The UK General Election campaign could start as soon as next week, and it is already clear that one of the battlegrounds will be the relationship between the citizen and society. Both parties are keen to demonstrate that they don’t agree with Margaret Thatcher’s adage that “There is no such thing as society”. Yesterday, the Conservative Party set out their “Big Society” ideas, including a new “neighbourhood army” of 5,000 professional community organisers.
As Labour puts the finishing touches to its election manifesto, sources familiar with the process say that a new big idea is taking shape. The proposal is to extend the concept of “earned autonomy” in public services down to individuals. Labour plans to put every citizen who has completed full-time education into prison. Citizens will then be able to earn their way out, by getting a job and using their spare time for voluntary service to the community. When they demonstrate that they are not terrorists, and when they can prove that they do not have any kind of mental illness that predisposes them towards a crime, they will move first to an open prison from which they can get a job, and eventually to their own homes. People close to Ministers say that they have been impressed with how well this approach has worked with asylum seekers, who start off imprisoned until they can demonstrate their value to society, and think that this approach would be popular in seats where Labour is alarmed by the rising popularity of the British National Party.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a minister familiar with the details of the manifesto said:
Hard working families will welcome these steps. Honest, law abiding citizens have nothing to fear. Where individuals demonstrate the capacity and capability to do more we want to work with them to test how greater individual control can deliver more effectively and more efficiently. We want a new relationship between the citizen and government, one based on a partnership approach to delivery. It is not sufficient to say that citizens should have more control and freedom; this is a partnership and citizens need to be clear as to what they are asking us for, and how changes will benefit everyone. We are ready to cede control where individuals can demonstrate that they will use those freedoms effectively, but greater control must be balanced with responsibility and accountability.
1 April, 2010