Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nick Clegg promises "the biggest shake-up of British democracy since 1832"

Tomorrow's issue of the The Times has an interview with Nick Clegg:
Today he will set out how the State will shrink from people’s lives (no ID cards, curbs on personal details stored on government databases); how people will gain a more direct say in government (elected peers, voting reform, recalling misbehaving MPs); and “radical devolution” of power to voluntary groups and those other than the State to provide services.
The report goes on to say that much of Nick's agenda sounds like David Cameron’s "Big Society" - the idea that never took off during the general election campaign. And it quotes Nick as saying:
“The interesting thing I have discovered over the last week is that we have been using different words but we mean similar things. What I call liberalism David Cameron calls the Big Society."
Most Liberal Democrats have laughed at the idea of the Big Society, but I do not. An enthusiasm for these sort of community solutions to social problems, rather than a wish to give the state ever wider and deeper powers, is one of the things that made me sure I was a Liberal rather than a socialist when I was a teenager.

So I wish Nick good fortune in putting some flesh on the bones of the idea.


JohnM said...

Of course the biggest shake up of all would be multi-member constituencies. Now if you can convince Cameron on that one I'd be very impressed.

Just think of it, 4-5 MP's representative of the local community (local authority areas) working together for that community to help forge greater understanding and to work to encourage community enablement and solutions.

That which people refer to their locality these days typically crosses several constituencies between work, home, leisure, school, shops and facilities..

Radical devolution of power begins with equal value votes.

Manfarang said...

The Big Society, or should that be LBJ's Great Society.(Outlined by Johnson in a speech at the University of Michigan 22 May 1964)
The Great Society was seeped in liberalism.
Mr Cameron you should speak of the Bighearted Society or maybe the Benevolent Society.The word Big has no gravitas.

Chris Matthews said...

At a lecture last week at the University of Leicester, the town planner Adrian Jones expressed some concern about this Big Society concept. In a nutshell he felt that the disempowerment of local authorities and the public sector during the 1980s - with particular reference to Nicholas Ridley - created the awful out of town retail park landscape. Jones didn't think that lots of little 'community' and voluntary decision making would make an integrated system of town and country planning. Instead what would happen is elitist communities would dominate over the poorer areas, so for example; landfill sites and incinerators would be built in working class & immigrant locales. This emphasis on local communities could take us back to take the Act of Settlement and Poor Laws of the early nineteenth century, when rich agricultural parishes pushed the working class into the slums of the industrial cities. I don't like authoritarianism but sometimes it seems I have to concede that Big State has an important role to play.

Where big state and big business has been a bully has been in the over emphasis of the power of leadership and management roles, as opposed to co-operation with workers, collectivism and unionisation. The current failed BA strike is an example of how little right people have to associate. I am no advocating the days of Scargill and Thatcher, but rather AJ Mundella and Robert Applegarth.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Chris. The idea that fragmentation of power ad absurdum empowers the rank-and-file citizenry is naive: just look at the schools mess or health "postcode lotteries" arising from needless diffusion of power over key services that should be available on the same basis to all. Mr Cameron's "Big society" isn't social liberalism, which values state agency in extending opportunity. We need a state that delivers, not just to be thrown on the doubtful largesse of our local "great & good", if we're lucky enough to be able to afford to live in an area that they haven't fled for one of what are now their own schools.

- Dave