It has increasingly been said, over recent years, that the Labour and Conservative Parties are so similar that there is little to choose between them. They have both worked so hard to shrug off the negative stereotypes they had gained, that they were both hovering almost equally close to the centre of the political spectrum.
In this election, however, they have striven to make at least one philosophical difference stand out. Labour wishes to make Britain fairer (by giving the state ever greater control over different areas of public life); the Tories want to create a ‘big society’ (and, necessarily, smaller levels of state interference in public life).
The Tory idea is that governments can’t and shouldn’t run every area of your life for you. They want to empower individuals and the charity sector to take care of the needs surrounding them. The ‘Westminster Village’ is a very different animal from, say, a village in Northumberland, or a suburb of Leeds, or a parish in the West Midlands. ‘You know the people in your area, you know what works for them, what fires them up, and what they needs, so you go out and help them, and we’ll give you all the support you need.’
David Cameron speaks very highly of people who get involved in volunteering, and is supportive of churches and other religious groups, in part because they already do this well and consistently.
Yet in a survey of students, released yesterday, it was notable that when final-year students of different political affiliations were asked about the career sectors they had applied to, the volunteering/charity sector did not appear in the Conservative students’ top 6 – though it did in those of both Labour and LibDem supporters. (The Tories leaned more towards investment banking, management consultancy and law.)
Of course, it is possible that Conservative students were seeking high-paying jobs to enable them to give generously to charity, or that they intend to volunteer in their spare time, but the impression given is that Tories want people to help themselves, but supporters of other parties will actually get out and help them.
The ‘Nanny State’ phenomenon worries me. It seems that our society is becoming one in which people are far too quick to blame someone else for their problems and, accordingly, expect someone else to solve their problems. And since prevention is better than cure, ‘nanny’ co-opts ‘Big Brother’ to keep tabs on our every move and together they restrict further and further the scope in which we are free to act.
Having said that, though, the completely hands-off approach sketched by the data above is no more appealing. Fat-cats sitting in their ivory towers (to mix my meatphors somewhat!) are no help either.
Our nation is in trouble, but its problems can’t be solved by being either micro-managed or ignored. We all, whatever our political affiliations, need to start working to make a difference in our homes, our offices, our neighbourhoods and our cities.
My brother’s doing his bit (click here to read about his latest (ad)venture). I’m still keeping my eyes and ears open for mine. Do you know yours, yet?
(Part one for Brits, of course, is to vote on May 6th for the party you think will do the most to help!!)