News filtered out on twitter yesterday that Maurice Glasman – the recently ennobled Labour peer and academic, closely involved with Citizens UK – had launched a no-holds barred attack on Locality, the organisation awarded the contract to deliver the government’s community organisers programme. Third Sector magazine journalist Kaye Wiggins reported as Glasman described Locality as “toffs”, “paternalistic” and “well intentioned busybodies”.
I was hugely surprised by Maurice Glasman’s comments. He knows better than that….or at least he should. Locality’s Jess Steele, who manages the Community Organisers programme, responded robustly in her blog, pointing out that Locality’s 600 members throughout the UK may take exception to Glasman’s crude caricature. It’s certainly a bit rich for an enobled peer in an unelected House of Lords – resplendent in his ermin robes…okay so maybe he wasn’t wearing them when giving evidence, but still… – to call anyone ‘toffs’!
It’s worth adding a bit of context (and I’ll admit I’m still trying to understand his rationale)… Lord Glasman was speaking at the Public Administration Select Committee, giving evidence to their Inquiry into Big Society. Alongside Lord Glasman, also giving evidence, were Shaun Bailey (former Conservative parliamentary candidate who runs a charity…and I guess, with Nat Wei’s resignation, is now the leading Big Society flag bearer for the government?), Polly Toynbee (who is certainly not a Big Society flag bearer!) and Danny Kruger (who has worked for several Conservative party leaders, including David Cameron…and now runs a charity working with offenders).
The reporting of their evidence session was full of soundbites, posturing and the occasional useful insight. I wonder whether there was a little bit of grandstanding and one-up-manship at play here too…egged on perhaps by their desire to grab the headlines? There was also a fair amount of party politics at play too – too much in my view. Of course Big Society is political – particularly as a ‘brand’ or badge – though it does divide opinion within as well as across parties. However one had hoped that the PASC (who after all are there to scrutinise government and hold them to account) would look beyond this to the important aims and objectives that underpin the label.
Sadly that seems not to be the case…with Shaun Bailey rather incredulously saying his priority was to ‘depoliticise Big Society’. And things appear to have quickly descended into a rather tired and unhelpful procession of political grandstanding. Danny Kruger (who I met when we appeared together on the Today Programme, and who I believe does ‘get it’) deserves an honourable mention for rising above the party politics to acknowledge that there “will be inequity” – something we have been saying throughout the emergence of the Big Society policy agenda.
Lord Glasman is a now a close advisor to Ed Miliband and the leading proponent of ‘Blue Labour’ – a response to Phillip Blond’s Red Tory idea and an attempt to reassert the Left’s ownership of key Big Society ideas like mutualism – makes his comments even more disturbing. If the Labour leadership’s idea of creating a ‘new politics’ is to attack national charities with a strong track record of supporting local community action and enterprise, then they are in an even bigger hole than the polls suggest. Ed Miliband would be well advised to distance himself from these comments and consider looking beyond the usual suspects for some progressive thinking.
Is it too much to wish for some adult politics rather than the incredibly boring point-scoring we see from our politicians?