret Mead’s “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world….” leave someone’s mouth, I want to clobber them over the head with an oversized banana. When they smugly conclude with it, like it’s the truism to end all arguments, I want to stitch their mouths shut.
One panellist at yesterday’s ESRC/TSRC Big Society Evaluation event did just that. I had to restrain myself. It’s a shame that this sticks in my craw because it was a genuinely illuminating, optimistic but adversarial event. It might not have done what was on the tin – actually evaluate any Big Society initiatives – but it did reveal just how contested it was and what a centre-Left imagining of it might be.
Because I’m on a train and because I like the format, here’s a digest of my top 8:
1) The Big Society is as much a space for the reimagining of the state as it is of the third sector.
2) The Big Society may be biggest where it could be smaller (the most affluent areas) and smallest where it needs to be biggest (the most deprived) based on TSRC’s measures of the “civic core”.
3) A Big Society does not a strong State, able to provide the regulatory framework for local initiatives. It’s not a zero sum game by any means.
4) Cultivating the citizenry for a post-welfarist society will not happen in a single parliamentary term. It requires a generational shift of social values.
5) Social problems need economic as well as social policy solutions. General consensus on this.
6) The government suffers from a lack of “distributional realism”. Whatever objectives public and third sectors are directed towards, distributionism needs to be high on that agenda. This wil also help to address inequalities of participation and resourcing.
7) We need to reclaim investment. Billions of pounds are sitting ildly in high street banks, burned by inflation and doing nothing but propping up big banks. New models of peer to peer investment from individuals to businesses and social enterprises need to be championed and popularised. Thanks to Bruce Davis for this – I’ll be blogging in more detail soon.
8) I don’t always agree with Matthew Taylor, but I do on this: “progressives” need to be offering solutions and innovations instead of ranting from the sidelines. Our solutions are much better than the alternative.