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Duncan Crossey: The Big Society at Home and Away - the self-definition of Cameronism?

Picture 14 Duncan Crossey is Political Director of the Henry Jackson Society, and President & Founder of the Disraelian Union.

The last few weeks may very well prove to be the self-defining of Cameronism – finally.

For years commentators, supporters and opponents alike have sought the philosophical backing of the man who has in the space of less than ten years rapidly and seamlessly gone from newly elected MP, Shadow Cabinet, Leader of the Opposition to Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

His own lack of self-definition, until now, may have assisted in his rise up the greasy pole.  It may be a failure of clear communication – ironic as the result has been that he has for years been portrayed and derided by his opponents as merely a smooth talking marketing man; his achievement to date the detoxification of the Conservative Party, but not successfully enough to win power for the Conservative Party outright.

Over the last few weeks, everything has changed.

It started with Mr Cameron relaunching the Big Society to revitalise local communities, hand power to voluntary organisations and change the way Britain is run; its success his ‘mission’ in politics; social recovery his passion.

Defending his concept Mr Cameron dismissed suggestions that the Big Society was too vague to mean anything. "True, it doesn't follow some grand plan or central design. But that's because the whole approach of building a bigger, stronger, more active society involves something of a revolt against the top down, statist approach of recent years," he said. "The Big Society is about changing the way our country is run. That's why the Big Society is here to stay."

Against a backdrop of polls which consistently show that the majority of people do not know what the Big Society means, this was undoubtedly a brave move.  Labour has also fully taken advantage of this lack of public understanding making headway by portraying the Big Society as simply cover for painful cuts to public services.

However Mr Cameron should be applauded for the courage of his convictions.  Rather than drop a misunderstood policy, he has in effect doubled down on it.  It is who he is.  He will be defined by it. The fightback is therefore to define the concept rather than let his opponents’ definition stand.  Downing Street briefed that if it fails, the Government fails.  Everything this Liberal Conservative Coalition Government does will now be explained and shown within the prism of the Big Society.

I have always suspected that Mr Cameron wants to be ultimately be seen and remembered as a socially reforming Prime Minister, similar to Conservative leaders such as Disraeli or Salisbury.  They would have been proud of his timeless aim of ‘empowering the people’ clearly articulated and expressed in recent weeks.

If that was at ‘home’, he then took the concept of the Big Society away on ‘tour’.

Until now Mr Cameron has been a realist on foreign policy. Citing economic realities in the UK, his trips abroad to date have been primarily trade missions – important, practical but not inspiring. However following recent game changing events in North Africa and the Middle East, Mr Cameron has been forced to recalibrate his approach. For the first time democratic reform was put ahead of winning orders for British business. He accepted destiny and embraced a values based approach to foreign affairs.

"For decades, some have argued that stability required highly controlling regimes and that reform and openness would put that stability at risk," he said. "So, the argument went, countries like Britain faced a choice between our interests and our values. And to be honest, we should acknowledge that sometimes we have made such calculations in the past. But I say that is a false choice. As recent events have confirmed, denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, rather the reverse. Our interests lie in upholding our values – in insisting on the right to peaceful protest, in freedom of speech and the internet, in freedom of assembly and the rule of law."

Mr Cameron even went so far as to reject a so-called "Arab exception" – the argument that Arab or Muslim countries "can't do democracy" stating "For me, that's a prejudice that borders on racism."

Promoting democracy, upholding our values, empowering the people – these are all sides of the same coin.  Mr Cameron has always strenuously avoided being described as a Neo-Conservative – another term which was regrettably defined by its opponents – preferring to be a Progressive or Liberal Conservative. Now it has all become a matter of semantics.  After all, what can be more progressive than the Big Society home and away?


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