Posted Under: Food,Green Party,Public Sector,Tories
There’ve been some interesting posts around about the launch of the Big Society, from Harpy Marx and Anna Raccoon’s pieces on how it’s all to be funded, to the typically naive optimism of Left Foot Forward. Ed West at the Telegraph has an interesting spate of religion-bashing, though not half so daft as the knee-jerk ‘the muslims are everywhere’ approach of Harry’s Place. And as Reuben pointed out yesterday, A Very Public Sociologist does a good job of defending the idea of an actual big society.
However, what’s slightly gone under the radar is how we’ve been preparing for all of this for a while. What’s genuinely interesting is that no matter how see-through the Coalition’s vile politics are, the rise to counter-power seems stagnant and silent. Let’s re-cap on what the Big Society means, which I think I can do it in 2 points:
1) Stop Paying People for Doing Useful Jobs
The idea of pushing volunteering isn’t to instigate a tradition of community support, but is a way of stopping paying people for public services. Out with the librarians, in with the volunteering middle classes.
2) Give People with Useless Jobs More Control
The whole push on community control over all aspects of life is to make sure that private business can get a say in any of it. This way we can not only sell off parts of the state that would otherwise be really difficult (hospitals, the post office, schools, the remaining housing), but it also means that we can set up community trusts and boards which business execs can sit on, and control ‘local’ ammenities like pubs and newsagents.
However, the underlying ideology of all this is a bit more complicated and pernicious. It’s not just a recycling of One Nation Toryism, or anything entirely new either. Rather, I think the idea can be seen in a lot of green-austerity gumph quite clearly. As a good material example, here’s Tesco, the ruler of our stomachs:
I saw this advert next to the 303 in Camberwell, a great arts space. We’d just been preparing various things for this year’s climate camp. What struck me was the pared down, austere feel of that little egg-box-punnet, the grey typeface used for even the usually brightly-coloured Tesco logo in the bottom right hand corner. Along with this, the clear One Nation circular sticker, with its slightly cuddly Union Flag, and the bold, imperative EVERY LITTLE HELPS motto. And of course the prominence of the word ‘British’ in the top left.
The whole advert is an appeal to WW2 British romantic sentimentalism, a vision of those glorious 1940s were ‘we’ all pulled our socks up and did what was best. There’s a real pride in doing with a bit less, but for a greater good. And it’s this same raw nationalism which engenders any sympathy for the big society of volunteering, all pitching in, no matter how crap the situation or out come.
I’ve seen this a lot in elements of the green movement, especially with Green Party members and think tanks, which push the idea of a big society based on ‘us all pitching in’, support the idea of the necessity of business in the face of climate change; the idea that we need capitalism on our side in this fight. So it’s typical that here we have Tesco’s natural image of native British strawberries jostling with militaristic austerity jingoism.
I’m not claiming that the suited-up members of the green movement got us into this ideological mess, but we need to look hard at how it is that, faced with the total decimation of a welfare state it took the best part of a century to win, the vast majority of people who have so much to lose (including the professional middle classes, e.g. journalists and civil society moguls) seem ready to tighten their buckles and buy their strawberries rather than make a red strawberry flavoured mess all over McKinsey‘s latest scheme. (Oh, sorry, I mean the Tory Party’s).