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So a rather busy day meant that I was a little late seeing David Cameron’s speech about ‘Big Society’. Benedict Brogan summarised rather poetically its effect in his introduction,
“It happened to Alan Turing, as he lay on his back in Grantchester Meadows, wondering how to crack the German Enigma codes. Newton was lounging in a Lincolnshire orchard. Archimedes was in his bath, but was so excited that he jumped out and ran naked through the streets of Syracuse. The weather persuaded me to opt for a taxi after my own Eureka moment yesterday, but otherwise my delight was of the same magnitude – for I now understand what David Cameron is on about.”
If it is only now that Ben Brogan’s realised what David Cameron is on about, then I can’t help but to imagine what his coverage will be like in coming weeks. For since Brogan left the Daily Mail last year to return to the Telegraph as Chief Political Commentator, he’s provided, at least in my opinion, the most Cameronite coverage of the Tory leader yet.
Yet there are echoes with me that make me understand what he means. A few years ago I read Dylan Jones’ Cameron on Cameron, a ‘Conversations with…’ set of interviews that took place over a year. In this book, pre-recession, Cameron spoke loudly of Broken Britain, and how it was his number one priority to get it right.
I took these messages away to my friends and while the optimism was respectable, the main complaints still lay in the fact that, it would require effort of people that probably wouldn’t give it. Thankfully, this Big Society, Not Big Government speech attacked this issue throughout.
“Some people say that there are no big ideas in politics anymore.”
“I know some people argue that there isn’t the appetite for this sort of widespread community participation.”
“I know the arguments that some people make – that this sort of community co-operation will only happen in the richest areas.”
It was a rousing speech, but its strengths didn’t just come in his good oratory, it fought to the heart of what’s wrong with this country, not just economically, but socially. Yet, unlike the vision he described to the few in 2008 which lacked answers and only shone with optimism, today he faces us with schemes, policies, and new Conservative ideals. The ‘Big Society Bank’ — funded by unclaimed deposits, and further private investment — which will support localised community projects. He gave the example of “Home by Mersey Strides” in Livepool saying that “It gets former prisoners, the homeless and the long-term unemployed to repair and assemble damaged flat-pack furniture and then sells it to students and the local community.”
It all runs back to Conservative ideology, just rethought, reworded. This is Conservative small-government to its fullest, give control not just to local communities, but to people; have government interfere only as much as to provide support and allow this new society to happen. This really is Compassionate Conservatism. This is what he’s been trying to posit since he became Leader of the Opposition.
He alluded to JFK’s most memorable Inaugural moment: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” and indeed the American optimism of people, really transpired here.
“I am unashamedly optimistic, and unapologetically ambitious”
He was certainly right in both of those remarks. Yet, as Ben Brogan articulated, there was something there, something fundamental, something that could be truly great, and finally we’re starting to believe it too.