It’s been a bad couple of weeks for Big Society if you are sitting in Whitehall … but rather a good time if you believe that there are some useful principles and opportunities in the large bag originally promoted as central to the Conservative manifesto. They are just in the wrong ownership.
We need to unpack the bag, re-assemble the pieces, claim them for ourselves, and stick on some different labels. After all, Big Society is meant to be about shifting power from central to local, and enabling citizens to take control. These days social media means we don’t have to accept brands created in our name, or organising methods from another age.
The bad/good fortnight started with a front-page splash in the Times, prompting “end of the beginning” analysis and ended up with Liverpool council pulling out of the vanguard area programme. In between we had lots of “Big Society in crisis” blogging, including a “you couldn’t make it up” piece from the Wall Street Journal. In Liverpool Phil Redmond said he stuck by the principles, but “the marketing slogan is not the best” … and the BBC’s Nick Robinson said Big Society should be high on the agenda for the PM’s new messenger Craig Oliver.
The comments from Phil and Nick show what’s wrong with Big Society communications … as well, of course, as the problem of people thinking it is all about volunteering (that’s just part of it) and cuts undermining local support systems (they need changing, but not this fast, at this cost). read more