I thought it was a bit off of David Cameron to try to purloin the Pope’s UK visit (once it was clearly going to be deemed a success) in support of his ‘Big Society’ plan.
But triumphant though the Papal visit was, and impressive though his speeches were, I am still no clearer as to what Cameron’s Big Society is all about. My instinct tells me it is somewhere between old-fashioned Tory paternalism, philanthropy, and volunteering. But I can’t be sure.
Of all the things he said in the run-up to the election, it is about the only one that has stuck as part of the political debate and the political consciousness. Can anyone remember any other? But I still don’t really know what he means. I’m not saying that because I am tribal Labour, and not very fond of Tories, particularly when they are implementing unfair and non-progressive Budgets whilst claiming they are fair and progressive. I am saying it because I have read and heard what he has to say on it – Big Society ought to be his specialist subject by now – and I am really none the wiser.
As Nick Clegg enjoys the limelight this week, and as Labour prepare to announce a new leader next week, Cameron will be working on his own conference speech for the week after that. I really hope that he uses it to explain what he means by the Big Society, and how it translates to government policy. But I sense he is just as confused as I am.
Up in Newcastle for the Great North Run, I met a man who run’s a voluntary sector organisation that helps provide services for deprived and vulnerable children. He fears the impact of the planned cuts in public expenditure. But more than that, he is sure that if these children are denied the support they need now, they will end up costing the State a great deal more in the future. He worries that Big Society is short-term cover for the cuts needed to deliver a smaller state. But that the long-term problems it causes will see the State having to deal with more and bigger problems once the impact of the cuts has been fully felt.