Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The big society

This was the unifying theme of David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Party conference. The implication was that this was the way forward which would enable the country to withstand the cuts in public expenditure necessitated by the budget deficit and take us to the sunlit uplands beyond.

The 'Big Society spirit' was mentioned more than once, as was the notion that 'your country needs you'. The prime minister used the example of the 100,000 people who had volunteered for the Olympic Games as evidence that additional volunteers were available. He attacked the notion that 'if government takes care of this, we won't have to'.

Citizenship was more than a transaction - although citizens have been increasingly encouraged over the years to define themselves as consumers of public services with certain entitlements, not least by New Labour. In other words, this idea has become quite embedded. This is not to say that it should not be challenged, but it's a perception that will be hard to dislodge.

It was noticeable that the attacks on Labour got the loudest applause in the hall. He managed to define Labour, in terms of the views of Ed Balls, as opposed to aspiration and there was a neat dig of Neil 'we've got our party back' Kinnock. Ed Miliband was more or less a non person, which is probably the way to play it for now. The prime minister's defence of the union also went down well with the audience.

The comment that we were geared up to fight old wars did not sound like good news for the Navy or the RAF. It seemed to me that there was a clear endorsement of Ken Clarke's refreshing approach to criminal justice issues.

It was interesting that two references were made to football, the last World Cup and the hope of holding the 2018 one in England.

I didn't think there was much that was new in the speech, but probably there didn't have to be. It was an attempt to define Cameron's distinctive approach and brand. There is such a thing as society, but it's different from the state (Sam Cam's idea originally) and it needs to be an active and engaged society. I don't think it is just cover for the cuts, but I'm not fully convinced either.

Interesting how much the cameras focused on Sam Cam during the warm up video and at other times. But she was looking very glamorous.

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