Wednesday, July 20, 2011

If the Big Society happens it will be in spite of the Conservatives

I have more time for the concept of the "Big Society" than most Liberal Democrats, if only because the alternative we tend to offer - "community politics" - is so ill defined too. Trying to draw distinctions between them, as some do, strikes me as an attempt to nail two different jellies to the wall while separating geometric precision.

Certainly, I have little affection for the idea, common in the Labour Party, that all social enterprise must be undertaken by the state or not at all.

But it has become clear to me that the Big Society is not a simple alternative to government. National, and in particular local, government is an important part of the patchwork that might make up the Big Society.

Take village schools. It is true that government need not run them, but in any conceivable future it will be local or national government that funds them.  And anyone who wants to see villages as flourishing communities will want to see them do that. And, as I have pointed out before, village schools are just the sort of institution that should gladden the hearts of proper Conservatives.

That is not how they see it in Shropshire, where the Tory council has spent the day closing village primary schools. Five are to go: Ifton Heath, Barrow, Masesbury, Shawbury and Hopton Wafers.

Stiperstones School, which concerns this blog for obvious reasons, has been given more time so that it can explore plans to form a federation with Chirbury Primary School.

A similar arrangement is take place elsewhere in the county. As the council's account tweeted from meeting:
Cabinet members say they are delighted that Lydbury and Onny have come forward with an alternative to closure. #SCcabinet
Lydbury is Lydbury North near Bishop's Castle, whose school is shown in the photo I have borrowed from the Shropshire Star.

But there is something back to front here. If the Shropshire cabinet was so keen to avoid closure, why was it not using its resources to find an alternative.

Instead it simply proposed closure and left the people of those villages, whose taxes pay for the council, to do the work of showing it was wrong.

So in Shropshire they have a Tory council still wedded to the stale old agenda of centralisation and standardisation, and local people with the energy and vision to find something better. If the Big Society does flourish in Shropshire it will be in spite of the Conservatives and not because of them.

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