Tuesday, 1 February 2011


When he was offered the job of “Big Society Tsar” for 3 days a week, Nat Wie thought he was to get a salary. (Apparently it’s revoltingly common to talk money, so no one mentioned it at all, until the day before he started the job, when he was told it was a voluntary post.)

He had a desk in the Cabinet Office, and a peerage, but no salary. Part of the Big Society. That'll teach him to go around trusting government ministers.

So the noble lord has had to reduce his commitment to the Big Society to two days a week instead of three, because he needs to earn some money to feed his kids, pay his mortgage and...stay alive.

Much of Mr Wei's work involves how to free “ordinary” people (that’s like you and me) from the daily grind, so that they can devote more of their time to charity or voluntary work and get involved in their communities under David Cameron’s "Big Society" plans.

But no one much in
the ranks of us “ordinary people” has heard of him, and it seems that he has not actually made much headway in the job of selling the idea of the Big Society” to the public. After all who really knows what it is about? The scheme is, it is said, facing Whitehall resistance and the stretched capacities of local authorities.

One of the problems that strikes me is that by and large “hard working British families” are very busy working hard, bringing up their kids, digging their gardens, keeping warm, trying to find enough money to get by, without starting some new voluntary activity. People with jobs are trying hard to hang on to them in an atmosphere of overwhelming “presentism”, and those who don’t are working hard to find one.

There are people, of course, who already do get involved in the local community. Community councillors “up and down this country" are
working for nothing; and many people very quietly go about the business of looking after elderly neighbours, doing a bit of shopping, visiting with them, taking them out for a run in the car...

And in the leafy villages of the counties and in the suburbs there are ladies and possibly some gentlemen who serve on the bench (in England), organize the girl guides, the gymkhana, the dog show, the village fête and the local hunt ball, and join the RSVS or work for the church or for a charity shop.

Most people who have the time to do something, do something.

But not everyone has the luxury of that time. Working families (especially the HARD wo
rking ones so beloved of the politicians) have little spare time.

I hold out very little hope of success for the “Big Society” because of this. But as this is David Cameron’s own vision of Britain based, I suppose, on what he has known all his life; people with enough money to leave the drab tasks of daily living to servants, and enjoy organizing local events.

Given that I read somewhere (Daily Telegraph columnist Heffer, I think) that David Cameron had appointed around 25 personal staff to the civil service (including one for his wife, if you please), you would have thought that he could have managed a full time post and salary for the man who is supposed to make his one actual idea in government actually work.

Pics: 韋鳴恩 in his robes; How the Big Society works; For the thick ones, another explanation of how the Big Society works; Call me Big Dave Society; Nat Wie, out of fancy dress, who is, I'm told, actually a nice bloke despite the company he keeps in the Cabinet office.


  1. I'd never heard of the noble lord until now Tris. Now I feel so much more informed. :)

    No matter what anyone says, 'doing good' can cost money. It's not all about gathering your neighbours in your garden some starry night to link hands and stare at the moon.

  2. Is that Lord anything to do with the computer game console thingy ?

  3. I know someone who knows him SR. (How posh am I?) He says that Nat Wei is a really nice bloke.

    But I think he must be a bit of a tube if he didn't sort out a salary beforehand.

    I'm not much into whistling for the moon much myself, and certainly not with my neighbours. That's how you turn into a werewolf, isn't it? I think some of them are at it already.

    I think, to be serious for a moment, that those who do charity, and volutary things, do them...for whatever reason (and in my experience, that is not always for good).

    Those who don't, don't.... and won't just because Mr Cameron says so.

    The only way that there will be an increase is if the councils stop providing services, and those of us who are strong enough to take over, do so to help out those of our neighbours who are not.

    But then I'll expect a big reduction in my taxes. That's what we pay all the money for. If it's not paying for services, then what are they doing with it?

    I hear that number ten has a superb wine cellar though.

  4. Monty, I wish that we could say oui, but that would be a wee bit of a lie because what you're talking about there is a wii, not a Wei.

    Do get with the programme...


  5. Think I'll go for a wee wei

  6. LOL... Off you go then...remember to wash your hands like a good boy!

  7. Oh Dear! So you are meant to go a run with the elderly IN the car. Oops!

  8. To be fair, it was perhaps expected that the "tsar" (a loathesome recent addition to the political lexicon) for Mr Cameron's "Big Society" would set an example for the rest of us by working voluntarily himself, rather than being just another fully paid-up apparatchik with a vested interest.

  9. Probably a linguistic difference between your part of the country and mine Billy...

    We go for a 'run' in the car... in some places people go for a 'run out' in the car...

    In the Queen's English I suppose what I'm saying is that some people take older people, who otherwise would not get out and see the countryside... you know, spring and the lambs, and the new leaves, autumn and the turning leaves, forests of gold and red... out in the car for a trip.

    We call that a 'run' in the car.....

  10. Yeah North Briton, I can see that argument, as a good example to all of us. Maybe we should all pop into our employers and tell them that we are going to work for nothing from now on... but of course we will all need to be made lords, so we can lay our hands on the booty that that involves.

    Apparently Mr Heseltine works for the government for no payment.

    But Mr Wei has no money of his own, whereas Mr Heseltine is a multi millionaire (and an OAP, so he has the state pension too, which will make all the difference to his life, and of course his pension from being an MP and Deputy Prime Minister, which is probably more than most people earn in a lifetime, along with his £300 a day from the pensioners’ club).

    As I say, Nat Wei can't have much about him if he didn't ask about salary (even if it's not quite the done thing in Eton circles to talk about money), but I would have thought that Cameron would have made it clear to him that he wasn't getting a brass bean, but instead he could have one of these titles for the superannuated, and a passport to £300 a day for the rest of his life.

  11. Just wait “call me” will make a success of the Big Society (big damp squib) by making it a compulsory voluntary thing for the unemployed and the sick.

    As you so rightly say those who want to volunteer to do charity work are already doing it! “call me” and his Tory chums are not going to fix broke Britain by asking for volunteers, how many blue rinses from the shires are going to want to go and mop up sick in a rehab unit in the sink estates of the inner cities? No, their idea of volunteering is arranging the flowers for the church social or manning the tombola for a new set of church bells. The dirty filthy jobs will be done by the “volunteers” while all the money from dead bank accounts is siphoned off to replace the lead on church roofs!

    This is a total white elephant! I am frankly amazed that after only 7 months in harness “call me”, wee Wullie, Gideon, the pickled egg, basil brush, Baroness whatshername, Lord Baldermort and cleggums the pet poodle are already fretting about their legacy. Is that not something you are supposed to do at the end of a Government, you know when you have actually already created the half-baked mess that results from these peoples jaundiced agendas?

  12. Political legacies, Munguin, seem to me to be, almost invariably, bad!

    Does the country think fondly of Brown, Blair, Major, Thatcher, Callaghan, Wilson, Heath...?

  13. Was trying to be funny Tris - I know what a run in the car was. What I was to mean was that I was driving and the pensioners were running in our wee run alongside the car.