You may remember ‘double devolution’; but if you do it’s probably because you are a politically progressive activist.
Double devolution was the name given when Labour was in power by then Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, and her ministerial colleague Andrew Adonis, to the idea of digging deep into local communities to ensure their participation in decisions which concerned them. It’s an admirable and timely concept which largely crosses party political borders.
Now of course the preferred term is ‘Big Society‘.
But with the ConDem’s ‘massacre without mandate‘ and de-governance moving apace, the de facto meaning has changed.
This is no longer about supporting local people to get involved; it’s about leaving local people to get on with it – difficult, if you are unsure, poorly educated, unused to the norms of public debate.
As a recipe for the dominance of the advantaged over the disadvantaged it’s perfect. NIMBYs and self-appointed ‘community leaders’ will now have the stage to themselves. It may well be the Cameroons’ Big Idea, but it comes wrapped in the perceptions and positioning of posh, not poor, people.
Hazel Blears, Andrew Adonis and their associates made a really good start, with the concept of ‘double devolution’. Unfortunately, they came up with a terrible name for it.
Double devolution was the real thing, designed to reach and engage people without a voice. But it sounds like something you expect to experience at the dentist’s.
Big Society, an easier, albeit nebulous idea, whatever the initial intention, is now widely (and delivery-wise accurately) perceived as a cloak for ‘cuts’.
If the Blears team had found an easier way to describe what they sought, we might all now be in some better place.
Perhaps then it was too early, the idea was too raw; but even now it’s maybe not too late.
De-governance, in the sense of just dumping people to get on as best they can, must be challenged every day. The transition to a better place will not and cannot happen for those with less, on the basis of government simply walking away from serious socio-economic disadvantage.
Presentation may indeed not be all, but progressives do need to find more easily understood ways to say we seek – and, unlike the ConDems, genuinely, realistically support – community involvement at all levels.
To challenge the ConDems’ version of the Big Society idea we must rapidly devise a more accessible name for the original intent than the impenetrable label, ‘double devolution’.
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