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No such thing as the 'Big Society': the Conservative Party's unnecessary search for ‘narrative’ in the 2010 general election

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


<mark>Journal publication date</mark>12/2012
<mark>Journal</mark>British Politics
Issue number4
Number of pages29
Pages (from-to)389-417
Early online date10/09/12
<mark>Original language</mark>English


David Cameron's advocacy of the ‘Big Society’ in the run-up to the 2010 general election was the culmination of his strategy, as Opposition Leader, to detoxify the Conservative brand, and persuade voters that the Party had moved on from Thatcherism. This article traces the genealogy of the concept, which echoes Edmund Burke as well as several senior figures from the party's more recent history. Despite Cameron's evident enthusiasm for the idea, much of the British public, as well as many Conservatives themselves, remain unimpressed. Indeed, some of them profess uncertainty about what exactly the ‘Big Society’ is: whereas others think they know what it is, and don’t like it. We argue that the main problems with the ‘Big Society’ relate to context rather than content; it proved easy for critics to portray it as a rationale for spending cuts, which were not envisioned when the idea was being developed, and although it provided the plausible post-Thatcherite ‘narrative’, which the Conservatives had sought in vain since 1997, it was deployed in an election battle where such a narrative was at best superfluous, and at worst a source of distraction from the perceived failings of the incumbent Labour Party.