At the time David Cameron started talking about the Big Society, the concept struck me as a mix of traditional community politics and vagueness. Looking at the specifics in this section, there is still a fair amount of vagueness, but the specifics are ones that often touch on themes which our party (or more precisely the Liberal Party) has talked about in the past and rather neglected in more recent years. In other words, it’s a case of David Cameron stealing our old clothes and now, via coalition, forcing them back on us.
Take the commitment to “give public sector workers a new right to form employee-owned co-operatives and bid to take over the services they deliver” or the promise to “support the creation and expansion of mutuals, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises”. Either could have come straight out of a Liberal Party policy pamphlet from the 1970s – and I mean that as a compliment.
Likewise the promise to “train a new generation of community organisers and support the creation of neighbourhood groups” is a policy that leads on from what many good Liberal Democrat councillors around the country do – trying to create and foster community groups, whether it is a Neighbourhood Watch or a football league for local children.
Even the pledge to “introduce National Citizen Service … a programme for 16 year olds to give them a chance to develop skills” is very similar to the ideas which Liberal Democrat MPs such as Mark Oaten and Lynne Featherstone have talked about previously.
Rather as with data/technology policies these policies may be overwhelmingly from the Conservative Party manifesto yet from a Liberal Democrat perspective they make the coalition’s policies better than they would be if we’d all simply been relying on recent Lib Dem policies.
There are many cases where having to concede and have Conservative rather than Liberal Democrat policies makes for less welcome government; these two cases remind us that the traffic isn’t all one way – and of the need to keep our own policy making imaginative and effective.