The Big Society Debate

The Big Society Debate

A New Agenda for Social Welfare?

Edited by Armine Ishkanian and Simon Szreter

The book is divided into two sections, history and policy, which together provide readers with a historically grounded, internationally informed, and multidisciplinary analysis of the Big Society policies. The introduction and conclusion tie the strands together, providing a coherent analysis of the key issues in both sections. Various chapters in this study examine the limitations and consider the challenges involved in translating the ideas of the Big Society agenda into practice.

Chapter 8: ‘Big Society’ as a Rhetorical Intervention

Martin Albrow

Subjects: social policy and sociology, comparative social policy


Martin Albrow Who gets excited by ‘Big Society’? Certainly not the general public who, by all accounts, find it uninformative and boring. Conservative MPs have allegedly experienced frustration on the doorstep as they have had to work harder to win any interest. Tory MP Jo Johnson was reported as saying it was ‘intangible and incomprehensible … and unpersuasive’. According to the same report Phillip Blond, author of Red Tory (2010), said government departments had yet to grasp it (Beattie, 2011). In an age of mediatised politics it is no accident that on the very day – 11 July 2011 – when Parliament was debating the Murdoch media empire and phone hacking, the scandal of scandals, the Prime Minister was promoting his Big Society programme elsewhere. For these are two sides of the same coin. One side sabotages the media machine, as the other endeavours to keep the wheels moving. While once class conflict revolved around the factory floor, today a more widely diffused conflict centres on the means and methods of communication. Jonathan Powell, who served as Tony Blair’s chief of staff, describes the process of searching for ‘big bold policies or big ideas to define their approach for voters’ (Powell, 2010, p. 174). On his account Blair spent most of his ten years looking for a way to present a conceptual framework that included modernisation and fairness. But, so often, contemporary processes of political communication brought it down to a catchphrase or sound bite. For the ‘big idea’ doesn’t even have to...

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