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Year 2010 No. 37, July 27, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Cameron’s “Big Society”: Fending for Yourself in the Name of Empowerment

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Cameron’s “Big Society”: Fending for Yourself in the Name of Empowerment

Two Further Responses to Cameron’s “Big Society”:
Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is an ‘intellectually flawed pipe dream’ for a 1950s Britain
Highly unlikely civil society will become "bigger" due to the large public spending cuts that are being put forward by this Government

Letter to the Editor
Leading the Work to Safeguard the Future of the NHS

Statement of Ryde and East Wight Trades Council, July 26, 2010:
Prepare to Defend and Safeguard the Future of the Isle of Wight NHS

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Cameron’s “Big Society”: Fending for Yourself in the Name of Empowerment

David Cameron’s conception of the “Big Society”, elaborated in his speech on July 19, is a compendium of everything that is negative and retrogressive about the ruling elite and the society they are trying to fashion in their image. It is nothing less than the complete wrecking of society under the name of a “big society”. It exposes the nature of the “freedom, fairness and responsibility” that Nick Clegg elaborated as the three words which sum up the government’s aims. It is summed up in saying that it envisages everyone fending for themselves in the name of empowering the people.

Furthermore, the youth are to be one of the main targets of the “Big Society”. The plans, as outlined in the launch of a “national citizen youth camp” on July 22, target the youth to train them to form volunteer units to serve the community. This builds on the New Labour programme of training the youth in “citizenship”. It is also in line with the “Big Society” conception that existing public services should be given over to “groups of citizens” to run. All this is based on a very tendentious view of “citizen” and “citizenship”. It focuses on the “responsibility” of citizenship. Civil society is actually composed of citizens. Public services are run by citizens who have the public good at heart. As with the New Labour project, the government seeks to invest “citizenship” with certain values, what were known as “British values” with the racism and chauvinism this term carried with it, and this is not acceptable.

Not only is this “Big Society” anti-social and anti-youth, but it is also against the working class. One of the crucial features of it is its attempt to erase class consciousness. It is not at all without significance that the organised working class in the form of the trade unions and political organisations of the working class have immediately stated their opposition to Cameron’s projections. It has been pointed out that the public services which the working class has fought for, together with their conditions and standard of living, are to bear the brunt of the volunteerism promoted by the Con-Dems. Even more to the point is the “Big Society” once again espouses the “one nation” that was characteristic of old style Toryism, but rather than putting forward that the government must care for all, it reverses the equation by claiming: “It’s about saying if we want real change for the long-term, we need people to come together and work together – because we’re all in this together.”

In so saying, Cameron is making use of the Blairite doctrine that classes are a thing of the past. Blair tried to breathe life into social democracy through this doctrine, the doctrine of the “Third Way”, and failed. Working people saw there was no “third way”, and that Blairism was the neo-liberalism of today which aims to deny the independent interests of the working class so that the workers would identify with the interests of the monopolies in their cut-throat drive to capture global markets, which leads to aggression, dictate and war. Clegg himself during the election put forward the mythical conception of “motorway man”, to try and confuse the class consciousness of the people, and to deny the reality that the working class and people as a whole are organising against the national and global economic crisis, and taking a stand against the resources of society being put at the unfettered disposal of the monopolies.

“Motorway man” was an attempt in the realm of a culture in ideological form to suggest that the conditions in society cannot be examined in a concrete way, but that each individual or family (in which, apparently, the man is the bread-winner) has the freedom to act as they please, to live where they please, to travel as they please, and actually opt out of society.

Now the “big society” is to encourage these motorway men to get together and do their duty, because there are such things as the “national interest” and local concerns, but that is not the responsibility of government; it is the responsibility of people fending for themselves. Cameron says: “The Big Society is about a huge culture change … where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace … don’t always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face … but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities. It’s about people setting up great new schools. Businesses helping people getting trained for work. Charities working to rehabilitate offenders. It’s about liberation – the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street.”

The most glaring and contemptible flaw in this argument is that the issue is not about working people “feeling” free and powerful. It is that to be the decision-makers and affect the direction of society, the workers need to become an effective political force, and the people need to have that political power which enables them to set the agenda, to be able to liberate the human personality, to act as collectives and take up social responsibility. Cameron and Clegg want collectives of motorway men to get together to affirm that society is to be wrecked, to participate in the dismantling of public services, the cut-backs to social programmes, the handing over of the direction of society completely to the global monopolies, to step in as the deficit is cut. This is Cameron’s “powerful idea”, of which he says, “You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment. You can call it freedom. You can call it responsibility. I call it the Big Society.” The working class and people call it fending for yourself and denying the people’s claims on society and their right to govern, all in the name of empowerment and being all in this together.

What is the role of government in this Big Society? According to Cameron it is to help to build-up the Big Society. There are three strands to this “Big Society agenda”. The first is what Cameron terms “social action”. This is the reactionary doctrine of volunteerism which was also a domestic feature of the Bush doctrine and of “faith-based initiatives” put forward in 2001. It is predicated on the rich and super-rich living in luxury from the social wealth produced by the working people, while the necessary social services and social programmes are run by the working people for nothing or next to nothing, and the poor and vulnerable go to the wall. Even the conception of job-seekers allowances, disability benefits, state pensions and other benefits, as “safety-nets” is attacked. Cameron says that government “must foster and support a new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, social action”.

The second strand is “public service reform”. It is becoming ever clearer in the fields of health and education that this attacks the very notion that health and education are the right of the people. The Blair doctrine in this field was that of “investment with reform”. The “reform” was the privatisation of social programmes and “investment” was that of giving contracts and siphoning funds to the private sector. In the name of attacking “targets” and “centralised bureaucracy”, Cameron is taking this further so as to “open up public services to new providers like charities, social enterprises and private companies so we get more innovation, diversity and responsiveness to public need”.

The third strand is “community empowerment”. The experience of working people is that the exercise of monopoly right has both devastated the national economy and local communities. Government has held that it was powerless to intervene as the manufacturing base has been decimated. Now Cameron wants to “create communities with oomph – neighbourhoods who are in charge of their own destiny, who feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them”. This type of “empowerment” is a cruel joke, and has been rightly held in contempt by working people when it has been promoted in the health service and in other spheres. The agenda is set elsewhere, and then people are supposed to be “empowered” to discuss how to implement this agenda. Working people are supposed to be happy that basic industries such as coal and steel have been completely destroyed and in their place attractive new shopping malls and town centres have sprung up. Presumably before the Tudors began the process of primitive accumulation, the peasants working the land felt empowered to shape their own small world.

Under the rubric of “vanguard communities”, David Cameron elaborates the “technique” of “decentralisation”. This is supposed to be a “radical shift in power from central government to neighbourhoods” (amounting to “the running of parks, libraries and post offices”). This will help people “realise their dreams” and will be “a big advance in people power”. In reality, it will realise the dream of the monopolies to what Cameron disparagingly referred to in a different context as “micromanage” society, and keep people marginalised from political power. Cameron has forgotten to mention that other “big” in the context of his “Big Society”, that of big business. The international giants and the international financial institutions are noticeable by their absence from the way David Cameron elaborated his “passion”. There only exist “forward-thinking, entrepreneurial, community-minded people and neighbourhoods”. This vision of the Con-Dem Coalition is not so much a pipe-dream as a cover up, a con-trick. It is a denial of the working people as the producers of all wealth in society and the providers of services. All workers simply become “consumers” and are an unfortunate cost of production and burden on society in the Coalition’s eyes. If they were to resist, as they are already doing, the power of the state to dismantle and privatise public services which is being exercised in the name of offering more monopoly-controlled choice, then they will be branded and criminalised as being opposed to “the people in Britain” working out “the answer to the big social problems”.

As Dave Prentis, general secretary of Union, has said: “Cameron’s ‘big society’ should be renamed the ‘big cop out’. … The government is simply washing its hands of providing decent public services and using volunteers as a cut-price alternative.” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said that the majority of people would be told to put up with crumbling, underfunded services, while “a handful of publicity-stunt projects are trumpeted as being the advance guard for his so-called Big Society”. Labour MP Michael Meacher said that it was “absolutely ridiculous” for David Cameron to claim that he wanted to liberate the people. “This will only be liberating for people who have money and power. It is back to the bad old Victorian days of charitable volunteering,” he said.

The collectives of the people should of course get further organised, but this organisation from the bottom up is needed with the aim of achieving that real political empowerment at the top which will enable them to build a society that is humane and truly work for the public good and the benefit of all, recognising all the claims that the people make on society as of right.

A modern government should be the representative of social care and concern. But the “Big Society", for all its rhetoric, goes in the opposite direction, that everyone should fend for themselves. And this is supposed to be empowering! Social care and social concern is the one thing, above all others, that is to be expected of a modern government, but with the present ruling elite every other consideration is put first. This is supposed to be "big society" on the one hand versus "big government" on the other. In actual fact, "big government" means the strengthening of the ruling elite against the people, the state acting on behalf of and as a tool of big business, and this is definitely not being dismantled by the Coalition. The “Big Society” demonstrates that the Con-Dems are dead set against the people working out a pro-people aim for society. WDIE calls on the working class and people to discuss and work out their response to Cameron’s “Big Society” with this very aim in mind.

Article Index



Two Further Responses to Cameron’s “Big Society”:

Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is an ‘intellectually flawed pipe dream’ for a 1950s Britain

Unite, 19 July 2010

David Cameron’s ‘passion’ for the ‘Big Society’ is ‘intellectually flawed’ and a throwback to a 1950s Britain that never existed, Unite, the largest union in the country, said today.

Unite, which has 60,000 members in the not for profit sector, said that the prime minister’s revival of his ‘Big Society’ pipedream failed to answer two vital questions:

Who is going to do all the volunteering when men and women now both have to work to pay the household bills and the increased taxes that the coalition government is imposing?
Where is the cash coming from when the contracts that charities bid for and third sector money are being slashed, such as the case of the leading legal agency for asylum seekers – Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) – which collapsed last month due to cash flow problems?

Rachael Maskell, national officer, community and not for profit sector, said: "David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is an intellectually flawed creed that harks back to a vision of 1950s Britain that never existed. We have been down this road before when John Major had a similar pipe dream of an idyllic Britain of 60 years ago.

”There is a hypocrisy here. The voluntary sector is being hit by massive cuts to its funding – for example, Croydon council has slashed 70 per cent of its voluntary sector budget.

”And the coalition’s rampant drive for greater competition – heralded by the NHS white paper last week – will drive down costs even more, especially as the ‘Big Society’ welcomes private sector interventions.

”This will mean that quality is compromised for cheapness. This culture either destroys services in organisations willing to compromise or stops them winning bids.

”Volunteering is not a replacement for jobs. Charities still need professional skills and good managers. And if we want the sector to add quality then well-trained professionals need to do this.

”The ‘Big Society’ is smoke and mirrors for an avalanche of privatisation under the Tories.”


Highly unlikely civil society will become "bigger" due to the large public spending cuts that are being put forward by this Government

Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office Tessa Jowell MP, in response to David Cameron’s speech on the big society, said:

“The content of today's speech is simply a brass-necked rebranding of programmes already put in place by a Labour Government.

“Funding for a social investment bank and for community pubs was put in place in March, and residents have been involved in setting council budgets for a number of years.

“We welcome the Coalition's decision to continue our work in partnership with local communities, but these projects are dependant on funding and resources being put in place.

“It is therefore highly unlikely that civil society will become "bigger" due to the large public spending cuts that are being put forward by this Government.”

Article Index



Letter to the Editor

Leading the Work to Safeguard the Future of the NHS

The capital centred thinking of the government's White Paper "liberating the NHS" has been refuted in the most profound way. Health care is not a commodity and patients are not consumers. Health care is a right in a modern society and the people’s claims to health care at the highest standard must be met. The lead article in WDIE No to the Privatisation of the NHS! Safeguard Its Future! Health Care Is a Right! opened with this wonderful salvo. It rips apart not just the present government’s ambitions to bring the health monopolies into the NHS and to finally turn Foundation Trusts into businesses, a plan for Trusts started by them in the former years of the Conservative government. But it also rips apart the whole New Labour project as well with the setting up of their PCT commissioner/provider split and money follows the patient, PFI and the privatisation of supplies and walk-in centres and mobile clinics, etc.

On Tuesday night we will have the first public alliance meeting in south Tyneside as part of the whole regional initiative of the trade unions linking up with the community. This is the main question that needs to be taken to people. If people think of it in terms of layer upon layer of retrogressive reforms and attacks that have to be resisted by hard-pressed staff just to get back to some other retrogressive model that came before then we will be defeated. The issue is to fight for what the times are crying out for. The working class must fight for its agenda based on its own independent outlook that health care is a right and that the rich must not be paid and stamp that on society with the guarantees that can only come with the working class taking centre stage in the political life of the country.

This requires workers to engage with each other in a new way as an organised force – to bring into being the embryo of the new society that will emerge out of this current wrecking of our public services. First and foremost, those who are the most conscious workers need to lead this work to develop discussion, writing and dissemination of these ideas for the new society that all must become conscious of, as well as the tactics and line of march to achieve their aim to safeguard the future of the NHS.

Member of Workers’ Weekly Health Group, Northern Region

Article Index



Statement of Ryde and East Wight Trades Council, July 26, 2010:

Prepare to Defend and Safeguard the Future of the Isle of Wight NHS

It is said that St Mary’s Hospital, the Island’s ambulance service and mental health services could end up being managed from the mainland under the government’s health reforms. If this came to pass it would be a travesty. The Trades Council says that it is time to start preparations to resist such measures that would destroy the NHS as we know it. Any plans to remove any part of the health service away from the control of the island should be seen as the thin end of the wedge for the end of our island NHS.

The Chief Executive of the Isle of Wight Primary Care Trust (PCT), Kevin Flynn, is adamant that the Con/Dem health reforms, in line with the ongoing programme of the Westminster cartel, which includes New Labour, would force the Island’s PCT to become either a Foundation Trust or a “social enterprise”. Having had the PCTs turned into "world class" commissioners by New Labour, now the private sector is to be given an even greater rein.

The government that promised to “ring fence” the NHS has immediately embarked upon the opposite and opened the NHS up for grabs. On the basis of “cutting bureaucracy” the PCTs are going to be phased out as well as other infrastructural parts of the organisation like local health authorities (SHAs). The bureaucracy, as they refer to it, means the dismantling of the NHS organisation leaving hospitals and doctors to separate eventually into a private scheme. The end product of what is left being an American set-up where only those that can afford health insurance can have treatments and the best care is to be left for the rich who can afford it. The plans and arrangements would put an end to health care free at the point of delivery for the entire population.

Steve Beynon from the Isle of Wight Council executive alongside Kevin Flynn in discussions with the Island’s health services equally emphasised that the Island’s health services should be managed on the Isle of Wight.

It has been also pointed out that the threat would occur if the service cannot become a financially viable trust by 2013 and would be folded into other organisations. Of course this is bogus, the intentions are clear and the citizens of the Island must actively resist immediately. The council has said that alongside the PCT they will have to fight its corner to ensure that services continue to be run locally and that the leadership of services should be retained on the Isle of Wight. It is not only leadership but the whole of the Island NHS that is at stake.

The question of NHS viability has been shown by the NHS itself. The hospital at St Mary’s serves around 140,000 people. The ambulance service is recognised as being one of the best performing in the country achieving response times for emergency calls of eight minutes or less in more than 75% of cases. Less than 2% of patients wait in the emergency department for four hours between arrival and admission to a bed, transfer or treatment and discharge. 98% of patients wait no longer than one month from diagnosis to treatment of cancer. Fewer patients are being referred to secondary care (646.4 per 1,000 residents – the England average is 788.5). There is high quality of care for people with long-term conditions (99.2% score against and England average of 97.8%). Other achievements are that it is ranked in the top 20% of NHS organisations nationally for some inpatient services, and excellent ratings from the Care Quality Commission. There are new services such as the heart attack response and treatment, where when there is a 999 call a paramedic assesses the scene and depending on condition you can even be transported by air ambulance to the mainland allowing treatment to be given quickly and could shorten hospital stays.

The viability is also shown in the way that the Isle of Wight NHS strives to achieve sustainability even under the conditions of the economic climate and crisis. £11.9m was saved in 2009/10 and a surplus created of £2.4m. There is a highly skilled staff that are determined and dedicated and they are the backbone of our island NHS. The spend is broken down into where the money goes at this time: Acute 44%, Primary Care 22%, Ambulance 3%, Public Health 1%, Community 11%, Mental Health 10%, Additional Island costs 2%, Learning Disabilities 5% and Other 5%=100%.

It is time to start preparations to resist such measures that would destroy the NHS as we know it. Any plans to remove any part of the health service away from the control of the Island should be resisted. Health care is a right in a modern society and it is a right for Isle of Wight citizens, and the claims of the people for a modern standard of health care must be met and improved. The only people who can “ring fence” the NHS are the citizens themselves not Con/Dem politicians, they have no intention of doing it.

There is an adage, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it! Our NHS is working on the island and we don’t need the government to mess with it, the changes proposed are in line with the government White Paper on health care reforms. These are reforms we do not want! The aim is to give unbridled scope to those monopolies who are digging their claws into the health service to make the maximum capitalist profit. This is the meaning of what some are referring to as the "market-driven" NHS.

So prepare to -

Defend the NHS on the Isle of Wight and Safeguard Its Future!

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