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BP; the "Big Society," and the "Special Relationship."

Updated on November 17, 2010

A Volunteer is worth ten pressed men!

Dave with his it just that?
Dave with his it just that?
Volunteer fire fighters in the USA
Volunteer fire fighters in the USA

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Those of us watching and searching for the real meaning of this catchall phrase, “The Big Society,” seems to be divided into two - or possibly three - camps. One is the naysayers group which says that it is all a Conservative government ploy to foist everything they cannot pay for onto the backs of the public. They may or may not agree there must be truth in the fact that much of the reasons for the change is because of the economic situation. Another faction agrees with much of Mr. Cameron’s plan, especially where it includes cutting welfare recipients and limiting immigration. Unfortunately, many who think it’s a grand idea to employ volunteers to help run many of the nation’s services, clean its streets and all the rest are far too busy themselves to take part…but what a great idea for someone else.

It’s hard to see just whom are the target for the PM’s volunteer army anyway. There are retired people, of course, some still quite young and able, but many are disinclined to throw themselves back into the work force, especially on an unpaid basis. Then there are the school leavers who are really looking for paid work, especially those with debts; working for free probably hasn’t been something they have considered. There may be something rather offensive in asking them to do this when they see sports figures, bankers and all the rest drawing down six and seven figure salaries while they are asked to volunteer their time for free. (Not to mention all the money still outstanding owed by MP’s over the expenses scandal).

Just what positions can unskilled volunteers fill anyway? Someone suggested local bus routes. Does this mean volunteers will be the drivers? The administration? The service personnel? These are all semi-skilled people and who would be recruiting the volunteers and seeing they were licensed and could do something like this where the safety of the public is an issue? And would unpaid volunteers really be prepared to work 8-hour shifts, day in day out, in order to provide a decent service? While others are doing the same thing and getting well paid for it? Just one accident would have the public up in arms protesting the whole idea.

It’s not easy to think of just where this huge volunteer force would fit in without an unacceptable lowering of the quality of the service, except in the case of the most menial labor where minimum instruction is needed and where users of the service would never be put in risk. Yes, perhaps street sweepers but will anyone volunteer to do this full time on an unpaid basis? Would you?

I can see this utopian plan working better if we didn’t have such a divided society between haves and have-nots. That’s why volunteer labor is a far more significant part of society in places like the United States where the garbage man has at least a chance to have a good life, approaching that of a doctor, for example: there is far more socializing between people from diverse occupations and salaries - and there is much more pride in the nation, dynamic generous inter-relation between neighbors. But not in class-ridden Britain where your Oxbridge pedigree practically guarantees a decent position for life through the old-boy network, even if you are a borderline basket case. And the difference in your salary and social position makes any rapprochement very unlikely. You won’t see many graduates from top Universities in the UK sweeping the streets as unpaid volunteers, except maybe to get a TV sound-bite. And the doctor and the garbage collector? Never the twain shall meet; doctors in the UK are treated like minor deities.

And yet, and yet…there’s something refreshingly candid and believable about our new PM. It really seems HE believes in the big society and is not, I believe, doing all this to privatize the country for the benefit of his friends and class, despite all the newspaper political commentators who are accusing him of just this. Perhaps, sadly, much of his optimism and belief is just naiveté; his private dream for Britain that cannot be sustained in the light of a cruel 2010 day; his plan formed riding on an optimism stemming from his privileged background and rose tinted spectacles, which often seem to conceal the realities of ordinary, poor people in this society from “their betters.” Rather like the unwillingness of many to admit we don’t really have free will; our upper classes, as ever, don’t like to admit of the hopeless travail of the poor and badly educated in attempting to better themselves when the elite ruling classes own and control everything worth having, in a material sense.

At least up to about 40 years ago, we had a manufacturing base for our less formally educated to find decent, worthwhile - and dignified - work. We had coal and steel, shipbuilding, fishing, and agriculture run by men not just machines. I always wonder today as I read the Saturday Mail travel section, how come there are so many new cruise ships voyaging around the seven seas and Britain is building almost none of them, our Clydeside and Belfast yards, etc., rotting in the rain? Germany and France have huge auto industries, where is ours?

Successive administrations of both stripes have thrown all this away by not being able to adjust as the world changed and our erstwhile empire took over where we left off. In our more affluent past, we needed to import semi-skilled and skilled labor who worked alongside our own blue-collar force, without rancor. To have asked people to work long hours as volunteers in post WW2 Britain would have caused the nation to laugh. There was work for all back then, and much less state dependence.

Regardless of whether the Coalition and David Cameron is right about the volunteers or completely barmy, we are unable to continue as before. If we can’t get people to run some of the services, etc., on an unpaid basis, they will just be decimated or cease to operate. Perhaps, like a severely pruned fruit tree, if we can avoid becoming a failed state, the nation will benefit in the long term from this belt tightening: but this generation, as well as the young and old who depend on you, is going to have to survive the lean years and pay the price of all the years of bad and corrupt government.

One thing this hubber does earnestly hope for is that these swinish bankers eventually pay the price by ending up with customers who have no deposits to prop up their blatant, legalized thievery and sociopath, self-obsessed behavior.

Another thought is, why does all this proposed volunteerism need to be completely unpaid? If part of the problem is the high wages paid to the public sector being cut, why can’t a small hourly wage be considered? Maybe even the basic wage to get over any legal hurdle. Then people might feel better about ‘volunteering,” and they would be working for about 20% or less of the salary paid to the person they were replacing, unless the current employee would agree to this wages cut and stay on. Many on benefits about to run out might see this as a viable alternative while they continued to seek the job they really wanted. Many late teen school leavers are working for about three pounds per hour anyway, some with tips on top in cafes. This might attract state pensioners finding it increasingly difficult to live on basic pensions. The jobs might be part or full time. It’s this needy begging by the government for an unpaid army that sticks in many people’s craw and it’s hard to see how this will catch on when so many higher up the ladder are reaping so much they are not prepared to surrender.

Additional Thoughts and the Special Relationship. We seem to be very much at a crossroads in Britain. It’s hard to see how joining the EEC has done us any long term good and its sapping of the British identity by diffusing our people with immigrants was something no one bargained for. Our infrastructure is in a mess at the worst possible time with the Olympics due soon and no money to address the situation. I was amused to see the panic over 1960 controls in the underground: why on earth haven’t they been replaced before if they are in a dangerous condition? It’s easy to see the cunning hand of Labor/Unions at work here ready to protest through health and safety measures. Yet British and US rolling stock and machinery a lot older than ours is still being used throughout Asia…with regular maintenance, this sort of heavy steel equipment can be good for another 50 years.

Ominously, the “special relationship” honeymoon seems to be finally coming to a close with our “partners” the USA. This disgusting decision over Lockerbie and the return of the terrorist to Libya is stuck in the craw of many Americans. If a connection to BP/Libya is definitely established it may do us irreparable damage with the cousins; BP is not exactly the flavor of the month over there as it is. I get so tired of Britain complaining about the United States and am so amused when I hear remarks such as on Sky News this morning, “…the Americans know we are always here when they need us…” Please: it’s Britain that has always been in need and the United States has paid in hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars by being our “friend” over the last 100 years. Where was Britain during Korea and Vietnam, to name just two conflicts the USA has fought almost alone? And will British commentators never learn that they are not Americans, but North Americans, and their country is not America, but is North America - or the United States? Americans are all Americans, North Americans, Central Americans and South Americans: Likewise for their countries. And that it can be offensive to much of the south of the USA to refer to North Americans as ’Yankees,” or “Yanks.”

In return, North Americans are unfailingly polite and non critical about Britain and the British…after the BP disaster and the Lockerbie mess that might soon change. As it is, they suspect we are the weak link in the fight against Islamic extremists, this feeling can’t have been helped by the return of Al-Magrahi who seems to be doing remarkably well for a man given only 3 months to live a year ago. We were all incensed to see him being embraced by Libyans, including Ghadafi’s son, like a conquering hero. Not only this, but Brits are continually carping over North American measures in their treatment of terrorists - often to the extent one might think we are on the other side.

Britain can’t seem to forget the glory days of the Empire. Although we are far from being an international power-house any more, we still get on the soap box among the real players. Perhaps we ought to look at countries such as France, Spain and Germany and all the rest which manage to survive and trade without insinuating about their “special relationship” with the USA all the time. Because I sense for many in the United States this litany is getting very wearisome.



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    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks for insight. No idea re the prisoner transfer; these politicos play such an obscure game, I get frustrated just thinking about it. Sorry for being so tardy in replying; hubs sort of get away from me after a few days...Bob

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands


      A few immediate thoughts spring to mind.

      Yes, when people, who have worked hard all of their lives, earn a pittance and professionals, who play games or sing songs, earn a fortune, life is never going to seem fair.

      However, there are plenty of able-bodied young people, who are 'on the dole', and who could do a bit of voluntary work in exchange for their money.

      Re: the 'Lockerbie Bomber', I read in 'The Sunday Times', yesteday, that Richard LeBaron, deputy head of the US embassy in London, wrote a letter to Alex Salmond, last year, where he stated that the USA did want Megrahi to remain in prison because of the nature of his crime, but that 'if Scottish authorities [concluded]... that Megrahi must be released ... the US position is that that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer' and that this 'would mitigate a number of strong concerns ... with regard to Megrahi's release'.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thank you HH: Please read additions added today...Bob

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      A very ineresting and comprehensive hub with so many good points which are true. Thank you.