Are we being unfair about “the big society”?

Taken as a whole, the coalition’s proposals amount to some seriously joined-up thinking.

 

Perhaps we need to be a little bit less harsh on Dave and his ministers about the "big society". As he's said repeatedly, it's something he feels really passionate about.

Ordinary people taking time out in the name of community cohesion and public-spiritedness to deliver services locally is a fine objective, and one that should not be sneered at.

What's more, the "big society" is not just a piece of glib sloganeering; far from it. Take a good look at the government's plans for Britain and you will find a coherent, well-thought-out scheme for national renewal.

"But where will we find the time for all of this in our busy lives?" squeal the detractors.

This is the clever part.

By closely consulting with his Chancellor, Dave has put together a fiendishly simple plan to create his "army of volunteers".

For George Osborne's Budget amounts to the unleashing of a veritable horde of potential do-gooders.

Shorn of their day-to-day "breadwinner" roles, hundreds of thousands of ex-civil servants will be able to devote themselves wholeheartedly to giving something back to their communities, unfettered by a salary, mortgage, car or any other fashionable trappings of postmodernity.

But the new Britain isn't just about pushy government compelling citizens to do things, it's also about choice.

The Mayor of London is doing his bit to this end. Taking Norman Tebbit's injunction at face value, BoJo has helpfully laid on bike upon bike, on which London's newly unemployed are free to get, should they decide that the whole "working for nothing" thing isn't for them.

We've heard politicians talk about "joined-up" government before. Now, finally, someone has moved beyond words to action. Dave, we salute you.

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The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.