Editor's blog Monday December 6: The 'Big Society' bidding war begins
Shadow Health Secretary John Healey continues to make smart moves, with this proposal, trailed on the Labour Uncut website, which aim to wrest the 'Big Society' agenda out of Cameroon and Coalition hands.
Healey's suggestion to the Labour Party policy review is that "We need to demonstrate our good values and good intentions by good actions and good works in the community. So I’d like to see political parties given a different sort of constitutional position and almost be able to set up charity or social enterprise arms".
He adds that Labour's emerging community organisation models are "a great idea", suggesting that "however community organising is done in practice, what it starts to do is push the boundaries of what constitutes and defines organising. Underpinning it is that sense of not just connecting Labour to community activism but connecting politics to communities and activism. We still have this long dark shadow of the expenses abuse that colours people’s sense of what politics and politicians are about and we need to do more to start to overcome that”.
A man who clearly states that "politics isn’t just conducted by people like me who are full time paid politicians" is a man who has quite clearly Got It: 'It' being the need to change both how politics is done and how it is seen to be done.
The Big Society has been much-mocked (including by me) as a Micawber-meets-Pollyanna panacea. It's been desperately badly expressed by its chief cheerleader, PM David Cameron, and intellectually linked by many with shrinking the state.
In truth, it touches on a real and significant fact of British society: increasing disengagement from society. This is sound territory for One Nation Tories and also for traditional Labour - the part that grew out of the co-operative movement and trades unions. To cede the social role of the political individual or association to the Coalition or the Conservatives would be more than foolish.
Healey seems to be looking for a reinvention of the concept of politics actively informing society in a meaningful and locally tangible way. This looks like a very good idea. There are many, many ways in which it could be totally screwed up - the local-national balance being among the most immediately obvious.
But it is a good start, and one that touches a real issue. What will Healey, and Labour, make of it?
And what might it mean in health?