POLITICS

Cameron's Tories Like 'Michael Howard v3', Says Ex-Big Society Guru

24/09/2014 16:40 BST | Updated 30/09/2014 15:59 BST
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British Prime Minister David Cameron makes a speech on the 'Big Society' to social entrepreneurs at Somerset House in London Monday Feb. 14, 2011. Cameron summed up the aims of the 'Big Society', saying: "What this is all about is giving people more power and control to improve their lives and their communities". (AP Photo/Lewis Whyld/Pool)

The Tories have "abandoned" David Cameron's flagship Big Society agenda and lurched right-wards, according to the guru who helped inspire the project.

Phillip Blond, director of the Respublica think-tank, cuttingly said: "The Tories have abandoned communitarianism and reverted to Michael Howard version 3, which will be as successful as Michael Howard version 1".

The think-tank boss, dubbed the "Red Tory", once tried to turn the Conservatives into the "party of the poor" and is credited as a "driving force" behind Cameron's Big Society idea.

Blond's latest attack came during a discussion with Labour peer Lord Glasman at the Labour party conference on Monday.

Tory civil society minister Brooks Newmark, who is responsible for driving forward Cameron's Big Society agenda, later told the Huffington Post UK: "Perhaps if Philip Blond stepped out of his ivory tower he'd see the Big Society is both alive and thriving."

He went on: "Volunteering is up from 66% to 74% in the past 4 years. Great initiatives like the National Citizen Service have seen 100,000 16 year olds giving over 2 million hours of voluntary service in their communities.

"There is an enormous amount of great work being done by charities and voluntary groups and hopefully Mr Blond will take the time see what is going on out there in even in his own local community."

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The Big Society agenda has been dogged by criticism that it has been too vague, with trade unions branding it a "smokescreen to cut public services".

Writing in the Guardian back in 2012, Blond said: "The government is now focused on a purely negative agenda of deficit reduction, and unable to offer a positive vision of the future."

Cameron quoted the thinker in speeches before becoming Prime Minister in his bid to sketch out the Big Society vision, which would see "a new role for the state...directly agitating for, catalysing and galvanising social renewal.

The philosophy, some said, was an attempt by Cameron to de-toxify the Tories and rid them of the "nasty party" image. However, Blond later accused Cameron of ditching the Big Society idea "for a re-toxifying 1980s approach to the deficit."

"The PM has given up something for nothing, ceding all his strategic and visionary thinking to George Osborne's tactical and failing approach to the deficit," he wrote. "A new conservatism has been strangled at birth; a failure to rethink the party's economic offer means that old economics have killed new politics."