All those who are opposed to the cuts must give the ConDems our kind of big society – resistance on the scale of a mass movement.


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All those who are opposed to the cuts must give the ConDems our kind of big society – resistance on the scale of a mass movement.

With all the drivel about the big society now being doled out to us on a regular basis, it is worth remembering that Thatcher’s infamous “there is no such thing as society” was used to justify almost exactly the same policies.

One of the differences between then and now is that the ConDems feel they need to add some substance behind the “all in it together” myth. This is where “empowerment” and “self-reliance” via the big society come in.

But why would people want to volunteer on behalf of a government that savagely attacks the welfare system while leaving million-pound bonuses more or less intact?

It is true that most sane people can see right through the big society from a million miles away. But there is another glitch, for those that don’t. It’s not actually working.

Details, details

First, the claptrap on the Big Society Network’s website describes it as “an organisation being set up by frustrated citizens for frustrated citizens” – not exactly an enticing pitch.

Second, the general scepticism about the concept is hard to shake off. A series of meetings recently launched by the Network to kickstart the big society escalated into frenzied arguments over the spending cuts. There were also accusations about the Network being funded by the Tories.

Third, neither the Big Society Bank nor National Citizen Service, which obliges 16-year-olds to undertake programmes aimed at encouraging civic responsibility, have been met with enthusiasm. Youth groups are cautious or at best indifferent.

Fourth, a number of charities themselves have expressed doubts. Research conducted by the Third Sector Research Centre argues that charities actually flourished in the context of a strong post-war welfare state, not when cuts are being made.

Fifth, it is unclear how the big society is supposed to get all this local investment when local businesses are going bust in the financial crisis. The big society solution to the flaws of the market is more of it: big companies like Cadbury’s and Asda through “corporate social responsibility” are stepping up to sponsor big society programmes. These programmes will no doubt be withdrawn if profits are threatened.

Sixth, even where regeneration appears to be happening on the initiative of local people, it has taken place over decades, and not without the help of local and national government services. The recent Demos report praising the regeneration of working class areas like Balsall Heath in Birmingham neglects the impact of regeneration on different groups of people: the “eradication” of prostitutes is only one example.

Seventh, councils are not saving money. Tory-controlled Barnet council, hailed as a model for efficiency savings, spent more on consultants trying to persuade residents to reduce dependency on the council than it actually saved.

In Suffolk, where the plan is to divest the County Council of nearly all its services in order to save costs, from the current 27,000 people employed by the Council only a few hundred jobs will remain.

How do you improve services with less money and fewer staff? You don’t.

Charity and the status quo

Education Secretary Michael Gove claims the big society will end dependency and encourage self-reliance: “If an organisation is a charity or a voluntary body, almost by definition the spirit that should defuse it is not dependency on the state but the capacity to do more by harnessing the enthusiasm of civil society and the generosity of individuals.”

Nevermind that working people fought to secure universal benefits in the post-war welfare state, which was also bitterly opposed by the Conservatives at the time, and was implemented when Britain’s economy was almost 150 times smaller than it is today.

Critics who are against the cuts but in favour of charity argue the ConDem government has another dilemma: while the big society depends on charities, funding to charities is being cut back, and this will cost the government more in the future.

This fails to grasp the core of the problem: the need for charity in the first place. Self-reliance and the notion of charity are polar opposites. Everyone is dependent on the state in different ways, which is why Thatcher’s mantra was so wrong. The state is in theory at least regulated, consistent and under some form of democratic control.

Charity that replaces guaranteed public services by the state means that poor and working class people are subject either to the whims of the rich within the private sector or a nebulous “civil society,” which may or may not include the voluntary free time of the unemployed, young or elderly.

Harking back

Victorian philanthropists recognised the financial and ideological value of charity and set up a vast network of charitable foundations regulated through the Charity Organisation Society formed in 1869, shortly after the passing of the New Poor Law in 1834.

Charity isn’t just cheap; it attaches shame to welfare by de-socialising it and places the power of judgement over others in the hands of the wealthy.

The wealthy are then beyond regulation. The ConDems presume, for example, that only the benefits system needs to be scrutinised for “fairness” while the system of bankers’ bonuses and tax avoidance by the rich must be accommodated, lest businesses are driven abroad.

Like Victorian times, all this apparent giving without much sacrifice also makes the rich feel good. So how does a government get away with it?

Ideological offensive

The project initiated by Thatcher – the underlying framework for the steady decline in public services and benefits, the reckless lending to “sub-prime” borrowers and an increase in poverty and inequality in Britain – has not been able to rid the system of boom and bust.

But for the defenders of the system there really is no alternative. And because they calculate that Britain is not in a position to both bail out the financial system and fund a welfare state, they must choose.

They have chosen severe cuts on the one hand and the big society on the other. Spending decisions are made without public consultation – on Trident, on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and on bailing out the banks, for example.

But the truth is they haven’t got away with it yet. The ConDems have exposed their own vulnerability, wavering over child benefit and social housing. The cuts are only starting to kick in and the chaos of big society initiatives will add to the government’s woes. More importantly, a new movement against the cuts is starting to emerge locally and nationally.

Let’s be clear: the ConDem offensive has escalated the fight between those who want the cuts and those who don’t; between those who defend the cuts and those who have no choice but to resist them. The two sides are directly opposed to each other, and there is no middle ground.

In the absence of this middle ground, all those who are opposed to the cuts must give the ConDems our kind of big society – resistance on the scale of a mass movement.

——————————————————————- Sign the Statement Congratulating Wednesday’s anti-cuts demonstrators

Dear Sir/Madam,
We the undersigned wish to congratulate staff and students on the magnificent anti-cuts demonstration on Wednesday. At least 50,000 people took to the streets to oppose the coalition government’s devastating proposals for education.
We also wish to condemn and distance ourselves from the divisive and, in our view, counterproductive statements issued by the UCU and NUS leadership concerning the occupation of the Conservative Party HQ.

he real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts and privatisation that will follow if tuition fees are increased and if massive reductions in HE funding are implemented.
Wednesday’s events demonstrate the deep hostility in the UK towards the cuts proposed in the Comprehensive Spending Review. We hope that this marks the beginning of a sustained defence of public services and welfare provision as well as higher education.

Emma Dowling, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr. Matteo Mandarini, Queen Mary, University of London
Liam Campling, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr. Alberto Toscano, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. John Wadworth, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Des Freedman, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Nina Power, Roehampton University
Clare Solomon, President University of London Union
Dr. Peter Thomas, Brunel University
Alex Anievas, University of Cambridge
Matilda Woulfe, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr. Victoria Sentas, King’s College London
Toni Prug, Queen Mary, University of London
Prof. David Miller, Strathclyde University
Matthew Woodcraft, Goldsmiths, University of London
Richard Iveson, Goldsmiths, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Carrie Hamilton, Roehampton University
Dr. Nicole Wolf, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Gavin Butt, Goldsmiths, University of London
Marsha Bradfield, University of the Arts London
Manuela Zechner, Queen Mary University of London
Dr. Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof. John Hutnyk, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Luciana Parisi, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Maud Anne Bracke, University of Glasgow
Janna Graham, Goldsmiths, University of London
Heidi Hasbrouck, Goldsmiths, University of London
Gordon Asher, University of Glasgow
Dr. Goetz Bachmann, Goldsmiths, University of London
Gerry Mooney, Open University
Dr. Catherine Eschle, University of Strathclyde
Dr. Filippo Del Lucchese, Brunel University
Dr. David Lowe, Liverpool John Moores University
Tom Bunyard, Goldsmiths, University of London
Danai Konstanta, Goldsmiths, University of London
Bue Ruebner Hansen, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr. Alana Lentin, University of Sussex
Bipasha Ahmed, University of East London
Dr. T L Akehurst, University of Sussex and Open University
Dr. Maurizio Atzeni, Loughborough University
Camille Barbagallo, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr. Armin Beverungen, University of the West of England
Dr. Svetlana Cicmil, University of the West of England
Dr. Caroline Clarke, University of the West of England
Dr. Chris Cocking, London Metropolitan University
Katherine Corbett, Middlesex University
Dr. Michael P. Craven, University of Nottingham
Dr. John Cromby, Loughborough University
Dr. Dimitrios Dalakoglou, University of Sussex
Prof. Massimo De Angelis, University of East London
Filippo Del Lucchese, Brunel University
Dr. John Drury, University of Sussex
Benoit Dutilleul, University of the West of England
Leigh French, Glasgow, editor Varient magazine
Dr. Fabian Frenzel, University of the West of England
Dr. Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Rachel Fyson, University of Nottingham
Dr. Sara Gonzalez, University of Leeds
Hugo Gorringe, University of Edinburgh
Janna Graham, Goldsmiths University of London
Prof. Peter Hallward, Kingston University,
Dr. Kate Hardy, University of Leeds
Georgia Harrison, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Kaveri Harriss, University of Sussex
Prof. Stefano Harney, Queen Mary University of London
Dr. David Harvie, University of Leicester
Dr. Stuart Hodkinson, University of Leeds
Daniel Jewesbury, Belfast, editor, Variant magazine
Dr. Daniel Kane, University of Sussex
Jeanne Kay, Goldsmiths, University of London
Koehler-Ridley, Coventry University
Danai Konstanta, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Les Levidow, Open University
Dr. Simon Lewis, University of Leeds
Gwyneth Lonergan, University of Manchester
Dr. Rob Lutton, University of Nottingham
Luke Martell, University of Sussex
Conal McStravick, Artist, Glasgow, member of Scottish Artists Union
Dr. Shamira Meghani, University of Sussex
Dr. Eugene Michail, University of Sussex
Keir Milburn, University of Leeds
Dr. Filippo Osella, University of Sussex
Dr. Dimitris Papadopoulos, University of Leicester
Dr. Luciana Parisi, Goldsmiths, University of London
Kathleen Poley, Goldsmiths University of London
Dr. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, University of Leicester
Andre Pusey, University of Leeds
Prof. Susannah Radstone, University of East London
Dr. Olivier Ratle, University of the West of England
Dr. Gavin Reid, University of Leeds & Vice-President Leeds University UCU
Bert Russell, University of Leeds
Dr. Lee Salter, University of the West of England
Jordan Savage, University of Essex
Dr. Laura Schwatz, St Hugh’s College Oxford University
Jon K. Shaw, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Stevphen Shukaitis, University of Essex
Dr. Anna Stavriasnakis, University of Sussex.
Stephanie Tan, Glasgow School of Art
Dr. Claire Taylor, University of Nottingham
Dr. Amal Treacher Kabesh, University of Nottingham
Jeroen Veldman, University of Leicester
Dr. Paul Waley, University of Leeds
Dr. Kenneth Weir, University of Leicester
Hélène Samanci, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr. Clément Mouhot, University of Cambridge
Paul Dunne, University of the West of England
Daniela Gabor, University of the West of England
Dr. Juliet Rufford, V &A/Reading University
Dr. Susan Kelly, Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof. Steve Tombs, John Moores University
Owen Logan, University of Aberdeen
Dr. David Graeber, Goldsmiths, University of London
Thomas Coles, University of Glasgow
Robbie Guillory, University of Glasgow
Marina Vishmidt, PhD student, Queen Mary University
Jay Murphy, University of Aberdeen
Dr. Jens Kastner, Academy of Fine Arts, Austria
Dr. Joanne Massey, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr. James Burton, Goldsmiths, University of London
Moritz Altenried, Goldsmiths, University of London
Mohammed Abhabdou, Goldsmiths, University of London
Kerry Gilfillian, Goldsmiths University of London
Dr. Arianna Bove, Queen Mary, University of London
Prof. Peter Fleming, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr. Victoria Goddard, Goldsmiths, University of London
Pam Clarke, University of Liverpool and president, University of Liverpool UCU (in a personal capacity)
Dr. Isabelle Fremeaux, Birkbeck, University of London
Professor Yannis Hamilakis, University of Southampton
Professor Esther Leslie, Birkbeck, University of London
Kirsten Forkert, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Paul Chatterton, University of Leeds
Dr Eleni Ikoniadou, Kingston University
Dr Daniele Rugo, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr. Erika Cudworth, University of East London
Dr Debra Benita Shaw, University of East London
Francesca Vilalta, London Metropolitan University
Dr Steven Shakespeare, Liverpool Hope University
Nancy Eadington, Goldsmiths University of London
Mindaugas Gapsevicius, Goldsmiths, University of London
Rahul Rao, School of Oriental and African Studies
Annet Dekker, Goldsmiths, University of London
Suhail Malik, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Wendy McMahon, University of East Anglia
Dr Aeron Davis, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Eliza Jane Darling, Goldsmiths, University of London
Sean Keeves, Goldsmiths, University of London
Mark Carrigan, University of Warwick
James Crawford, PhD student, University of Warwick
Anne Moeller, PhD student, University of Warwick
Lucy Mayblin, University of Warwick
Dr. Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay, Goldsmiths, University of London
John McArdle, National Coordinator, Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disabled Claimants
Valérie Hartwich, independent translator, researcher and journalist. Manifesto club member
Joyce Canaan, academic activist
Linda Sarah, London
Dr Erika Cudworth
Adrian Cousins, Unite rep London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (PC)
Maria Jardardottir, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds
Dr. Ozlem Onaran, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Middlesex University,
Kevin O’Brien. Retired

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This entry was posted on November 12, 2010 at 22:53 and is filed under Front page. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


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