Has any political slogan been harder to decipher than “The Big Society”?
When John Major wanted a return to what he called “the old values of neighbourliness, decency and courtesy”, he announced it was time to return “Back to Basics”.
This was widely interpreted as an attack on single mothers and unmarried sex in general, which may not have been what Mr Major meant but certainly demonstrated that the phrase had gripped the popular imagination.
When Franklin D Roosevelt promised Americans during the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” the poetry of his language ensured the phrase would be quoted, often incorrectly, for many decades to come.
Whether it was really true that the near-collapse of the banking system was a result of nothing more than lack of confidence is perhaps debatable. But there’s no doubt that his words were powerful.
The Big Society may also go down in history but, if so, one suspects that historians in 50 years time will still be scratching their heads and trying to work out what it meant.
In opposition, the Conservatives painted themselves as supporters of voluntary and community organisations, and promised to remove some of the red tape and regulation that was supposedly holding them back.