David Cameron claimed on Monday that his “big society” agenda was about the “biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power” from the state to individuals.
That’s a lie designed to cover cuts. The “big society” is an ideological tool to clear the way for big business and a small society.
The actual proposals Cameron spoke about are laughably modest—reopening a closed local pub and young unemployed people volunteering at a local museum.
The wider project is to downgrade public services and trade unions and to boost privatisation and individualism.
Cameron denies that and says he is encouraging voluntary groups to do more to make society stronger.
But the reality is that cuts are bleeding such groups to death.
The first wave of such cuts hit west London last week—and it was a chilling experience.
In a process that is taking place across Britain, the cabinet of Tory-run Hammersmith & Fulham council met to decide which voluntary groups would get funds from the council.
Or more truthfully it met to decide who would not get a penny.
The council expects it will face overall budget cuts of £55 million in the next three years.
Dozens of groups in Hammersmith working with children and families, refugees, young people, homeless people and older people have been refused funding. Six organisations came to make their appeals in person.
We heard from the Shepherds Bush Families Project—set up 22 years ago to help the most vulnerable people and which wants to offer an after-school service to those who can’t afford the present services.
Mahdi Aadan from the local Refugee Forum talked of the crucial role the organisation played in bringing communities together and in offering some hope and dignity to people who are at the sharp end of immigration law.
Lorraine Thompson from Threshold Housing Advice said that after 32 years of serving local people the service would close if the grant was withdrawn.
The Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre spoke about its work of “stopping people losing their jobs, and stopping people losing their homes”.
The presenters’ approaches varied from a forensic point by point refutation of the council’s assessment to a heartfelt and desperate plea.
Each was received with sustained applause by the hundred or so people sat in the room to give support.
But the Tory cabinet members did not applaud. They did not manufacture that hypocrisy.
They sat stony-faced, not bothering even with the concerned expressions and sympathetic nods you might expect.
The cabinet members asked not a single question, made not a single speech, uttered not a single word. Instead when council leader Stephen Greenhalgh, a trailblazer for Tory local government “reform”, asked the cabinet to accept the cuts, they all chorused “agreed” and then left.
The room exploded in anger. “This isn’t democracy, you’re a bloody disgrace,” shouted protester Angie. “You’re destroying the borough, not running it,” said another protester.
The watching Labour councillors and Labour MP Andy Slaughter urged everyone to keep fighting.
The Tories had got away with murder. This is the reality behind the talk of a “big society”.
At the moment our side is too often numbed by the shock and awe of the cuts, too disorganised and too unsure of how to fight.
But there is also potent anger. We can see it in the growing protests at council meetings and the formation of anti-cuts groups. There will be hundreds of nights like last week in west London as the cuts grow.
Everyone needs to think how the passion and the anger at the cuts can be turned into revolt.
The people who rely on those Hammersmith services do not need sectarian sniping or bureaucratic excuses. They need unions that will campaign and fight through strikes and properly-built protests.
They need a left that unites to fight and argues about the way forward in the process of creating that movement.
And they need victories.