Conservative Diary

Big Society

23 May 2011 16:44:42

Cameron's ten new measures to boost voluntarism

By Tim Montgomerie 
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The Downing Street website lists ten specific new pro-charity measures announced today as part of the Prime Minister's Big Society speech:

  1. "A £10million Social Action Fund to support the most promising ideas for growing giving in priority areas in England and boosting levels of engagement over the next two years – including new schemes for people to volunteer a little when it suits them or match funding school philanthropy projects
  2. Challenge Prizes, of up to £100,000 for the best solutions to volunteer challenges
  3. A £30 million fund to improve the effectiveness of infrastructure organisations that support front line organisations
  4. £1 million to support Youthnet which runs the volunteering website and which will share its data more freely with organisations. Facebook have said that they will make this data accessible through them
  5. £700,000 to support Philanthropy UK connecting wealthy people with charities that need their support
    £400,000 support from Government and NESTA to trial ‘Spice’ in England which gives volunteers ‘thank yous’ like vouchers or discounts with local businesses when they do good things for the community
  6. Establishing a new honours committee to ensure people are recognised and celebrated for exceptional and sustained philanthropy
  7. Trial charity promotions on the public service website Directgov that gets around 4.5 million visits per week
  8. Open up government buildings to charities and voluntary groups
  9. Hold a Giving Summit in the Autumn to bring together charities, philanthropists, businesses, technologists and financiers to set the course for the future of giving
  10. All Ministers have agreed to a one day volunteering challenge."

I can't say I object to any of the measures although most could easily have come from New Labour. The big thing I would have hoped to have seen from a Conservative-led government is a revolution in the funding relationship between big government and big charities. We need a charity sector that looks to society and not to politicians and bureaucrats for money. I don't see anything in what Cameron announced today that will create a more independent and innovative voluntary sector.

23 May 2011 08:53:00

Cameron relaunches the Big Society today for the fourth time. He needs to be relaunching his crime policies.

By Tim Montgomerie

There's a cartoon in one of today's national newspapers that portrays a family playing the board game Monopoly but it's a Tory-branded edition. "It's just the same," explains the father, "but no one ever gets sent to prison." It's a terrible position for the party of law and order to be ridiculed in this way. Lord Ashcroft's recent polling (details here) found a worrying gap between the views of target voters on crime and how those target voters perceived the Conservative Party:


At the heart of the problem are falling police numbers and falling prison numbers.

Ken Clarke insists that too many people go to jail in Britain but look at these facts from today's Daily Mail and tell me that he's right:

Screen shot 2011-05-23 at 08.19.44

Continue reading "Cameron relaunches the Big Society today for the fourth time. He needs to be relaunching his crime policies." »

19 May 2011 08:50:49

If Conservatives can convince voters that we have hearts as well as brains we can dominate politics in the 21st century, as we dominated the 20th

By Tim Montgomerie

Behind The Times' paywall there's an article and video from me (£) about the Conservative Party's biggest ever defeat. I contend that it wasn't in 1945 when Churchill lost to Atlee. Nor 1997 when we lost the first of three elections to the Tory-killing Tony Blair. I argue that our biggest ever defeat has come in a battle we have never seriously joined - the battle for the moral high ground.

So long as voters see Labour as the "nice party" and Conservatives as the efficient party we are fighting every election with one arm tied behind our backs.

Lord Ashcroft's latest mega poll of 10,000+ voters confirms the problem. The biggest barrier for floating voters, wrote Ashcroft, in supporting us "is the perception (which Tories are sick of hearing about but is real nonetheless) that the Conservative Party is for the rich, not for people like them."

He produces some numbers that underline the problem:


David Cameron, like George W Bush before him, understands the need for a more compassionate conservatism. I fear, however, that in choosing the Big Society idea he has picked the wrong message. I don't question the Burkean pedigree of the idea that good (conservative) government is about empowering non-state institutions but the Big Society has not taken off as a political idea. Many people don't understand it and many others fear it - thinking it means more burdens for them in an already busy life. The Big Society should continue as a policy programme but it should no longer be front of shop.

Continue reading "If Conservatives can convince voters that we have hearts as well as brains we can dominate politics in the 21st century, as we dominated the 20th" »

26 Apr 2011 07:55:52

Conservatives can win the poverty debate but not if the Big Society is our message

By Tim Montgomerie

Over the weekend Policy Exchange (PX) published some very important polling. I've summarised it over at ThinkTankCentral. The YouGov/ PX findings show that Conservatives can win the argument about poverty because on many key issues voters side with our party's instincts:

  • The most popular ways of tackling poverty are reducing unemployment, cutting tax on low earners, controlling inflation and improving schools (the Coalition is focused on all of these things);
  • Cutting tuition fees, banning private schools and raising benefits are the least popular (and effective) anti-poverty policies;
  • By 71% to 16% people distinguish between deserving and undeserving forms of poverty;
  • 80% support workfare;
  • By two-to-one voters support measures to discourage lone parenthood.

Labour's approach to poverty - an ever larger welfare state and public sector bureaucracy - has reached the end of the road. On at least ten fronts Labour is now on the wrong side of the poverty debate - becoming the party of vested interests rather than the party of the poor.

A big barrier to us winning this debate is Number 10's continued attachment to the idea of the Big Society. Don't get me wrong. Intellectually I agree with the idea. I think I can claim to be the person who first wrote "there is such a thing as society, it's just not the state". For Conservatives the Burkean or people-sized institutions that bind individuals together are the basis of civilisation and care. But the BS idea just isn't catching on at a popular level. Every week some blogger or pundit attempts a new definition. Last week Julian Glover had another interesting go. But no pundit or prime ministerial relaunch moves the public. 56% of voters still don't know what it means.

Continue reading "Conservatives can win the poverty debate but not if the Big Society is our message" »

6 Mar 2011 12:42:27

The great idea of "the nation of the second chance"

Tim Montgomerie

IDS has just addressed Tory Conference and ended his speech by promising to build the nation of the second chance. I've always loved the idea behind that soundbite. Being the party of aspiration must include the aspiration to start again after a difficult life. David Cameron first used the phrase five years ago:

"I want to build a nation that never writes any one off. A nation that says that it's never ever too late to start again. Never too late to realise those dreams you once had.

And so the fifth of our Social Justice working groups will examine ways to make Britain a nation of the second chance. For the mum who got pregnant as a teenager the nation of the second chance will enable her to study when she's 35.

The nation of the second chance will offer rehab to the man who has frittered away his twenties on drugs. The nation of the second chance will find a warm home and a job for the man who has slept rough since he ran away from the father that abused him.

The nation of the second chance is a different world to Gordon Brown's decommissioned Britain. We will never fulfil our potential as a nation by giving up on our fellow citizens, abandoning them to long-term unemployment, educational failure or addiction."

It is a great prize for the Conservative Party if we can be the party of upwards mobility and of the second chance. Aspiration and compassion united.

22 Feb 2011 07:27:16

The limits of localism

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2011-02-22 at 07.22.51 David Cameron's vision of public services reform, set out yesterday, isn't just about localism - in the sense of local people taking more control over the lives they live, the services they use, and the communities they inhabit.

His Big Society ideal also involves private companies and other providers bidding for and winning contracts, thereby helping to repair "the breakdown in our society".  But let's stick with the localist theme, and imagine a British localist political settlement.  Its main features would be roughly as follows -

  • Local authorities would take control of housing, planning, social security, urban policy, and sustainable communities.
  • Local authorities would be free to levy new taxes.
  • Ring-fenced grants would be abolished.
  • NHS targets would be abolished.
  • Schools would be freed from central government and local authority control, while new providers would be able to set up free schools.
  • Local sherrifs would be responsible for policing and have oversight of criminal proceedings.
  • Community groups, voluntary organisations, clubs, charities, faith groups - in other words, civil society - would supply more public services (as of course would private companies).

Continue reading "The limits of localism" »

21 Feb 2011 07:59:40

Cameron makes a big promise to end the state's public service monopoly

Tim Montgomerie

Remember the headline of the Tory manifesto? Your invitation to join the government of Britain. It takes practical form today...


The front page splash in this morning's Telegraph is "Cameron's public sector revolution".

Downing Street, we are informed, believes its plans represent the "biggest shake-up in public service provision for 50 years."

A leader in the newspaper refers to the proposed reforms as "seismic".

In his blog, the Telegraph's Benedict Brogan calls today "a big moment" in the life of Cameron's government.

So what - exactly - are we talking about? David Cameron explains in an article in, yes, The Telegraph:


What Downing Street is yet to do is to paint a picture of the kind of Britain that this reform will produce. Like many of Cameron's articles, there is a focus on process rather than outcome.

Continue reading "Cameron makes a big promise to end the state's public service monopoly" »

14 Feb 2011 08:28:52

Ten observations about the Big Society

Tim Montgomerie

Big Society

The Big Society is not something David Cameron has dreamed up recently as a cover for public spending cuts. From the very beginning of his leadership he was talking about social responsibility and the role that non-state organisations can play in overcoming social problems that have defeated the state.

The Big Society is Burkean. It is about the rich diversity of "small platoons" that lie between the individual and the state. These are the institutions - notably the family - that provide the kind of loving, personal and holistic care that the state will never be able to match.

Cameron needs to reconnect the Big Society with the idea of Broken Britain. Even before the recession struck there was something wrong with Britain. Extreme poverty worsened under Labour. Family breakdown accelerated. Problems of addiction and anti-social behaviour multiplied. Loneliness amongst the old grew, as did mistreatment and neglect in care homes and hospitals. Cameron's Big Society is about finding ways of tackling these problems that neither economic wealth nor government welfare had addressed or can address. People won't buy into the Big Society until they recognise it is the solution to a real set of problems.

Cameron understands that Big Government can undermine social responsibility. This is what he will say today:

"Too many people have stopped taking responsibility for their lives and for the people around them.  Why? Now I don’t think this has happened because we’ve somehow become bad people. I think at its core, it’s the consequence of years and years of Big Government. As the state got bigger and more powerful, it took away from people more and more things that they should and could be doing for themselves, for their families and their neighbours. It’s the culture of rules, targets, laws, tick boxes and perverse signals that pay people to sit on the sofa rather than go to work. In this world, people start asking themselves: ‘Do I have no responsibility for my life? Do I not count for anything anymore? Do my decisions not matter one bit?’ Too often the answer is no."

Many "charities" are currently arms of the state, rather than of society. The state may have a role in funding some voluntary organisations but there are real dangers when charities become colourless arms of the state. Direct funding of voluntary organisations tends to corrupt charities, pulling them away from accountability to individuals and communities. I've argued that we need a revolution in funding mechanisms so that charities only (or largely) get taxpayers' money via vouchers and in response to how successful they are in raising money from individual citizens. Nothing will do more to create a society-driven rather than a state-driven third sector. Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, is taking some steps in this direction but they are too small.

Continue reading "Ten observations about the Big Society" »

8 Feb 2011 08:27:47

Francis Maude defines and defends the Big Society

Tim Montgomerie

Maude Cabinet Office Today's newslinks include a number of attacks on the Prime Minister's Big Society project. In an article for The Times (£) Francis Maude defends the concept and also produces a very good definition for something that has often struggled to be understood until now:

"Building a Big Society is not about pouring taxpayers’ money into the voluntary sector. It is about opening up public services, localising power and enabling and encouraging an already rich tradition of social action in this country. It is about allowing communities more control over decisions that affect them and about doing things differently."

Mr Maude goes on to list some of the Coalition's Big Society initiatives:

  • The Department for Work and Pensions will shortly be announcing new contracts for its work programme and voluntary organisations are likely to become important providers...
  • Frustrated frontline workers will soon have the right to take control of the services they deliver...
  • The National Citizenship Service which will eventually open to every 16-year-old and which will be piloted this summer...
  • Training 5,000 people to become community organisers...
  • The Big Society Bank will invest monies from dormant bank accounts in new social ventures...
  • New measures to encourage charitable giving including donating at cash machines...
  • £100 million access fund for charities badly affected by local government cuts.

On ConservativeHome tomorrow I'll offer my own thoughts on the future of the Big Society.

1 Jan 2011 09:04:13

Does David Cameron want big state charities or big society charities?

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2011-01-01 at 07.43.08 He received a knighthood yesterday and in today's Times (£) Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, launches an attack on the Coalition's "tsunami of ill-considered cuts which threatens to decimate the third sector, wreaking havoc on our communities.” He accuses local councils of "Neanderthal" cuts.

Sir Stephen then calls for a new tax on bankers' bonuses to protect the sector from cuts.

But TOTAL money is not the only thing that matters in this debate. HOW money reaches the sector is also vital (a point I made to Ian Birrell for his excellent piece on the big society in Wednesday's FT (£)).

Earlier this week Francis Maude's Green Paper on increasing charitable giving (see links halfway down this page) contained many good ideas but in terms of government policy there needs to be a revolution in how taxpayers' money reaches voluntary organisations and the lack of discussion of this is the big hole in the Coalition's big society agenda.

Many charities receive a third of their income from the state and have done so for many years. This means that pleasing the government machine is by far the most important motivation for such charities. We have ended up with charities that aren't society-orientated but state-orientated, constantly jumping through Whitehall and local government loops, using language and running projects that appeal to risk-averse bureaucrats and politician-determined agendas. Fed constantly by state money and after prolonged exposure to the state's way of doing things the politics of the charitable sector has become very left-wing. That they vote Labour is less important than they are pro-state, pro-regulation and monochrome in their views.

Continue reading "Does David Cameron want big state charities or big society charities?" »