Monday, 19 July 2010

Why David Cameron's "Big Society" offers no genuine people power

David Cameron has today launched his plans for the "big society."

According to his speech, made in Liverpool today;
You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment. You can call it freedom. You can call it responsibility. I call it the Big Society.

The Big Society is about a huge culture change...

...where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace...

...don't always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face ...

...but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities.

It's about people setting up great new schools. Businesses helping people getting trained for work. Charities working to rehabilitate offenders.

It's about liberation -the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street.

And this is such a powerful idea for blindingly obvious reasons.

For years, there was the basic assumption at the heart of government that the way to improve things in society was to micromanage from the centre, from Westminster.

But this just doesn't work.

We've got the biggest budget deficit in the G20.

And over the past decade, many of our most pressing social problems got worse, not better.

It's time for something different, something bold - something that doesn't just pour money down the throat of wasteful, top-down government schemes.

The Big Society is that something different and bold.

It's about saying if we want real change for the long-term, we need people to come together and work together - because we're all in this together.
This all sounds great. After all, one of the central tenets of anarchism which I continually espoue is ordinary people coming together and taking control of their own lives.

There are just two problems.

Firstly, this "people power" is being managed from the top-down, not the bottom-up. Dave insists that "government cannot remain neutral on that," and while having a benevolent government willing to foster such local autonomy sounds great in theory, only a fool would take him at his word and believe that this is his goal.

Which brings me to the second problem. Further on in his speech, Dave betrays the state's real motives. The "government has a crucial role to play in bridging the gap - and indeed, more widely, in connecting private capital to investment in social projects."

Yes, private capital. The Big Society will "help finance social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups through intermediaries." [Emphasis mine.] That is, the government will "leverage" private sector "investment," effectively replacing state control with direct control by capital.

We know that, where it matters, local people won't have control. Hence the desperate fight against the axing of the school rebuilding scheme. Or the threats to charities from local authority funding cuts.

This is not about giving people power over their own lives. It is about privatising the local government under the guise of participatory democracy. It is, like the Tories' "free schools" and "workers' cooperatives," a capitalist scam trying to pass itself off as libertarian.

Real community control can only come from below. Though disguised, the "Big Society" is is just another class attack which should be resisted through genuine grassroots organisation.