The dismantled society – do we know where we are going?

We have been bombarded for some little time now by the views from politicians of a certain variety on the nature of society. These range across a spectrum...

We have been bombarded for some little time now by the views from politicians of a certain variety on the nature of society. These range across a spectrum from ‘Is there such a thing as society?’ to the ‘broken society’, to the ‘big society’ and to what one satirical magazine referred to recently as ‘the bugger off society’. Whatever, our personal views we certainly seem to be in a troubled place with little national direction from the Coalition Government on the nature of social cohesion and the sort of unifying community structures and processes we might all seek to work together to achieve.
There has been much vague talk about co-operatives and co-operative solutions from Coalition Government leaders and the John Lewis model has been much trawled. I fear that this sudden conversion to co-operation, as welcome as it is to me and my fellow co-operators, is hollow stuff and built on foundations of sand. History tells us that opposition to the co-operative business model is built into the genes of many of our business leaders and those politicians who support them. We in the broader Co-operative Movement must also be careful that we are not, yet again, being asked to apply the co-operative business model to failed and failing businesses and service delivery areas whose leaders care not one jot for Co-operative Values & Principles which are the core beliefs of all true co-operators.
There is at present so much visible unhappiness around us and measurable fear amongst those I come into contact with on a daily business that 2011 will become the year of the dismantled society. The Coalition Government machine has wrapped a cloak around the abnormal and like Merlin the magician has transformed it into the new normal. Local government colleagues tell me that planning meetings have now become macabre contests to see who can cut the furthest and hardest on precious public services.
The recent student protests were at one and the same time deeply disturbing and yet encouraging. They were disturbing because I fear that protests will breed more protests and that we will slide rapidly into a culture of protest as faith in our politicians  and our democratic process ebbs away in front of us. The mantra has been chanted that cuts will be to the bone because that is what we need and Coalition Government politicians will now see little point in breaking ranks and offering real co-operative solutions to help build a ‘Big Society’. The battle lines have been drawn and we are marching to a dismantled society with cuts of a pace and scale never attempted before.
I am encouraged because the young are engaging with the problems in their own particular way. They are the product of enlightened Citizenship and Government & Politics teaching in our schools and they feel a sense of overwhelming social responsibility to act on behalf of all of us. They understand that the Coalition Government has embarked on a vast and untried social experiment where the only aim that seems to matter is economic gain.
So what price co-operative solutions? Well I guess that the ‘Big Society’ was always going to be a back of a fag packet job with no clear blue print and no clear understanding of what was needed and what is achievable. Supporting our people with co-operative solutions will then be left to those of us in the broader Co-operative Movement to try to come up with piece meal solutions on a community by community needs basis, responding to neglect and despair in an ad hoc and under resourced fashion. Of course we will do it because we care deeply for our people but watch out for those slick politicians and business leaders who seek to make much of our failures – we have been there before.
In the meantime I am left with the nagging doubt about what exactly Robert Owen would have made of all of this and where would he have seen the need to apply our collective energies to create the co-operative difference. Perhaps poverty in its most general sense would have been his focus?
In the next President’s Blog I would like to engage with co-operators on the eight Millennium Declaration goals agreed by every member state of the UN in 2000 with a delivery date of 2015 on issues such as poverty, education, health and access to technology. Your thoughts please in the best spirit of co-operation.
Good luck.
Together in co-operation.
Chris Morgan.

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