Letters From London

Photograph from The Prime Minister's Office

Stiff Upper Lip Meets Sword of Truth

David Cameron explained his plan yesterday to build a “big society” and no one understood a word of it. A translation, with help from droid Margaret Thatcher.

David Cameron has launched his “big society” drive to empower communities, describing it as his “great passion.” In a speech in Liverpool, the prime minister said groups should be able to run post offices, libraries, transport services and shape housing projects. Also announcing plans to use dormant bank accounts to fund projects, Mr. Cameron said the concept would be a “big advance for people power.” Voluntary groups and Labour have queried how the schemes will be funded.
BBC, 19 July 2010

It’s great to be here in Liverpool.

Here in “the North” at last! I’ve heard so much about it. Honestly, it looks much cleaner than I expected. Jolly well done, Northern people.

I’ve been in Downing Street for a couple of months now and it seems to me that the business of government falls into two categories: There are the things you do because it’s your duty. Sometimes unpopular—but you do them because it is in the national interest. And yes, cutting the deficit falls into that camp.

We’re going to sacrifice our own careers as well-paid lawyers and city bankers to knuckle down to the terribly difficult task of deciding which services to cut first. Then which services to cut afterward. Then in what order we should cut the rest. The money we save will be invested in Parliament itself. It will be rebuilt as the Fortress of Plenty. No poor person shall ever be expected to hold out a hand for pitiful state handouts! We shall be the ones brave enough to turn our backs on those outstretched hands; we shall give the poor their first chance to Muddle Along. The famous British Stiff Upper Lip has become a quivering diseased mandible. We must slice it off with the simple Sword of Truth, whilst sheltering behind the trusty Shield of British Fair Play. Rule Britannia!

But there are the things you do because it’s your passion. The things that fire you up in the morning, that drive you, that you truly believe will make a real difference to the country you love.

I’ve been working on my Margaret Thatcher clonedroid in the Downing Street basement. She’s working, up to a point; she can say things like “THE LADY IS NOT FOR TURNINGNINGNING” and “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SOCIETY,” but I’m trying to delete that second one from her memory banks.

And my great passion is building the Big Society. Anyone who’s had even a passing interest in what I’ve been saying for years will know that. It’s an idea I spoke about when I ran for the leadership of the Conservative party, when I was elected, throughout all the years in opposition, during the election campaign and when I stood on the steps of Downing Street.

None of you listened, did you? Thought I wouldn’t make it didn’t you? Hmm? Well look who’s Prime bloody Minister now, eh?

So I can’t tell you how excited I am that, after all that talking, we’re now finally doing.

By “doing,” I mean “doing more talking.”

And today, I want to take this opportunity to explain some of the real, practical steps that we are taking to help make the Big Society a reality. But before I get into the details, let me briefly explain what the Big Society is and why it is such a powerful idea.

The clonedroid asked me to tell you to write this down. I don’t need to remind you how important it is that we do what she says. Didn’t Margaret herself once say, “I don’t care how much my Ministers talk, so long as they do what I say.”

You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment. You can call it freedom. You can call it responsibility. I call it the Big Society.

We tossed around a few other ideas before we settled on this one. They included “Cheap Society” and “Unsociable Society” and “Dave’s Smashing Plan to Make Everyone More Happy With Less Money,” but “Big Society” had a better ring to it, and the internet boffins said it would make a nice hashtag on Twitter.

The Big Society is about a huge culture change, where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their workplace don’t always turn to officials, local authorities, or central government for answers to the problems they face, but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities.

You chaps are in charge. You are the police now. Carry on.

It’s about people setting up great new schools. Businesses helping people getting trained for work. Charities working to rehabilitate offenders.

We’re closing all the prisons next week. Offenders will be shared out among charities. Don’t start moaning—if you can’t sort it out among yourselves, we’ll have to sort it out for you won’t we? Don’t say you weren’t warned. Since I ran for the party leadership, remember? REMEMBER? Goodness me you’re such a bunch of napkins. Clonedroid agrees with me, don’t you Ma’am?


During our campaign to win the last election, we used the phrase “Broken Britain.” We’re just going to change that to “Broke Britain.”It’s about liberation—the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street.

Well, I say that, but we’re only going to give away the little powers. The ones that aren’t very important. And we’re keeping all the money. So, the most dramatic redistribution of fairly unimportant powers without any of the financial incentives previously enjoyed in Whitehall, to the terribly ordinary man and woman living on the street. Yes.

And this is such a powerful idea for blindingly obvious reasons.


Sorry. Margaretclonedroid has so much to give, doesn’t she? What an inspiration. What a woman. Anyway, I’m afraid there’s no money left at all, chaps. Not a sausage. So I’m afraid we can’t carry on letting the poor folk have any. During our campaign to win the last election, we used the phrase “Broken Britain”—we’re just going to change that to “Broke Britain.” Don’t blame us, it’s all Tony Blair’s fault. And look where he is today. Not shouldering the responsibility for Blair’s Broke Britain, but sunning himself in hot places. I hear the pool is gorgeous on a warm evening. Give my love to Cherie.

It’s time for something different, something bold—something that doesn’t just pour money down the throat of wasteful, top-down government schemes. The Big Society is that something different and bold.

We’re going to have a new generation of locally wasteful schemes; schemes that vomit money up the throat of local authorities and back to us at in our central government Fortress of Plenty.

It’s about saying if we want real change for the long-term, we need people to come together and work together—because we’re all in this together.

We keep saying “We’re all in this together,” because it’s the truth: You poor people are all in this together. Do you see? Perhaps this gives you a little idea of the fabulous sense of camaraderie we get at this country’s finest schools. Although I doubt it.

Of course, there is no one lever we can pull to create the Big Society in our country.

There’s only this lever here, the one that deactivates the Margaretclonedroidattackzombie, but it seems to be stuck.


Not that we’d want to deactivate her anyway. Perish the thought.

For a long time the way government has worked—top-down, top-heavy, controlling—has frequently had the effect of sapping responsibility, local innovation and civic action. It has turned many motivated public sector workers into disillusioned, weary puppets of government targets.

This cannot go on. We want to see public sector workers who are disillusioned and weary in an entirely independent fashion!

It has turned able, capable individuals into passive recipients of state help with little hope for a better future. It has turned lively communities into dull, soulless clones of one another.

Another situation that cannot go on. We need communities that are sparkling, responsible, joyous clones of one another!

The rule of this government should be this: If it unleashes community engagement—we should do it.

If it’s dirt cheap or costs less than that, and we can find some chump to shoulder all the responsibility in exchange for a “I Served My Community” badge and an ID card on a colored lanyard—we should do it.

If it crushes it—we shouldn’t.

If anyone starts asking for any money—we shouldn’t.

The success of the Big Society will depend on the daily decisions of millions of people—on them giving their time, effort, even money, to causes around them.

Classic charitable causes like waste collection, arresting criminals, road maintenance, education, health, construction of coastal defenses, building nuclear power stations, guiding the national economy through the choppy waters of international finance, and ordering government stationery.

We’ve got to get rid of the centralized bureaucracy that wastes money and undermines morale.

It’s far more efficient to waste money and undermine morale at the micro-local level. Trust in the people you know in your community to let you down on a scale that ordinary poor people can comprehend. Bless their little heads.

The sunsets over the Fortress of Plenty will form a cascade around us as we dance on the rooftop. Up there, the sounds of the dirtier Londoners will never reach us.And in its place we’ve got to give professionals much more freedom, and open up public services to new providers like charities, social enterprises and private companies so we get more innovation, diversity and responsiveness to public need.

Some of my old school chums might end up being the Chairmen of the giant corporations that end up buying those private companies—so let’s keep them as profitable as we can, eh? Jolly good.

And third, community empowerment. We need to create communities with oomph—neighborhoods who are in charge of their own destiny, who feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them.

My team told me to use the word “oomph.”

Today, government is saying to the people: What is it that we’re doing that’s stopping you from doing what you want to do?

Or to put it another way: What would you want to do if you could do whatever you wanted to do, by doing it yourself and without any money and all by yourself, and found that there was nothing stopping you because those stoppy things had been taken away? Just what is that thing?

How can we stop stopping you? And how do we stop stopping others?

Indeed: How can we stop ourselves from stopping to stop the others? By stoppy-stopping them, are we just non-stopping them? How might we be able to bring about a new Big Society, Nonstop? A world where people don’t get stopped, or stopped from stopping other people, in any way that might stop them from being stopped?

But this is just the beginning.

I trust that’s all clear.

I think we are on to a really big idea, a really exciting future for our country and today, I hope, is one more, big step towards that.


I could listen to you all night, Ma’am. All night, until I drift into the blissful dreams of the powerful and the comfortably-off. The sunsets over the Fortress of Plenty will form a cascade around us as we dance on the rooftop. Up there, the sounds of the dirtier Londoners will never reach us. We shall be alone, my darling Ma’am, alone and entirely separate from the Big Society below.

I can’t wait not to see it.