Big Society: planning your own opposition?
Much is being made of the current crises amongst proponents of the Big Society. The truth that big societies need big pots of cash and/or big government assistance is becoming clear for all to see. But did Cameron’s Big Idea represent more than just a phoney piece of PR to calm the fears of those on the sharp end?
It occurred to me as a possibility only a week ago: what if the Big Society was in fact a sort of game to brand your own opposition as part of your own game plan? I was reflecting on the sense that current activism seems so at odds with Autonomist attitudes and activities – the usual fare of “get the state off the back of my community” sentiment more common on the European Mainland that distinguishes itself from the tea party only in its commitment to collectivism rather than individualism.
Bizarre and twisted though it might be, this is essentially only a few steps on from the established truth: the state must be scaled back because of the deficit, and in its place the Big Society will step in and provide many functions through volunteering and philanthropy.
But it has long been a part of IMF debt restructuring plans that countries must put down any opposition to the bitter medicine of freeing markets to external private investors at the expense of the public good or removal of services accompanied by mass redundancy. This government is basically implementing a Structural Adjustment Program all of its own, inspired by the rhetoric that the IMF usually uses to enforce by anger what in Britain’s case a sovereign government has managed to do.
If we look at many other countries, the natural result, alongside all the protesting (usually in the form of rioting, hence the term “IMF riot”) has been an underground move of DIY, grassroots, autonomous practical action to address the immediate needs of the society. This has usually done as much to remove the legitimacy of the state, and with it the governing powers, as the street protests themselves. If Cameron and Co, first and foremost PR operatives, have considered the possibility of people reacting angrily to the cuts in services, then creating a way to “own” the resistance politically, to come out in control of the practical backlash, would make sense. Gone are the anarchoesque squats operating as respite care and instead, the government can imprint itself onto any press reports of people pulling together in an attempt to weather the attacks on their lives and livelihoods.
To call the Big Society a fig leaf as many have done is quite possibly too generous. I realise that in some contexts, we need to start by calling it out as a disguise for bad policies, but we must also be mindful of the extent to which we are being prevented from marrying resistance and acts of mercy in the current context.