Enjoyable lunch recently with business contacts at Locanda Locatelli; some business talk and some general chat about the state of the country and whether we have a broken society, whether there is enough engagement by the public into the community and whether Mrs. Thatcher set the ball rolling for a more self-centred view of an individual’s role in the community. Some general agreement that Blair did little to change the trend initiated by Mrs.T, so its interesting to note David Cameron’s emphasis on Big Society and engagement by the public.
Sounds good to me and the example often cited is the Swedish model of running schools where groups of parents can band together to set up a new school. What more could we want in the UK? Unfortunately I suspect that model only works when accompanied by a pre-existing community psyche. I can’t believe that in pushy-parent Britain such schools would have the same ideals. What’s more, with the trend towards outsourcing, huge companies like Capita and Serco are already sniffing around the opportunities for providing outsourcing services to these Big Society schools. Surely, their involvement doesn’t help the impression that these are going to be cuddly parent-led community schools?
The discussion then moves on to public engagement during the last general election and the excitement caused by the creation of a coalition government. Of my two lunch guests, one grew up in the UK but now lives in Dubai. He frets about British citizens overseas not being allowed to vote (as is the case after 15 years abroad). My other guest is Danish and even having lived in the UK for many years and being married to a British national, he is not entitled to vote in the general election which seeing as pays taxes here leaves him feeling cheated. The beautifully British compromise to this disenfranchisement is that he is entitled to vote in elections that have no great relevance and change little in our daily lives; yes, he can vote in local elections and European elections.
I suggest to him things aren’t all bad as he can surely vote in the X-Factor contest. And let’s admit that if we review the stats this has a much higher level of public engagement than even the general election. Is that what it is going to take to get the Big Society working? If so, perhaps David Cameron needs to bring Cheryl Cole into the government.