No 10 talk turns from Big Society to small is beautiful, says The Times

A link in the always-informative Conservative Home newsletter prompted me to spend £1 subscribing to The Times online. The link teaser was: “Increasingly, Mr Cameron’s advisers have started to argue that “small is beautiful” rather than talking about the Big Society.”

The argument in the article by Rachel Sylvester – behind the paywall – is that No 10 is increasingly concerned that “too big to fail” won’t work as a strategy – whether that’s banks, the EU, or indeed the Church of England in the face of a tented village. Apparently they are listening to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose 2007 book The Black Swan argued that history is made by random high-impact events rather than day-to-day routines. A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences.

Stuff happens, you can’t see it coming, so it may be better to have more small projects, systems, organisations. The second edition of The Black Swan has ten principles for a robust society – of which “what is fragile should break early, while it’s still small” is top of the list, says Rachel.

The genuine uncertainty about whether we are heading for another recession has caused a strategic, if not an economic rethink, at No 10. Increasingly, Mr Cameron’s advisers have started to argue that “small is beautiful” rather than talking about the Big Society. They cite E. F. Schumacher’s book of that name, which is subtitled Economics as if People Mattered, to make the case for a radical shift in priorities. Although for years the Conservatives were the party of big business (Margaret Thatcher oversaw the Big Bang in the City of London), some senior figures have started to argue that it’s time for the Tories to turn back into the champions of Edmund Burke’s little platoons. “We can’t any more allow ourselves to be beholden to institutions that are too big to fail,” says one.

If this is indeed a glimmer of new policy, where might No 10 look for levers to pull, programmes to encourage on the community action front? Big Society as a call to action has faded, although BS Awards are still favoured, as I wrote here. Apparently David Cameron is reviving the British Empire Medal, as a big society reward, but something more will be need.

I think that the Transition Network has a lot of the ingredients, as I wrote here. Or perhaps No 10 should take a look at the Big Lottery Fund People Powered Change programme, which I‘m blogging about over here, as one area of support (although BIG must not be politically directed).

Big Society continues to exist as big society the policy framework, but it sounds as if  No 10 may be looking for a new public framework.

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