The Tories do not have the monopoly on the Big Society. They've parked their tanks on a lawn claimed by their greatest enemy. This tradition, the one this blog stands in, would like to see the state not only shrink, but dissolve. It wants the market economy to give way to democratisation and planning, enabling the gearing of production around need and not profit. The new society will see the bulk of the population participate in civic life and enjoy opportunities for developing their talents and interests in ways capitalism can never dream of, or accept. All of this is rests upon an organised, voluntary and conscious association of society's members. Socialism, to call this set up by its proper name, is the ultimate in Big Society thinking. And it's not just a nice idea: it's a potential future the development of capitalism has made possible.
This is a million miles away from Dave's vision of the Big Society. You can read his big speech here.
As conservatism goes there's very little new on offer. The Big Society is a blend of old One Nation Toryism (chillaxed with multiculturalism and LGBT folk), and a bootstraps philosophy that covers for the Thatcherite vandalism about to be inflicted on public services. Quite how dog-eat-dog cuts encourage philanthropy and "social action" is not really explained, beyond a vague notion of the state(!) helping people to help people.
At its core is the usual Tory obsessions with the small state. As is always the case, the shrinking of the state is about divesting the social responsibilities that have been won from it over decades of struggle. They never dismantle the apparatus of corporate welfare, such as the Export Credit Guarantee Department. The secret services and the military mysteriously escape the conservative quest for the small state too. Attacking the socially useful is in, getting rid of the socially useless is out.
Burying deeper into this political vapourware, one finds a simplistic distinction between the state and civil society. On the one side is the state, and on the other there is everything else. The state can do productive things, but can only be used sparingly: it has an inherently deadening effect on the operation of market economies. It can lead to unreasonable expectations on the part of the electorate. If the state is rolled back, civil society can organise itself and, according to the blind virtue of the hidden hand, the greatest good for the greatest number will be achieved automatically, utilitarian-style! Small wonder Tories find corporate power unproblematic: they are but expressions of natural, self-organising processes. Their reality as amoral, rapacious, and dictatorial bureaucracies stuffing unpaid surplus labour into their insatiable maws flies under their radar. It's not that Tories are unusually cruel - though plenty of them are - it's that they cannot see things from the perspective of the class whose labour makes their existence possible.
There's little point critiquing Dave point by point. Reality will do a much better job of showing up the Big Society's contradictions and limitations than polemically raking his Big Idea over hot coals. It wont be long before Dave's BS ideology is interred in the faddish grave yard. A freshly dug plot has been reserved right next to the Third Way and Libertarian Paternalism.
In short, socialism is the *real* Big Society. Accept no pale blue imitations.