David Wilcox has blogged more on the Big Society Network, which describes itself as 'an organisation being set up by frustrated citizens for frustrated citizens, to help everyone achieve change in their local area.'
Our aim is to not only create the largest co-operative or mutual in Britain, but to create a mutual that is Britain. Every citizen can be a shareholder, contribute, receive help and rewards.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think there's a difference between a network and an organisation, which is kinda significant. Either that's been thought about and is being disregarded, or it hasn't been thought about. If I'm reluctant to trust the network it's because it seems to be an organisation with an agenda, and the agenda doesn't appear to include values and principles that in my view are essential to community development: inclusion and social justice, for instance.
If the response is, 'no, the members set the agenda, so join in and help shape it' then it begs all sorts of questions such as why there are no proposals to strengthen the existing community sector networks (er, we call this 'bottom-up' - it's just a bit if jargon we use, you'll get used to it chaps). At least the Brown government recognised this, albeit in its central-controlling way. Any self-respecting community activist can smell a hidden agenda from well beyond their own territory: they will be suspicious of the Big Society Network perhaps not because it has an expressed agenda just yet but because it's a centralised construct coming from a philanthropic tradition.
A post on ConservativeHome notes the possibility of 'the politicisation of community activists' under the Big Society umbrella, which apparently has also occurred to the Taxpayers Alliance. Is it possible that these people have been immersed for so long in a cakestall-mafia version of the voluntary sector that the prospect of voluntary action having a political dimension is a bit of a shock?
Here's a suggestion: start from the recognition that community action is fundamentally, insecapably political, and get used to it. Attempts to depoliticise it will be self-defeating and may lead to a revival of confrontational radicalism. I welcome the Big Society thinking from the tories because it might just force us to think about the politics of communty action after a couple of decades when that really hasn't been paid much attention.
Julian Dobson has it about right I reckon:
If we want community activity that won't frighten the horses and will leave most of society pretty much as it is, and will give you social action without having to worry about social justice, this kind of set-up may be a good bet. Those who want more substantial change may well find themselves suffocated in such a network.