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Steve Baker MP: The Big Society is The New United Kingdom

By Steve Baker MP

I have written before of my support for the Big Society idea. For me, it is about the nature of good relationships between individuals, the foundation of a healthy society and civilisation.

But this post is not about my views. It is about the ideas of my constituent David Jefferies who, at the end of a surgery appointment, handed me the following article which he intended to send to David Cameron.

As you can see from his remarkable biography at the end, David Jefferies' life has spanned the heights and the depths. In his own words, after a business failure he "lost his family home and has experienced life on the edge of society: homelessness, poverty, the benefit system and the provisions of the state retirement system." And yet, as you will see, David has not lost his faith in other people.

In context, I found David's article deeply moving. I don't completely agree with him - I don't like his idea of Big Society project offices -  but I didn't want to let it simply join the torrent of correspondence and good ideas which flood into Number 10. I wanted to let it stand as one apolitical man's testament to the value of David Cameron's big idea. In his own words...

The Big Society is The New United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is more traditionally thought of as the union of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, In the present day context, society has shifted its focus from the settlements which gave us territorial agreements and, barring a few exceptions, over 400 hundred years of peaceful coexistence.

Today, the character of the United Kingdom is a tapestry of many hundreds if not thousands of minority groups where individual people are often members of multiple groups through both electronic and personal membership. The Big Society is a vision and also a process through which the energy and character of minority groups can be blended into a whole new United Kingdom.

Left unguided, today’s society is on course to fall off the edge into a period of some chaos. In 2010 the political map began to redefine itself, the electorate finally said NO to the two party system which had run out of steam and was hugely in debt. The voters forced the politicians to recognise that their priorities were not about being the “Top Dog” they were about solving the problems of a country which was economically and socially bankrupt.

However, all we’ve heard about so far is the nation’s unprecedented debt but we are not on our own in this regard. A significant, global re-adjustment is under way as emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and Russia take centre stage and former powers such as The United Kingdom, Germany and France find new places in the pecking order. Time and diligent management of our economic affairs will no doubt steer us to safer ground.

Social bankruptcy is a very new and different event. The “Tablets of Stone” which have guided us for hundreds of years have had their day. They came from an age which could not have envisaged electricity, the motor car, the telephone, the television, the computer, transplant surgery, the internet and so many other innovations which have taken us at very high speed into a brave new world.  But a world without rules and a framework can only be saved from chaos if we can make it operate peacefully and successfully. We can all understand and feel the extent of the problems we are living with.

Now, more than ever before, we must accept that something big needs to be done. We must have the faith to re-build the social order and create a new United Kingdom.

The Big Society is the vision and its the banner for change. The reality of what we must deal with is that in the old United Kingdom there were four national identities, two main cultural origins, two main religions, two political persuasions, three main social classes, two levels of wealth and two genders. You were either single or married and you went to school, university, work or were in the armed forces. Also, you had a roof over your head.

That was then, when the social order was all fairly simple to explain and to understand. It enabled people to know who they were and to understand and accept the differences between them and their fellow beings. It helped everyone pull together at times of need and crisis because you could normally trust your expectations of what other people would do. But today, it’s a very different society.

Within our shores today, we have more than seventy different spoken words, we have more than fifty different cultures, we have more than twenty main religions and we have thousands more seats of learning. We have many multiple layers of wealth from hundreds to billions and we have vastly more social classes created by a person’s particular interest albeit status, wealth, sex, pop, fashion, films, media, sport, speed, technology, travel, etc., etc.

Our “must have” obsession has fuelled a massive surge in innovation, technology and consumerism so what’s on our outsides has become vastly more important than what’s in our insides. As people, you can no longer expect the contents to be what the label says and therein lies our problem. We can no longer trust our expectations of other people because we are no longer certain of who or what we are ourselves.

How often these days do you hear the cry; “the most important thing this government needs to do is to solve the immigration crisis, close the doors, stop it now before its too late”. Apart from deporting illegal immigrants and maintaining realistic quotas in the future, there’s no magic solution. So, each and every citizen in the United Kingdom, irrespective of race, culture, religion, birth-rite, wealth, class, status, etc., has a responsibility to ensure that we tackle the root causes of our social problems and not the everyday effects which seem to hurt our traditional sense of national pride.

The prize, if we get this right, will be that we have created one of the most diverse, peaceful and economically-dynamic nations on the planet.

The new United Kingdom will not be created in one day or even within the lifetime of a Parliament. This is a process which will take at least one generation or maybe two, so we must embrace the vision of the Big Society and we must embrace it now. Solving our social bankruptcy cannot wait and it must not be held hostage by the forces of doubt and cynicism. Beware of doing nothing because “it doesn’t concern me”. Phase one of the Big Society process is to get it out there at the community level resourced by the largest available workforce - all of whom need hope for the future.

My proposition is that every community should establish a Big Society project office with the objectives of creating and maintaining public awareness, running focus sessions, listening to local opinion, defining the needs and values of The Big Society, providing feedback to people and politicians, helping to define the minority interests and contributing to the social picture of the new United Kingdom. Accommodation should be provided in vacant government offices and the first phase would be resourced by those available, using a system of reward that would not effect payment of their other benefits. This initial approach would ensure a fast and energetic start but, as the project unfolds, it would become ever more diverse.

In wartime, how often has the wounded soldier saved the hour, the day or even the battle? In social terms we are at war with ourselves so who better to save us than those who truly understand the problem at first hand and who have a real interest in creating a new society which will benefit every citizen of the new United Kingdom?

So cast away those doubts and have faith that you can make a difference to the world you live in. All you have to do is embrace the need for change and make sure that when you’re approached by your Big Society local representative you will help them, to help us all, to live in a better world.

About David Jefferies

David spent 25 years with IBM and following a successful career in sales, marketing and business management with IBM UK he was assigned to IBM Europe where he held a key role in the team which launched the IBM Personal Computer Business in Europe. He was responsible for the marketing and distribution channels strategy and for its compliant implementation in all of the European countries. The IBM PC business in Europe grew from zero to a one billion dollar turnover in three years.

In 1984 he started his second career in Management Consultancy, firstly as a Director of Coopers & Lybrand Associates and subsequently leading his own Consulting practice which specialised in business strategy consulting. He led major strategic change assignments with Digital Equipment Corporation, British Telecom and Epson Corporation. In the 1990’s his Consulting practice evolved into executive search and selection and into advisory services for inventors who wanted to get their products into the marketplace.

His client base comprised companies in the global Computer and Telecommunication sectors which underwent major restructuring in the aftermath of the Year 2000 debacle (Millennium Bug). The fallout caused many major companies which served these sectors to shrink or even cease their operations. The minnows, e.g. David Jefferies Associates, were forced to accept their fate and shut up shop. In the aftermath he lost his family home and has experienced life on the edge of society: homelessness, poverty, the benefit system and the provisions of the state retirement system.

Unable to merely accept a do nothing retirement, he started a third career in 2007 when he commenced a course in Counselling and Psychotherapy at Bucks New University, High Wycombe. So far he has gained his Certificate and, but for the ill health and recent bereavement of a close member of his family, he would have completed his Diploma which he intends to restart in September 2011. His success in business management and in his associated consulting assignments is based on his in-built interest in people, their welfare and how they can work together for the greater good.


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