David Cameron clearly wants us to waltz into the weekend with the Big Society on our
minds – so he’s written an article on the idea for the Sun. It
rattles through all the usual words and phrases, such as "responsibility" and "people power", but it strikes me how he applies them just as much to the public sector as to the
general public. This is something that he did in his conference speech, describing the "Big Society spirit" of a group of nurses:
"It’s the spirit that I saw in a group of NHS maternity nurses in my own constituency, increasingly frustrated by the way they were managed and handled, who wanted to set up a co-op to
use their own expertise, their ideas, their contacts to provide a better serice for the mums in their area."
But here he redoubles that effort:
"Workers in our public sector have been bossed around to breaking point…
…We’re giving nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers much more power over the work they do – scrapping the rules that held them back and giving them the chance to come together,
form co-ops and take over the running of public services."
Throw in Michael Gove’s speech from conference (which emphasised teachers as much
as parents), and there appears to be a new drive from the Tories to appeal to public sector workers. Policies that have lain fairly dormant since the election, such as co-operatives, are being dragged into the cold air once again.
The idea, I’m sure, is not just to counter Ed Miliband’s argument that the Tories don’t care really about our nurses, police, teachers, etc. – but also to force a wedge between union
memberships and their belligerent bosses. Alongside a fundamental dividing line between Labour
and the Tories on universal benefits, we may well get one on how to treat the public sector: money vs freedom.
P.S. For posterity’s sake, and as Cameron claimed on Wednesday that he has been pushing the idea of the Big Society for years, here are some snippets from his 2005 leadership pitch that suggest just that:
"I joined this party because I believe in freedom. We are the only party believing that if you give people freedom and responsibility, they will grow stronger and society will grow
"[I want to be able to say] to the people living in our inner cities of all races and religions, grappling with the problems caused by family breakdown, poor housing, and low
aspirations: "We know we have a shared responsibility, that we’re all in this together, that there is such a thing as society; it’s just not the same thing as the state."
And, in view of Ed Miliband’s "new generation," it’s also worth reminding ourselves of the conclusion to that same Cameron speech:
"So let’s build together a new generation of Conservatives. Let’s switch a new generation on to Conservative ideas. Let’s dream a new
generation of Conservative dreams.
There is a new generation of social entrepreneurs tackling this country’s most profound social problems.
There is a new generation of businessmen and women who are taking on the world, creating the wealth and opportunity for our future.
We can lead that new generation. We can be that new generation, changing our party to change our country. It will be an incredible journey. I want you to
come with me."