Progress is in the hands of Big Society

Glastonbury Thorn is a tree down in Somerset surrounded by legend.

It’s claimed that Saint Joseph of Arimathea thrust his staff into the ground and it was miraculously transformed into a tree. During the war, Churchill, a lover of all the old English traditions, was so concerned for the thorn’s survival that he had saplings sent to all the corners of Britain so that it would continue even if the Germans managed to attack this ancient symbol of England.

We have many trees of every shape and size in Gainsborough, and many woods and forests, too. It has been humbling and reassuring to observe the level of civic participation during the recent consultation regarding Forestry Commission lands. I congratulate the citizens of our constituency for their public spirit, and I am quite relieved the Government was wise enough to listen to the clear voice of the English people speaking against wholesale privatisation.

The old saying goes that if you want something done best, do it yourself. The wisdom in this aphorism is that those who are truly concerned about a problem will be the ones best suited to find and implement the solution to it.

This idea is central to the concept of the “Big Society”, which is really an old concept that’s been given a new name.

Perhaps more recently we’ve become a little too used to the government doing things for us in this country. Doubtless we all agree that there is a place for the government in our lives: funding our hospitals and health care, our schools, our roads and trains and other infrastructure. But throwing more money at these absolute essentials has allowed a culture of complacency to thrive, as public servants too often forget that they are servants and not the masters. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes feels helpless in the face of a behemoth bureaucracy.

But the current economic crisis is affecting Britain’s coffers greatly. The Coalition is determined to find savings wherever it can, while maintaining (and indeed trying to improve) the essential public services. It is disappointing that this process wasn’t launched during a period of prosperity, when more funds might have been available to ease the transition. The truth is that politicians like to be generous – with other people’s money – and our predecessors preferred the short-term advantage of increasing government expenditure without regard to cost to the more far-sighted action of pondering the long-term effect on the relationship between the citizen and the state. A little prudence today pays handsomely tomorrow.