UK paperback

The Big Society

Of tiny brains

Hello again, readers! Cold, isn’t it? Many thanks to the literally several of you who have written in with suggestions, or inquiries as to whether would ever be revived. Perhaps? In the mean time, the following celebration of glossy-jowled bawler David Cameron’s rhetorical skills was printed in Saturday’s Guardian, but didn’t appear on the website, so I reproduce it here:

David Cameron’s two-word phrase “big society” was this week nominated “word of the year” by Oxford University Press. Much ink has been spilt over its possible content. But how exactly does it work its occult rhetorical magic?

Being big usually makes good things better (big bucks, big breakfast) and bad things worse (big trouble; and, for conservatives, “big government”). Society is good, so a big society must be even better. It follows that all countries more populous than the UK are better than it, but forget about that for now.

So what’s the big idea? In the “big society”, people ought to be enabled to help themselves. (So “society” is redefined polemically as something opposed to government.) But this ideal might be incompatible with removing the means to enable them do it, eg by slashing local-authority funding. In which case, “big society” is just cynical Unspeak for offloading responsibility on to the voluntary sector, as the Bishop of Blackburn recently suggested.

Disturbingly, the swelling of the “big society” is infectious. Cameron nightmarishly invoked “a big society matched by big citizens” (presumably fatter Britons; taller ones would more properly result in a high society), and Nick Clegg called a new Sutton youth centre a “big society super-classroom”. No doubt a big society enormoburger will be served on a bed of gruel in the workhouse.

Previous Oxford “words of the year” have included “locavore” and “hypermiling” (yes, me neither), but there are promising signs that “big society” could endure better than they, if only as a term of sarcastic opposition. Thus did a spokesman for student demonstrators in London on Wednesday announce: “It’s going to be an excellent example of the big society coming to Downing Street.” That was big and it was clever.

  1. 1  Derek Williams  November 29, 2010, 11:39 pm 

    This is why we need Unspeak back properly. Delightful and wunderful (that was a typo but I quite liked it)

  2. 2  nilton  November 29, 2010, 11:49 pm 

    Steven?! Come back Steven!

  3. 3  greyhead  November 30, 2010, 10:50 am 

    “Big Society”
    the first letter of the word big along with the first letter of the word society joined together sums it all up for me

  4. 4  John Terry's Mum  November 30, 2010, 10:56 am 

    welcome back.
    Keep posting.

  5. 5  shadowfirebird  November 30, 2010, 2:36 pm 

    “Big Society” is two words, surely*?

    Add me to the list of people missing the blog, by the way.

    (* Don’t call me Shirley.)

  6. 6  richard  November 30, 2010, 3:52 pm 

    I still stand by bromance for word of the year and WTF as word of the decade.

    Big Society has to be the most vacuous slogan I’ve heard in a long time. I salute you for managing to make something out of it at all.

  7. 7  Pete  November 30, 2010, 8:31 pm 

    Please come back!

  8. 8  Sam F  December 1, 2010, 1:55 am 

    For the love of all that is good, please get blogging again.

  9. 9  Mike Hobbs  December 1, 2010, 12:37 pm 

    Great stuff- lovely suprise to see you back, even if it is just a one-off.

  10. 10  Hey Zeus  December 1, 2010, 5:05 pm 

    I didn’t want to bother you. I thought you were finishing that book.
    Have you finished your book yet?

  11. 11  BenSix  December 1, 2010, 6:09 pm 

    Would it persuade or dissuade you from posting more frequently if I said that, with this blog, you’d voluntarily provide a useful community service that would enable us to help ourselves – nay, give us “people power” – and advance ‘nano’ level, decentralised engagement with, er — something?

  12. 12  sw  December 1, 2010, 10:31 pm 

    I’ve found it hard not to think about jimmying “Big Society” into the rather more elegantly and honestly evocative lyrics to one of our favourite Spinal Tap anthems.

    Having just written that, I found myself searching for the lyrics, which are so brilliant that any sort of parody derived from them would almost certainly come off as so much less brilliant than the classic lines themselves–although that might be a challenge to the wittier readers in the unspeak community.

    Those first lines . . .

    The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’ / That’s what I said / The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand / Or so I have read

    Ah, to have read what David St Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, and Derek Smalls have read . . .

  13. 13  zhava  December 10, 2010, 6:13 am 

    “Big Society” is a vague amorphous term that in concrete terms means fuck all basically. A good phrase for spin and filler though and one that creates the illusion of inclusiveness. A propagandist’s term. Also it will tend to be exploited by Tory types for whom “big” doesn’t include them… but rather “them”.

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