Tag Archives: big society

A question for the Coalition: Would Lib Dems and Tories support the Charity Tax if Labour had proposed it?

One of the aspects of the furore over the Coalition’s Charity Tax that has struck me is that charity is a more divisive issue than I’d realised.

Those of us who work in the charity sector probably take for granted that our organisations provide a public good, that the aggregated generosity of donors and the endeavours of staff make for a better society. That’s probably a majority view among the wider public, but it clearly isn’t a universal attitude.

Look at the reader comments on major news …

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Time for Nick Clegg and the Coalition to see sense and stop the ‘Charity Tax’

This year’s budget was, in general, a good one for Lib Dems. Most notably, the party’s number one priority of taking more low-paid workers out of tax was fast-tracked, while the controversies, and specifically the cut in the 50p top-rate at a time when pensioners’ tax allowances are being frozen, have hit their Tory backers’ support in the polls.

However, there is one lesser noticed and malign Budget change, the ‘Charity Tax’ — a cap on tax relief which threatens to cost the charitable sector hundreds of millions of pounds — which has not attracted mainstream media attention. That needs to change if the Coalition is to be talked down from a policy with Lib Dem fingerprints on it, and which will undermine philanthropic giving at a time when it is needed more than ever during the public funding squeeze.

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Opinion: What can Sweden teach us about liberalism?

One of the great experiences in life is reading a text which suddenly throws new light on an issue or expresses a feeling which had been nagging away at you without reaching expression.  It has happened to me when I have read some of the classics of liberal thought.  And, bizarrely, it happened a few weeks ago when reading a column in the Guardian.

The column by Lars Tragardh expressed doubts as to whether the Swedish model (in its current manifestation under a centre-right government) was compatible with Cameron’s conservative ideology.  He pointed out that the Swedish combination of a …

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Opinion: What do the Lib Dems and the Big Society have in common?

Being a student, I am lucky enough to have very flexible working hours, and I’ve put these to good use this autumn helping with Brian Paddick’s campaign to become the first Lib Dem Mayor of London.

Something I’ve noticed with creeping inevitability about the campaign is the similarities between myself and the other people turning up on Fridays – the vast majority of whom are male and pale like me.

This is symptomatic of a wider problem with volunteer organisations in general, and cuts to the heart of a political philosophical gulf between us and the tories: volunteers are people in a position to volunteer.

While conservatives were perfectly at …

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Liberal Democrat setting for Prime Ministerial grilling

Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQs) is often criticised as a bad advert for Parliament. It is confrontational and glib. – That particularly applies to the portion which is shown mostly on news programmes.

Anyone who is concerned about this should watch, or read the record of, the House of Commons Liaison Committee. Each quarter, it questions the Prime Minister for an hour and a half. The sessions are thoughtful, thorough and comprehensive. It is all very polite and earnest.

One could criticise the sessions for going to the other extreme of the style of PMQs. A good replacement for Horlicks, in other …

Posted in Parliament | Also tagged , and | 1 Comment

What is the Lib Dem position on ‘The Big Society’?

I was called by a colleague I know through my day-job last week: ‘What is the Lib Dem position on charitable giving?’ she asked. Beyond a bland ‘We’re in favour of it,’ I found myself a bit stuck for an answer.

Initially I put it down to my ignorance, and decided I should do some research, call a few people up, and find out something a bit more helpful, a bit more substantive. But coincidentally that day I happened to read this article — How can charities exert an influence on Lib Dem policies? — in Third Sector.

And it …

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Opinion: the big society broken record

Our society really is big. And it suffers from no lack of definition. It’s a big society. It’s a broken society. It’s a big and broken society. The big society needs to save our broken society. There is such a thing as society, but it’s not the same as the state. And once, there was no such thing as society at all. There’s as good a choice of societies as you’d find at a student freshers’ fair.

Cameron’s election campaign was fought on his two favourite societies – the big one and …

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The Independent View: What is Big Society Capital – big, new or just Big Society nonsense?

In its first transaction, the £600m fund has invested £1m in Private Equity Foundation, an organisation helping disadvantaged teenagers find jobs when they leave school; £400m of the fund will be unclaimed assets left dormant in bank accounts for more than 15 years, with the rest coming from HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland.

The Independent, 29/07/2011.

The Indie report then goes on to tell about the first “social impact bond” project, which is an “investment” in measures to reduce re-offending in Peterborough.

So The much vaunted “Big Society Bank” – sorry – …

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Modernising community politics: creating communities

At the recent Social Liberal Forum conference, I took part in the panel on the Big Society and community politics. Regular readers won’t be surprised about the views I expressed on either of them (see for example here and here), but one point that I’ve not talked about for a while came out in discussion following a very pertinent question from Hackney’s Mark Smulian.

Mark rightly pointed out that the concept of community in the area where he lives, with a large transient population, was very different from what worked when community politics was first being created. Mark if …

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Our lost phrase: community politics

On a hunch, earlier this year I did a little research ahead of writing a blog post for Liberal Democrat Voice: how often is the phrase “community politics” used by the party’s national spokespeople since the May 2010 election?

The answer was far worse than I’d feared. Looking through all of Nick Clegg’s major speeches, all the news release from him and also all those from others issued via the Liberal Democrat press team, I could only find one use of “community politics” – by Paul Burstow. Andrew Stunell deserves an honourable mention for using it in an LGA pamphlet …

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The Independent View: The public does support the Big Society

David Cameron’s “re-launch” of the Big Society last week didn’t generate the revival of enthusiasm for the scheme that some had hoped for. Many people still claim not to understand the term “Big Society”, with critics continuing to suggest it’s little more than PR spin for budget cuts.

With the rise of faith-based organisations taking ownership of community services, and in light of Evan Harris’ warning about “proselytising on the public purse”, it’s clear that non-discriminatory, non-partisan, non-denominational and fair services are needed, both to support the more vulnerable members of the community, and to compensate for local council spending …

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Opinion: So what is this Community Politics all about then?

Party President, Tim Farron recently published on this site a very well received piece reminding us that we have, close to hand, the greatest opportunity in the history of our party.

He also observed that, “our biggest collective failure recently – from the grassroots to the cabinet – has been that too many Lib Dems have drifted from the sort of community politics that we have prided ourselves on in the past, or else been too busy to practice”.

Community politics is a much misunderstood concept practiced by many as an electoral technique and belittled by others as ‘pavement politics’.

I hope the …

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Chris Rennard: Fill in the blanks of the Big Society

Acevo’s Big Society Commission, chaired by Liberal Democrat peer Lord (Chris) Rennard, has now produced its final report into the subject, entitled ‘Powerful people, responsible society’. The report calls on the prime minister to “take the reins” of the policy to articulate a much clearer vision of what the concept means.

Interestingly, the Commission came up with the following vision of what the big society means to them:

Our own vision is a society in which power and responsibility have shifted: one in which, at every level in our national life, individuals and communities have more aspiration, power and capacity to take decisions

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The Big Society: the answer’s in the book

One of the curios of some library campaigners extolling the virtues of books whilst also mocking the Big Society for supposedly being incomprehensible or non-existent is that there is a short, clear and well-written book which lays out just what it is. Conservative MP Jesse Norman’s book, The Big Society, is certainly not uncontroversial, but it makes a sufficiently strong and clear case to have received favourable comments from across the political spectrum on its publication last autumn, including from Labour MP Jon Cruddas.

At times the book seems to have two, almost contradictory, purposes – to persuade traditional Conservatives …

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Opinion: Big society or big community?

We seem to be stuck in a warp of niceties at the moment. In the bad old days the Tory party was the nasty party. Thatcher flexed her muscles and in a previous downturn we all had to get on our bikes. Yet today we seem to get a different flavour of conservatism. It’s all big society, low interest rates and a penny off fuel duty. What is going on?

I’ll let you into a secret. The Lib Dems may have a little something to do with this. We seem …

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Lord Rennard on the Big Society: “It’s actually quite an old concept”

In February we carried the news that Liberal Democrat peer Lord (Chris) Rennard is chairing the Commission on the Big Society, set up by Acevo, the umbrella body for chief executives. Now he’s been interviewed by Civil Society about this work:

Q: I want to talk to you about your role not just chairing the Commission, but also as a Lib-Dem peer. We’ve heard a lot from the Prime Minister and the Conservative part of the coalition about the Big Society, we’re beginning to hear more from Labour, but we haven’t heard a huge amount from the Lib-Dem side of

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Chris White writes: Big Society’s meatless bones

‘Little by little, and like a virus, the Big Society idea has lodged itself insidiously in my mind; so that now, everywhere I go, I start to see small things that actually could be done closer to the ground, by and for the people who know about them and need them’.

So wrote Matthew Parris in the Spectator last August, a passage approvingly quoted by Jesse Norman, the Big Society philosopher-in-chief in his book of the same name.

Parris’s summary tells us that the concept has gained a grip – and not only on the Right. Some Liberal Democrats are also …

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The Independent View: The Big Society – what do the people on the ground think?

We at v believe that the idea of a Big Society is a good one. However it needs to be properly resourced.  Not just financially with the Big Society Bank, but with input and ideas from the people on the ground who will make it a reality.

What is really important to all charities and to the vision of the Big Society is having an active and growing base of volunteers.  We support the Big Society in principal but agree that it’s the implementation that needs to be developed.

At v, we are experts at inspiring and mobilising young people to take action.  …

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | 19 Comments

Opinion: An historical comparison – the Big Society vs the Great Society

In the late 90s, Tony Blair’s New Deal deliberately adopted the name of US President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1930s programme to increase public spending, create jobs, and escape the Great Depression.

Thirteen years later, one assumes that David Cameron’s Big Society (that Jeremy Browne praised yesterday) at least partially invokes another significant American liberal reform era: the Great Society of President Johnson in the 60s.

I fear that substituting “big” for “great” represents a lesser moral ambition. The Kennedy-Johnson years in America were self consciously “a call to greatness”. Politicians talked of “new frontiers”, putting an end to war, conquering …

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Jeremy Browne writes: Why liberals should support the Big Society

I am instinctively very supportive of the Big Society. But it is not a new concept and I have another name for it. I call it liberalism.

My liberalism is a belief that power should start at the bottom and feed upwards. It is about personal empowerment, choice and, sometimes, quirky individualism. It is about self-pride, community and, often, a suspicion of authority. It is human in scale and organic in its development.

I have a nervous attentiveness to the need to protect this precious but delicate grassroots liberalism from the steam-roller of the overbearing state. What my liberalism is emphatically not is authoritarian or bleakly conformist. It does not idealise the placing of power at the top in the hands of the mighty and then working downwards. It is instinctively unsettled by orthodoxy and drab uniformity.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 42 Comments

PMQs: Cameron’s wheels start falling off

For the third week out of the last four, a Liberal Democrat asked the first question at Prime Minister’s Questions. This is turning into a tradition! Yay! This week it was the turn of Roger Williams to go through the charade of asking the PM for an entirely predictable list of his engagements for the day. Rather cleverly, albeit interrupted by some harrying from the Speaker, Roger manage to squeeze in two points: a) the key role played by the Sennybridge ranges and the infantry battle school in his constituency and b) a question about foreign students and universities: “Can …

Posted in PMQs | Also tagged , and | 17 Comments

Big Society vs Community Politics: grounds for agreement, grounds for disagreement

David Cameron’s recent speech laying out his vision of the Big Society provides a yardstick to judge it against traditional Liberal Democrat (and before that Liberal) beliefs in community politics.

The underlying motivation for the Big Society, as expressed by Cameron, could have come from one of the many Lib Dem / Liberal pamphlets or articles about community politics:

It comes from the belief that over many decades this country has become too centralised, too bureaucratic and too top-down.

And this is not just inefficient and overly-bureaucratic but also has an insidious cultural effect, because it robs people of responsibility.

Regaining this shared

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Opinion: it’s not the economy, stupid

“Enough of the cuts already!”. We should be shouting. Not because of some ostrich-like desire to deny we’re part of a coalition that’s taking a scythe to public spending, but because the message is wrong. It’s not the cuts stupid, it’s not even the economy stupid. It’s the vision thing, clever.

Businesses are not in business to cut costs. Of course, they need to be efficient to compete (which includes not burdening themselves with debt that they can’t cope with). But their purpose, the reason someone set them up in the first place, is to make something or sell a service. …

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Opinion: Big Society is a Big Opportunity for Liberal Democrats

I write this having just got back from a very successful Lib Dem Conference in Liverpool. Everyone seemed to be in good heart, and keen to see what a Liberal Democrat government minister really looked like. Conference is a great occasion to talk and listen to activists directly, and so I really got stuck in. On more than one occasion I was “doing a Simon Hughes” and trying to attend multiple meetings at once! But, though we covered a diverse range of topics, there were two recurring themes – localism and the Big Society.

Localism shouldn’t need any explanation for Liberal …

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The Independent View:Big Society by any other name would smell as sweet

I agree with Simon. And Sarah.

At our fringe event at last week’s Lib Dem party conference in Liverpool we were pleased to hear fulsome support for the work of charitable and voluntary organisations, and encouragement for them to get more involved in public life and in public service delivery.

And both Sarah Teather and Simon Hughes emphasised something very important in their remarks – David Cameron may have coined the phrase ‘Big Society’ but it’s a concept that chimes with beliefs about responsibility and community held by all parties.

Simon Hughes reminded us the UK had a long history of charitable organisations …

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Also tagged , and | 10 Comments

Opinion: can the Big Society be anything more than BS?

When the Big Society entered mainstream political debate a few short months ago the concept was relatively vague. Many people no doubt grasped that it was something to do with what government was or wasn’t going to do. And what we might be expected to do for ourselves or organise at a neighbourhood level. Beyond that things got rather murky.

The process of elaborating the concept continues, but at a practical level things move on apace. The June budget cuts, and the prospect of worse to come, have triggered many local councils to reflect upon their role as service provider …

Posted in Op-eds | 12 Comments

The coalition agreement: social action

Welcome to the eighteenth in a series of posts going through the full coalition agreement section by section. You can read the full coalition document here.

At the time David Cameron started talking about the Big Society, the concept struck me as a mix of traditional community politics and vagueness. Looking at the specifics in this section, there is still a fair amount of vagueness, but the specifics are ones that often touch on themes which our party (or more precisely the Liberal Party) has talked about in the past and rather neglected in more recent years. In other words, it’s …

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Opinion: Big Society + political activism = community politics

I’m sure I’m not the only Lib Dem struggling to come to terms with the realisation that there is life after going into coalition with the Conservatives. It may not be eternal life (even five years might be too much to hope for!), and it certainly isn’t paradise (the nation’s economic predicament has more of Armageddon about it than Nirvana) but life it most definitely is.

Despite already being subjected to obsessive scrutiny and outrageous cynicism from a surprisingly hostile media, and regardless of some premature and unhelpful ‘noises off’ from disillusioned tribalists in both parties, there is an …

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