Can we please have some grown up politics?

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?


5 thoughts on “Can we please have some grown up politics?

  1. If Conservatives think they are helping to promote the Big Society cause by using it to score political points they are sadly hugely mistaken. Similarly, if Labour thinks it is advancing the case for local development by engaging in this sort of slanging match, they are also very wrong.The truth is that most people in local communities are heartily sick of tribal politics, and this is a key reason for why so many have rejected the Big Society message and no amount of re-launches, or new explanations, will change that.

  2. Couldn’t agree more John. Is it too naive and unrealistic to hope for something better from our polticians and political system?i remain ever the optimist! 🙂

  3. With respect to Toby, he’s got the wrong end of the stick about yesterday’s PASC hearing. I was there. The witnesses (Glasman, Polly Toynbee, Shaun Bailey and me) weren’t grandstanding, trying to hog headlines, or doing anything other than responding to questions – mostly pretty superficial – from MPs who were, to be fair, just starting their investigation into Big Society. The only partisanship came from one Labour MP whose name I forget, who laid into Shaun Bailey with some cuttings from Labour’s attack literature in the 2010 election, and was rightly called to order by Rob Halfon MP. Anyway… Maurice Glasman’s remarks about Locality came at the end of a long and v interesting account of the history of community organising, in which he cast himself and London Citizens in the tradition of Alinsky against the Settlement Houses tradition – development rather than organising, he described it, in which well-meaning outsiders (‘toffs’) bestow help upon the poor, rather than agitating them to claim their due through struggle. He sees Locaity in the Settlement House tradition.I don’t much like the sound of Alinskyite agitation but Maurice spoke with gentleness throughout, and is surely allowed to complain about the Govt’s choice of provider if he wants to. PS. the idea Maurice shouldn’t refer to ‘toffs’ when he’s a Lord (of about 5 minutes standing) – mocking his ermine – this is the son of Dame Hilary Blume talking, right? Doesn’t that make you an hon. or something? Since when did being honoured for services to the community mean you couldn’t attack elitism?

  4. While Lord Glasman’s comments did come across as those of a sore loser, we shouldn’t let ourselves forget that the idea of ‘Big Society’ is a deeply political concept drawing its basis from the deepest blue depths of Conservative thinking. So it shouldn’t surprise us that some from the left – even those with a less statist and more libertarian perspective – trip themselves up over the concept.The problem is that an idea based on Burkean principles doesn’t bend well to accommodate the "grit in the shoe" approach of Alinsky – in truth ‘Big Society’ is far more English, far less confrontational and decidedly collegiate in it’s inception. I keep saying that ‘Big Society’ is abour permission – or rather about Communities permitting themselves to act rather than seeking permission to act from the State or its agent. One day…

  5. Danny – If Mr Glasman wanted to complain about the governments choice of provider he should have openly declared a couple of interests….not only his role in Citizens UK who sought but lost the contract, but also his appointment by Ed Miliband to the Ermine Tower in what looks like the role of the Labour Party’s attack dog to be set loose on all things ‘Big Society’. As this article puts it "Labour insiders think Glasman could provide the intellectual basis for an assault on David Cameron’s ‘big society’" a resident of one of the UKs less well off (financially speaking) estates, and coming from a family of lifelong Labour supporters, I’m glad at the prospect of the Labour Party stimulating the intellectual debate with their notion of a ‘good society’ being added to the mix. But to attack the organisation who are just getting ready to deliver the programme, in such a mean spirited way, rather than working together with the fols at Locality to resolve any differences so we can have the best of all worlds is disgraceful behaviour in my opinion, which smacks off ‘partisanship’ mixed with a fair old lump of bitterness at losing the contract. He should know better than to use such an important opportunity for ‘by the people, for the people’ changemaking as a political football. Putting Poli-Tricks before the real needs of people is one of the reasons so many people are sick to the back teeth of politicians

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