Posts Tagged ‘Big Society’

David Cameron is a second rate Ted Heath

17/08/2011, 12:00:04 PM

byJonathan Todd

I’m not the first person to compare David Cameron with Ted Heath. Iain Martin has made this parallel. Martin asked last year whether Philip Ziegler’s biography of Heath had been read in Downing Street.

“It should be. Ted Heath was a relentlessly pragmatic Tory leader who had poor relations with his party in Parliament and in the country. He began in government seemingly fixed on a clear course of reform and modernisation. But then he hit stormy waters and, lacking an ideological compass that might have helped guide him through, was blown over. Having failed to build good relations with his colleagues, he had no reservoir of loyalty on which to draw. When Margaret Thatcher emerged he was sunk.”

Heath, though, did have an objective for his government. He wanted to pacify the trade unions and draw them into a corporatist national project that would make us less like the US and more like France, not simply through being part of the common market, but also in terms of industrial policy and organisation. While one might have misgivings about this, it seems a more substantial project than whatever the defining purpose of Cameron’s government is. (more…)

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Is it time to stop bashing the big society?

29/05/2011, 11:00:54 AM

by Dave Hodges

The “big society” sounds like one of those ill-defined phrases some policy wonk latches on to after some “blue sky thinking”. David Cameron may like to wax lyrical that his destiny in government is to create the big society, but to the casual observer it appears as nothing more than a well-intentioned sideshow that reveals the caring nature of our dear leader. It’s as if it was created to be attacked.

We know the rhetoric. Cameron argues that his aim is to shift power from central government to communities and to volunteers. Labour argues that the Tories’ devastating cuts undermine this very ideal and render it a mere smokescreen to hide Cameron’s real, more sinister intentions. Tessa Jowell rightly pointed out last week, in relation to the big society, that “under the indiscriminate impact of accelerated cuts, the essential elements of community life are slowly being starved of sustenance”.

It’s the right message, but the wrong target. There are some devastating cuts affecting the voluntary sector and providers of outsourced government programs. For instance, thousands marched on the “hardest hit” campaign, organised jointly by the disability benefits consortium and the UK disabled people’s council on the 11 May.

Many disabled people, those with long-term conditions and their families are seeing disgraceful cuts to the benefits and services they need to live their lives. We should be strongly arguing that this is wrong. But it’s not the big society to blame, it’s this government’s ill-considered bulldozer approach to cutting the deficit.

Aiming fire at the big society is not the answer. It is a positive, idealistic message that we sour with harsh home truths. We are the grumpy person in the corner who perks up adversely to criticise every time the opportunity arises.

We need a positive answer to the big society. How can the state enable voluntary organisations to flourish? How can it positively interact without the assumption of a top-down relationship? The state has a positive role to play in this, but importantly, not necessarily as the funder. Tom Gash has written an interesting article entitled government is not the only solution, which raises some valid points and gives an excellent example through “parent gyms”. These are organisations Labour needs to engage and learn from. In Lambeth, the cooperative council model is something the party should seek to explore further. Campaigning for more mutuals such as Chuka Umunna’s call for the re-mutualisation of Northern Rock is another avenue that should be studied in detail.

The big society seems like an easy target. Sometimes things are too easy. Focus our fire on destructive, unnecessary cuts where we find them. Focus our energy on providing a positive vision for what a big society, or whatever inimitable name we choose to give it, would look like.

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Wednesday News Review

25/05/2011, 06:40:16 AM

The pomp and ceremony is over, now the politics begins

Barack Obama will today express hope that the Atlantic alliance may now be “turning a corner” towards a more peaceful existence after a decade of continuous warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. At a speech this afternoon at the Palace of Westminster to address both houses of parliament, Obama will point to the withdrawal of US and Britain troops from Iraq, the expected drawdown from Afghanistan beginning this summer, the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the weakening of al-Qaida as signs that the worst might be over for the transatlantic alliance. According to the White House, the president will stress that the stabilisation of north Africa and the consolidation of the Arab spring will be critical. Although, the Americans have been adamant on this visit that they will not retake the lead in the Nato offensive against the Gaddafi regime, they argue they are already doing a lot behind the scenes and plan to do a lot more in the coming days to give greater legitimacy to the Benghazi-based rebels. – the Guardian

President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will discuss ways to sustain pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi when they meet tomorrow in London before Obama’s address to Parliament. The NATO campaign against Qaddafi and measures to support the opposition in Libya will be “one of the lead agenda items” for the meeting at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s office, Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said today. “It’s essential that the U.S. and Europe continue to serve as that catalyst for global action” in Libya and countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are in a state of upheaval, Rhodes said. Today, in addition to meeting with Cameron, Obama also will address members of Parliament. He will be the first U.S. president to do so in Westminster Hall. – San Francisco Chronicle

The second day of the politician’s state visit to Britain will begin at Downing Street where he will hold talks with David Cameron on issues ranging from Libya and Afghanistan, to terrorism and the global economy. The highlight of today is likely to be the President’s keynote speech to both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. According to the White House, Mr Obama is expected to tell MPs and peers that even though the world has changed significantly since World War Two, the UK-US relationship and the broader transatlantic alliance is still the “cornerstone of global security”. The president will also strike an optimistic note by claiming that the world is “turning a corner” following a “difficult decade”. Mr Obama follows Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan to become the third US president to address Parliament. – Sky News

Huhne and ex-wife questioned by police

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was quizzed by police yesterday over allegations he pressured his wife to take his speeding penalty points. The Cabinet minister spoke to officers after they launched an inquiry into the 2003 incident. Another person – thought to be his estranged wife Vicky Pryce – was also questioned yesterday. Essex police said: “We can confirm two individuals have been interviewed at stations in Essex and London over allegations regarding a speeding offence.” The force would not confirm if the interviews were carried out under caution but stressed no arrests were made. Mr Huhne is said to have asked Ms Pryce to take the three penalty points on her licence after allegedly being caught speeding on the M11 in Essex eight years ago. – Daily Mirror

The Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was interviewed by police yesterday over allegations he tried to evade punishment for speeding. Mr Huhne’s ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, was also questioned over claims he asked her to accept penalty points on his behalf in March 2003. Essex Police confirmed that two individuals had been interviewed in relation to allegations of a speeding offence. A spokeswoman for Mr Huhne said: “Chris Huhne helped the Essex Police with their inquiries today and looks forward to an early resolution of this issue.” Ms Pryce’s solicitor said in a statement: “Vicky Pryce met with Essex Police today as part of their inquiry. She continues to do what is necessary in respect of the inquiry but in view of the fact that it is on going it is not appropriate for her or anyone on her behalf to comment further.” – the Independent

Another blow to the big society

The Prime Minister’s cherished Big Society project suffered a severe blow last night after the man appointed to implement it dramatically resigned. Lord Nat Wei stepped down just months after saying he could not devote as much time to the project as he thought. The former management consultant was taken on last year as Big Society tsar, with a remit of enthusing the public into carrying out unpaid community work. But he was reportedly shocked to find that he himself would have to work for nothing. At the time he was reported as saying he wanted to cut back his Government work so he could earn money and have ‘more of a life’. The resignation is a blow to Mr Cameron, who has described the Big Society as his ‘mission in politics’. Labour accused the Premier of expecting the public to carry out voluntary work, when he could not even count on his own Big Society tsar to do it. – Daily Mail

The man in charge of the Big Society project quit yesterday – to take up a paid job. Lord Wei’s departure is a further blow to David Cameron’s pet scheme, which he tried to relaunch this week for the fourth time. The peer had already cut the hours given to the voluntary role, claiming he needed other work to pay the bills. Yesterday he said he was going to work for a charity. The PM said Lord Wei had worked “incredibly hard” to help develop policies that support the Big Society. But Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell said: “Yet again the Big Society is descending into farce. Only a day after Cameron told us all to take more responsibility, it appears there will be nobody responsible for bringing the Big Society into reality.” – Daily Mirror

Clegg sidelined over Ashcroft appointment

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister, is understood to have urged David Cameron not to make the appointment, to head a review of British military bases in Cyprus, but was overruled. The move was described as “deeply offensive” by a Liberal Democrat peer who campaigned to force Lord Ashcroft to disclose his non-domicile status. Mr Cameron’s decision to defy his deputy is a clear signal that the multi-millionaire, who is one of the Conservatives’ biggest donors, is back in favour with senior Tories. However, on forming the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats, who had long detested Lord Ashcroft for targeting their candidates in marginal seats, vetoed any appointment. It is a sign of Mr Clegg’s waning power within the Coalition that his personal objection to the appointment fell on deaf years. – Daily Telegraph

With the help of his old friend, William Hague, Lord Ashcroft is to return to politics, acting as a lead adviser to the government on its review of the UK’s military bases in Cyprus. It’s nearly a year since Ashcroft gave up his non-dom tax status in order to keep his seat in the House of Lords but we can still expect this appointment to raise some eyebrows. How does Nick Clegg feel about the return of the man he once denounced as the “baron of Belize”? The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg tweets that the Deputy PM made his objections to the appointment clear but that Cameron went ahead anyway. A Lib Dem source tells her that “you can’t go the wall on every issue”. Expect Labour to use this apparent division at the top of the government to its advantage. I’d be surprised if Ed Miliband doesn’t make at least one Ashcroft-related gag at PMQs tomorrow. – New Statesman

“A day to bury bad news,” where have I heard that before

Tory strategists were last night accused of using the visit of Barack Obama to bury “bad news”. The news in question is David Cameron having handed a Government post to controversial Tory donor Lord Ashcroft, provoking a bitter coalition row with the Liberal Democrats. Within hours, Lord Wei announced his resignation as Mr Cameron’s Big Society “czar”, just a day after the PM’s fourth try at relaunching his pet project. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott said: “It’s silly to think you can bury really bad news just because Obama is visiting.” – the Independent

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Monday News Review

23/05/2011, 06:45:47 AM

How many re-launches do you need?

David Cameron will today reaffirm his commitment to the institution of marriage and the importance to children of stable relationships. He will accuse the last, Labour government on focusing too much on ploughing money into children’s services, without appreciating that it is stable families who provide the prerequisite for a happy life in adult years. By supporting relationships – preferably within the context of a marriage – the Government will in future put families at the heart of policy making. The Prime Minister’s recommitment to the importance of marriage comes as he uses a major speech to attempt once again to define his crusade of the Big Society. – Daily Telegraph

Strong families are the foundation of a better Britain, David Cameron will say today in a fourth attempt to revive his Big Society project. The Prime Minister will return to the pro-family agenda he championed as leader of the Opposition, arguing that good parents teach their children about responsibility. In a major speech, Mr Cameron will say he is ‘pro-commitment’, adding: ‘I back marriage, and I think it’s a wonderfully precious institution.’ The Prime Minister’s speech is meant as a riposte to critics, including many in his own party, who say the Big Society vision is ill-defined and unworkable.  In his fourth attempt to relaunch the project, Mr Cameron will attempt to broaden its aims beyond encouraging more volunteering and charitable work. – Daily Mail

Following an admission by the minister responsible for running the big society project that the government had failed to explain it, the prime minister will say the initiative runs through all the government’s public service reforms. It also explains why he wants to build a “stronger society” with families at its heart. Cameron will say: “You learn about responsibility and how to live in harmony with others. Strong families are the foundation of a bigger, stronger society. This isn’t some romanticised fiction. It’s a fact. There’s a whole body of evidence that shows how a bad relationship between parents means a child is more likely to live in poverty, fail at school, end up in prison or be unemployed in later life.” Downing Street acknowledges that it has struggled to explain to voters the big society, the central theme of last year’s general election campaign. It is intended to devolve power and to foster a greater sense of responsibility by loosening the role of the state. – the Guardian

Ed warns of ‘a jilted generation’, whatever that is

A generation is growing up in Britain which is in danger of being unable to afford to buy their own homes until they are middle-aged, Ed Miliband is to warn. In a keynote speech at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the Labour leader will accuse David Cameron of betraying the young – saying they are being forced to bear an unfair share of the Government’s cuts. He will dismiss the Prime Minister’s claim that the Government is taking drastic action to tackle the deficit in order to ensure that young people growing up now are not left to shoulder the debts of their parents. “The Jam generation” of politicians – like Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne who grew up listening to the iconic band in the 1980s and now dominate government – is, he will say, in danger of creating the “jilted generation”. – Daily Mirror

Shrinking wages and higher debts will force today’s children to wait until their 40s before they can buy their first property, Ed Miliband will warn on Monday. Days before he marries Justine Thornton, the Labour leader will illustrate his fears for future generations by talking publicly for the first time about his children. Miliband’s speech at the Royal Festival Hall in London is designed to develop what he is calling a “national mission” to confront the government’s failings. He believes David Cameron is exacerbating problems such as shrinking or stagnant wages by making deficit reduction his main priority. “I am worried – and every parent should be worried – about what will happen to our children in the coming decades, about what the future holds for us, our children and our country, about what sort of place Britain will become.” – the Guardian

Alex’s big day

Oil revenues will be top of First Minister Alex Salmond’s agenda today when he meets Conservative Chancellor George Osborne as part of talks with UK ministers over the next 48 hours. Mr Salmond is set to present his list of demands to the Chancellor as well as Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, before meeting Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg tomorrow. He is to call for changes to the increase on oil revenues announced in the Budget to fund the fuel stabiliser. The £10 billion tax grab by Mr Osborne has, according to oil companies and the SNP, put 10,000 jobs in Scotland at risk with companies choosing to invest elsewhere. – the Scotsman

He will take time out after talks with Chancellor George Osborne to address the Foreign Press Association, before meeting Energy Secretary Chris Huhne this evening. Tomorrow he will have wide-ranging discussions with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. A Government spokesman outlined the agenda: “The meetings are expected to cover a range of issues including: how the UK Government’s Scotland Bill legislation can be improved to strengthen the Scottish Parliament’s economic powers; Scotland’s £200 million Fossil Fuel Levy funds; electricity market reforms; and industry fears over the recent North Sea oil and gas tax hike and the Scottish Government’s alternative proposals which would protect exploration and development activity.” Mr Salmond said: “The priority of the new Scottish Government, for which we carry the overwhelming mandate of the Scottish people, is to ensure we strengthen the Parliament’s ability to build sustainable economic growth and create jobs and future prosperity from our nation’s great resources”. – Daily Herald

Gove’s ‘dog eat dog’ education plan

Restrictions on the expansion of the most popular state schools will be lifted, allowing them to take on more pupils, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has disclosed. The move will mean that more parents will win places for children at their first choice of school, Mr Gove said. However, it is likely to increase the financial pressures on struggling schools because funding is determined by the number of pupils they have. The changes, which will apply to all state schools, will be outlined in a revised school admissions code to be published this summer. The Government suspects that local authorities sometimes prevent good schools from raising their intake because it becomes harder to sustain weaker schools when pupil numbers drop significantly. – Daily Telegraph

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Cameron fails the leadership test

22/02/2011, 07:00:22 AM

by Stefan Stern

One industry that seems likely to be recession-proof is the one that is constantly coming up with new management fads and theories about leadership. The production line of gurus with books to sell and lecture halls to fill never sleeps. With a Twitter feed and a Facebook page we can all be experts now. This may or may not represent progress.

Leadership provokes more guru-fuelled debate than any other topic. The subject is discussed not merely on the business pages, but in the sports sections and of course in political coverage. You are about to get a few more paragraphs on the subject here (leave quietly if you’ve already heard enough). Because it is David Cameron’s particular brand – pun intended – of leadership that lies at the heart of the continuing “big society” debate. The idea will sink or swim thanks to the Cameron approach. That is why I think it is already sinking, if it isn’t quite sunk, yet. (more…)

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Bye-bye big society – Cameron lets the Treasury kneecap the new bank at the heart of his big idea

18/02/2011, 07:00:30 AM

by Atul Hatwal

For months now, voices within the Labour party have been cautioning against writing off the big society. Thoughtful voices that look beyond the immediate rough and tumble of partisan politics. It’s been a staple from the emerging blue Labour stable that Cameron was on to something.

With the prime minister’s speech on Monday, we finally got to see some of the detail.

While the lipstick and eyeliner turn the head, underneath the party paint, this is an LRF – a low resolution fox. Looks great at the bar, but up close, things are not so hot.  For all the allure of the pretty words, the raw material is flawed.

The commitment at the heart of the big society that will make the warm fuzziness real is the big society bank. The Tory manifesto was very specific on what this bank would do:

“…provide new finance for neighbourhood groups, charities, social enterprises and other non-governmental bodies. This will provide social enterprises with the start-up funding and the support they need to bid for government contracts”.

As the government has faced-off against the big charities about cuts to grants, the story missed by most of the media is that the big society bank is being set-up specifically not to deliver their manifesto pledge.

The charities aid foundation, a leading sector finance provider, has signalled the danger:

“We are concerned that if the funds are only made available on a commercial basis the interest rates could be too high for many charities and social enterprises…”

The operative words are “on a commercial basis”.

Over the past few years I’ve worked with many charities on their financing arrangements, several that were in the room on Monday, and one thing is crystal clear: a commercial return is impossible to deliver on most public service investments.

The consultation paper is vague on what the rates of return will be, but in the current social investment market, “commercial basis” means a minimum 25% on a typical investment. Factoring in the inherent risk associated with a sector that is feeling the full weight of the cuts and the size and financial track record of the organisations involved, this can easily head north of 40% – that’s if they consider the investment at all. (more…)

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Volunteering’s a means, not an end. Charities should get elected or get stuffed.

15/02/2011, 09:13:48 AM

by Dan Hodges

Private Eye editor, Ian Hislop, was once asked for his view on  an upcoming libel case involving Mohammad Al Fayed and Neil Hamilton. “I hope they both lose”, was his response. I’ve got the same feeling about the unfolding debate about the “big society”.

There are times at the moment when attempting to analyse  British politics feels a bit like analysing the Mad Hatter’s tea party:

“’Have some wine’, the March Hare said in an encouraging tone. Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. ‘I don’t see any wine’, she remarked. ‘There isn’t any’, said the March Hare. ‘Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it’, said Alice angrily”.

Or, with apologies to Lewis Carroll:

“The prime minister announced, with a flourish, his ‘big idea’. ‘Our purse is empty. But do not worry. The voluntary sector will shoulder the burden’. The volunteers looked up with a start. ‘But we can’t. You’ve taken all our money as well’, they cried. ‘Taken your money’? replied the prime minister, ‘But I thought you were volunteers’? ‘We are’, they responded, ‘and we expect to be well paid for it’”.

Perhaps my analogy is a touch harsh. Our nation’s voluntary and charitable sectors are not the equivalent of Mohammed Al Fayed. And no one is the equivalent of Neil Hamilton. (more…)

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The “big society” is just a big sham

05/02/2011, 10:30:25 AM

by Andy Dodd

The prime minister, as we know, is very fond of the “big society”, the notion that the government can be rolled back to allow individuals and communities to do more to help themselves and each other. How often have we been told in the past nine months that everyone, equally, is in this together? How often have we heard the lecture that through co-operation, self-sacrifice and personal responsibility, we’ll pull through this difficult economic period and emerge stronger on the other side?

But are we really all in it together?  The recent by-election in Oldham showed the clear resentment of ordinary people who not so long ago were willing to accept the arguments put forward by the government that tough economic decisions were necessary to avoid disaster. This belief was built upon promises from ministers that everyone would be asked to make their contribution to the hard times ahead. (more…)

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The odd couple: Blears and Cruddas join forces to fight Cameron

29/11/2010, 09:00:20 AM

Hazel Blears and Jon Cruddas are joining forces to wrest the “big society” from the Tories. The two senior back benchers have established the “social action forum”, a committee of MPs and stakeholders tasked with taking the fight to David Cameron over his flagship policy.

The inaugural meeting will take place in the House of Commons this Wednesday, with Ms Blears expected to be elected chair of the new grouping. The Labour leadership has been consulted over the formation of the committee, and has given it the seal of approval, including authorisation to extend membership to representatives beyond the PLP.

Speaking at Saturday’s Labour policy forum, Ed Miliband urged the party to “take back” the big society from the government. “It sticks in our throat when David Cameron tries to claim he’s the man for the big society because he has an old fashioned view about the big society. His is essentially a view that says look, if government gets out of the way then society will prosper. None of us believe that”, he told delegates.

“We were slow off the mark in appreciating the dangers of the big society agenda”, Hazel Blears told Uncut.

“It’s more than just a cynical cover for cuts. It’s a much more fundamental realignment of public services, and of Tory politics. This is a very clever piece of rebranding. If you have a big society that says to your right wing ‘you can have a smaller state’, it’s nice blue meat to them. But it also says to the Liberals, “what we want is more people being involved. There is such a thing as society”. So what it does in one easy way, in just two words, is continue that detoxification of their brand which was a key foundation of them getting into power. And now is part of the realignment of politics. It’s a very big strategy”.

She concedes that Jon Cruddas and herself represent unlikely political soul mates, but believes this will add political ballast to the committee.

“One of the best bits of the last six months for me is discovering that Jon and I have got far more in common than a lot of people might have thought. We’ve always chatted and talked, but when you come to think about it we come from a similar background. Ordinary families, represent similar working class constituencies, he has a very strong family background, so do I, and were both Labour, Labour, Labour. It will confound some people, but we’ve increasingly discovered when we talked, and we talked at length, is that wherever you are on the party’s spectrum there are some issues that transcend where people would traditionally place themselves”.

Hazel Blears’ first major political interview since resigning from the Brown government will appear on Uncut tomorrow.

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Far from being the left’s embarrassing secret, the state is actually its trump card, says Anthony Painter

14/10/2010, 08:54:51 AM

What weird contorted, politically arrogant logic comes to the conclusion that David Miliband should join the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, as Nick Boles attempted to argue yesterday? While setting on a course that gives Margaret Thatcher a run for her money in terms of its social and economic destructiveness, the government has finally been lifted from the ground with the hot air of its own rhetoric. The definition of socialism is what a Labour government does and anything this government does is progressive reform – by definition. Why? Well, because it’s a progressive reformist government, duh.

With Labour’s leadership election out of the way, the fog of war is starting to clear. David Miliband and all those on the left who know that the state must change – be more personal, more local, and more innovative – equally know that the type of reform offered by the Tories and Lib Dems is anything but progressive. David Cameron and Nick Clegg know that as long as they can be seen to be taking it out on relatively high earners as well as the least well-off then the progressive fig leaf will stay in place.

So high rate taxpayers lose £1billion of child benefit. Others much lower down the earnings ladder lose up to £15billion a year. There is a £9billion hit for 3.5 million disabled people over five years according to the think tank, Demos. Progressive. Then there is the pupil premium: the government’s get out of jail free card when it comes to fairness. Or so they think. It conveniently ignores the fact that there already is a pupil premium. It goes to local authorities. Meanwhile, investment in creating the school buildings of the future for many is cut. Progressive. (more…)

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