Monday, February 21, 2011

big 'R' us

I thought I would write about the Big Society. But then I thought I should wait until Big Dave explained it, so I waited and, once I had heard him explaining it, I was not much the wiser. Oh I understand what he is getting at, and I understand how it could work if everybody subscribed to it and worked hard for each other voluntarily and with a smiling face. It’s a great alternative to the rat race, because a lot of rats won’t race if the incentive of money is removed, though even in the voluntary sector there are still rats. The Big Society is not without its little snags, teething troubles, obstacles to overcome, such as how we might buy food and clothes without any income, and how we might cope with the ludicrously priced property market that those of us who aren’t multi-millionaire members of the Cabinet (or bankers) have to deal in if we persist in the annoying habit of wanting somewhere to live.

Unsure for several decades of whether we should be an independent nation or a member of an increasingly bureaucratic, obstinate and wayward Europe or an additional little state of an aggressive America, we are now being given the vision of becoming a rather large Israeli kibbutz. We can create our own schools, cultivate our crops, set up a library, a farm shop, a park, a sports centre. After a long, hard today in the fields, we could get together in the evening to clap hands and sing a few songs. Why not take it further, create our own police force, tax office, parking wardens ? Maybe not.

I’ve been waiting too for a grand gesture; agreement by MPs to waive their salaries for a year, footballers to give a serious proportion of their obscene and undeserved wages to charities instead of car dealerships, bankers, let’s be reasonable.

The Big Point is that there already is a Big Society and has been for a very long time, long before this government invented it, and if politicians looked outside of their narrow world they would see it staring them in the face. (And that is apart from the privatisation of public services, which is not far beneath the camouflaged covering of the Big Society spin.) The government’s criminal justice system couldn’t function without committed and voluntary magistrates; their educational system couldn’t manage itself without the support of unpaid and devoted governors; their precarious national health service would be in an even worse state if those looked after day and night by dedicated, unrewarded and un-cared-about carers instead became a burden on the state’s resources and purse. And there are many more examples. Look around you, Big Dave, the Big Society is alive and kicking.

But what is the incentive for its members when they are afforded little in the way of acknowledgement, regard or respect ? The selfish, over-ambitious and power crazed don’t understand the committed, caring and selfless. The small minded can’t relate to the big hearted. Even when some semblance of appreciation can be given to those groups, for example awards of the unjust and politically motivated honours system, the powers choose instead to hand out the gongs to those who already have gained acknowledgement, recognition, rewards and copious amounts of money; civil servants, politicians, celebrities, and successful business folk, especially if they have climbed to high seniority in those rich, me-first, self-indulgent organisations called banks.

Marketing of the Big Society by government to us is futile. It appeals to those who would join it anyway and is a complete anathema to those who don’t even know, and don’t want to know, it exists.



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