Sunday, July 18, 2010

Broken society nonsense

The Tories insist that "Britain is Broken" and that everything used to be better before the permissive society and the welfare state interfered. This of course is absolute rubbish as a recent Economist article (6/2/10) points out: "the broken-Britain myth is worse than scaremongering - it glosses over those who need help most……..Nevertheless it is an idea that resonates. Every week serves up a new tragedy or outrage to be added to the pile of evidence” A few months after this article was written a man went on a rampage with a couple of guns through Cumbria shooting family members, acquaintances and total strangers alike. Interestingly this was one occurrence when the usual rubbish about a broken society was not trundled out again. Why? Because this carnage did not happen in an inner city area amongst the “feral youngsters” and “welfare scroungers” who are the usual denizens of this mythical Tory dystopia. Instead another myth, of a “quiet rural community” where “nothing like this had ever happened before”, came into play. Virtually every single observer was said to be shocked that this “could happen around here” in such a “quiet and close-knit community”. Actually, if one looks at the last major shooting spree occurrences in mainland Britain – Dunblane (1987), Monkseaton (1989), Hungerford (1996), and now Whitehaven – it is precisely these rural villages or suburban small town “tight-knit communities” where such dreadful outrages do seem to occur. Of course this may be partly because there are relatively few controls on rural gun ownership as opposed to urban gun crime. But I suspect it is not just this. The sense of a tightly bound and restrictive community where everyone knows everyone else’s business and where the pressures of status and respectability are far more extreme than those in Britain’s cities, seem to me to be precisely the kind of place where men will sometimes lose their bearings and lash out in this crazy way. Certainly we should stop being so surprised that it is in these picturesque and quiet “communities” that occasional eruptions of such dreadful anger and madness sometimes occur.

The Big Lunch is just a small Tea Party

In a fascinating piece in yesterdays Guardian ("A legend in its lunchtime" 17/7) Joe Moran threw cold water over the Big Lunch idea that street parties and sharing samosas will actually help us "rebuild communities" and somehow overcome the fragmentation caused by free market globalisation. On the contrary, David Cameron's Big Society (of which the Big Lunch notion is just a small course) is actually a cover for unleashing yet further privatisations and free market fragmentation.

Big Society is the Tories way of using "the community" (including voluntary and community organisations) to dismantle the welfare state. It achieves this directly by getting Third Sector organisations to join the private sector feeding frenzy as the NHS and public services are forced to sell themselves off to the lowest bidder. Almost as bad as this is how we in the third sector are simultaneously being used as a smoke screen to make it look like this is a cuddly and humane process rather than a selfish and destructive pillaging of the real social capital that we stand to lose - our welfare state.

The Big Society is nothing more than a rather polite (very English) version of the Tea Party that is sweeping the US. It starts from exactly the same basis Private = Good, Public = Bad. It believes that we can only be free if we are in competition with each other in a free market and therefore all regulation is inherently bad ("socialism"). Far from being a Big Society this is a recipe for an eventual war of all against all. A dreadful Hobbesian dystopia - and they would prefer it without even gun control. This kind of Big Lunch is so poisoned we should steer well clear of it in case its seductive nostalgia leads us ever closer to complete madness.

As for all those street parties and Big Lunches, the notion that a society in the middle of being blown apart by huge market forces can be put back together by "a bit of shared quiche and a few games of pavement Twister" is just a silly conjuring trick to amuse (bemuse) the revellers even further. Bread and circuses for the 21st Century.
The last word to Joe Moran:
"It is heartening to observe at close quarters all this feverish and largely thankless activity, most of it done by women, to hire ice-dream vans or hang homemade decorations from lampposts. And then on Sunday evening it will all have to be cleared away - leaving, perhaps a more convivial neighbourhood, but with no guarantees or firm evidence. There is something touching about so much time and effort being spent in search of the ephemeral and the intangible; a moment of togetherness which, like an incantation, hopes to become true by announcing itself"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

From the horses mouth!

Stephen Bubb in his inimitable blog admits quite rightly that communities are not always the places where people are empowered and that they are sometimes the sites of people's exclusion rather than inclusion. He goes on to argue that if the Big Society is just a front for cuts to the voluntary sector as well as other public services then it will not just fail but be highly damaging on its way down. What he fails to see is that the central purpose of the Big Society idea is just this kind of assault on the welfare state. He is far too quick to agree with the Tories plans to "refashion public services" and fails to see that this drive comes from a deeply ideological hatred of the "Big State" rather than a sensible approach to partnerships between the public, private and voluntary sectors to improve the lives of users of services.