Today, Prime Minister David Cameron launched his ‘Big Society’ initiative, aimed at empowering local communities to fix their own problems. On the surface it sounds to me like a nice idea, getting neighbours to work together to save their post office or whatever.
But of course, no-one really knows how it’s going to happen yet, or if there’s any money. And money will be needed. No independent community-built schools are going to spring up if the only people who can volunteer their time are housewives and a bunch of unemployed sales executives. People need training, and even after a bit of training, they’ll still not do the job as well as professionals. Apparently the government can’t afford to pay actual builders to build schools, so is this part of the ‘Big Society’ plan doing any more than investing in cheap, shoddy infrastructure that will fall to the community to maintain when it starts falling down?
It all seems based on the idea that no-one’s got much money but we’ve all somehow got a lot of spare time. Which, with unemployment threatening to rise even higher, is pretty much true. Unfortunately, all the people in this situation are spending all their spare time trying to get money again, by means of finding a job that actually pays them. ‘Big Society’ doesn’t dish out feel-good points that can be traded in at the food bank.
In an attempt to find some money for training and so that there is some financial incentive for these volunteers, Cameron also suggests “…announcing plans to use dormant bank accounts to fund projects.” Wait. Are you nationalising our bank accounts? How exactly does he propose to do that, and has anyone else done that in recent history besides Communist dictators? (Or, more likely, am I completely failing to grasp the actual plan here?)
Anyway, I’m feeling pretty good about my contribution to the Big Society. With all the websites asking what we should cut the hardest, with Conservative and Lib Dem manifestos falling by the wayside, and with the government washing their hands of community projects, I think I’ve found myself somewhere to volunteer.
In the deprived central London borough of Westminster, there are plenty of volunteers working in charity shops and soup kitchens – but where we’re really lacking, where we really need to come together and save our community, is in the area of policy-making. Since the government clearly isn’t keen on doing it themselves, I humbly propose myself as a volunteer here. I could spare a few hours after work each night to down a few pints in the Commons bar before heading to the Chamber and being an angry leftie at people until the government realises that we pay tax so that they fund these projects, not us.