From all the evidence thus far, it appers that the "Big Society" is the Conservatives' answer to a question no one is asking.
“It is not clear that the public wants to accept Mr Cameron’s invitation for greater involvement and local control” – Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI. Proof, if further proof were needed, that the acronym BS does not always mean “Big Society” when discussing the woeful undergraduate essay that comprises the Tory manifesto, comes in no less a form than research conducted for the 2020 Public Services Trust by Ipsos MORI.
The Trust asked MORI to run discussion groups exploring what people value in public services. Whilst a full report won’t be available until next month, the results make interesting reading.
Significantly, and unhappily for Team Cameron, the outcome of the discussion groups and polling finds that the voters are “deeply attached … to the values of security and fairness which they see as underpinning public services” and that “politicians would undermine these at their peril”.
Additionally, whilst “voters might initially be attracted to big ideas … they soon start to question their practicality. What they are interested in is not so much vague principles but a more practical, concrete examples of how change might work.”
Bad news for any party that’s produced a manifesto that’s big on vague. Additionally, as established by the Hansard Society’s 2009 Audit of Political Engagement and reported on Left Foot Forward previously, “whilst people like the idea of the big society, they are too busy doing other things to make it happen,” confirms MORI’s Ben Page.
His organisation’s findings indicate that whilst a large proportion say the public should be more involved in local and national decision making, only 5 percent want to actually participate in this and even fewer have actually done so in the past. This is reminiscent of the Audit’s 2009 finding that whilst 87 percent of people thought it “essential” or “important” to vote, only 53 percent said they were absolutely certain to do so.
The Trust is, refreshingly, less bleak than the Hansard Society in terms of its suggestions as to how the general public conception and approval of the “good citizen”, identified by both organsiations, can be turned into a practical reality although on a smaller scale than dreamed of in the “Big Society”.
It suggests that initially programmes to encourage greater citizen involvement in the provision of public services should be practical and specific, gradual and incremental, and start with newer non-core services. We await the full report with interest but it does appear, from all the evidence thus far, that the “Big Society” is the Conservatives’ answer to a question no one is asking.
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