I can't say I'm 100% sold on David Cameron's "Big Society", which will be announced this week - mainly because it is very difficult to get to grips with what it actually is. Its main thrust appears to be the removal of the State from local communities, so that local groups can run services and projects instead of the State imposing itself upon everyone.
Some have accused it of being just a woolly project - certainly "Big Society" does sound like a bit of classic DaveGuff. Yet I cannot help but be a little encouraged by what I have been hearing. The idea is that the State is rolled back, and money from dormant bank accounts will be used to fund community based projects, such as volunteer work and charities. Communities can even work to decide what their local bus timetables should be.
It sounds a little idealistic at times, and I always shiver in fear when I hear the classic left wing luvvie phrase - "communities." However, it brings into the open this debate that America has been having for years - what role does the State play? In Britain under the Labour Government the answer had been clear - it plays every role it wants to play. Under Cameron however, the perception that the State must have a hand in anything that wants to survive is being challenged - and this can only be a good thing.
It reinvigorates the old Milton Friedman slogan that would later be picked up on by Margaret Thatcher - "Government does not have responsibilities, people have responsibilities." Charities and voluntary groups should not be taken over by government. We have seen what happen when then do - charities become political agitator groups for left wing causes, and volunteer work transforms into bloated public sector bureaucracies.
The reaction from Labour suggests that Cameron is definitely onto a good thing. Leadership candidate Ed Miliband stamped his foot at the idea, saying, "Charities can help build thriving communities by working in partnership with government...it is the vulnerable who will suffer." Partnership with government? I'm sorry Ed, but the reality for too long has been that a charity "in partnership with government" simply becomes a front for higher taxes and greater government interference. Notice also the scaremongering parade of bleeding stumps - "If we don't have the State involved in everything, then people might die!"
Whether or not the "Big Society" is a success, it is definitely the beginning of a debate that we have been too silent about in Britain for too long - that of the role of the State. The last Prime Minister to raise the issue was Margaret Thatcher, and when we look to our American cousins, we see that that debate is always at the top of the agenda. It is time it is at the top of our political agenda too - the Big Society just might put it there...