The Big Society

I went to a debate this week organised by Edelmans on 'The Big Society'. The panel was suitably worthy and included Nick Hurd, whose ministerial responsibility it is to propound the idea for the government, and various hacks across the political divide including Peter Oborne and Kevin McGuire from the Mirror. The argument, predictably, batted between the 'new vision of society' and 'a fig-leaf for cuts' without getting much above motherhood and apple pie. There was overall agreement that it was a ‘good idea’.

The question I wanted to ask, and which I couldn’t despite waving my hand (I never normally do this), was how the Big Society was going to work in a society of ghettos? Middle class involvement in village life is a given – its already happening – but what about the black spots of long-term unemployment where the middle classes only go to get votes or drugs? How is the Big Society going to work there? With the reform of housing benefit this ghettoization is only going to increase as the underclass is progressively ‘kettled’ in housing estates at the bottom of the pile rather than, as currently, mixed in with the rest of the population. I am not making any comment on the housing benefits reform but there is, it seems to me, an inherent contradiction and tension between that reform and the ‘Big Society’, one which this panel of ‘bien pensants’ failed to either identify or address.

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