I know what you’re thinking, catchy title.
Since writing my ‘relationships that heal society’ post back in February, there has been much talk of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.
In many ways, this was presented as the UK Conservative Party’s lynchpin policy that launched their election campaign. But it isn’t wholly unfair to describe it as a wholesale flop. People didn’t get it. I still don’t think people have really understood it. Maybe it’s too ‘conceptual’ an idea to capture the imaginations of the British electorate in an era of soundbites?
Whilst this is one aspect of Conservative policy I have a bit of time for (in headline at least), I have become increasingly concerned by the tone that this policy has been taking in recent times. My biggest worry, echoed by a recent Observer article, is that the big idea underpinning this coalition government may simply be code for not doing very much at all.
Is Big Society code for not doing very much at all…?
Far from sweeping away Britain’s social problems with a tidal wave of social responsibility, civic pride and community action, it may just be that we end up with less. And less I fear, for the most vulnerable in our society. Faced with at least 25% cuts to public services, the real issue now may not be debates around the extent to which the state should ‘interfere’ in people’s lives, or whether we should ‘help people to help themselves’, but rather, whether we will have any public services at all beyond the ‘DIY services’ of a Tesco Value state.
We are, undoubtedly, entering a time in the UK of unprecedented opportunity for the Third Sector, and the UK Church in particular, to step into the breach and play it’s mandated part in healing society of its deepest relational and societal wounds. I firmly believe that now is not the time for retrenchment into a blame game pointed squarely towards our politicians.
Yet how does the Church do this? How do we learn a new language of prayer and action that enables us to once again earn the right to speak up for the powerless in society, and stand alongside Local and Central Government in the process of re-imagining what interactions with citizens looks like? How we can help nudge society toward a greater sense of social and moral responsibility for one another – a love for one’s neighbour?