The Big Society & (Facebook) GroupThink

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
H.L. Mencken

In the run up to this year’s election David Cameron spent a lot of time talking about Big Society (or BS as some have taken to referring to it, apparently without any irony): it would, he claimed, be a new way of managing the relationship between the state & its citizens, with normal people being asked to step up and take on many of the burdens that had been handled by the state in the past. A lot was also made by the Tories of their adoption of new technologies, a charge I’ve already clearly expressed my views on.

Well, now Dave’s in charge and is starting to explain exactly what Big Society means and exactly how all this new interweb stuff is going to help bring it into being. And apparently it involves getting Facebook to create a minisite where citizens (or, one presumes, anyone with a Facebook account) will be able to make suggestions as to how the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition should cut the deficit and start to “put Britain back on its feet”™.

It would be rude to point out that this sounds a lot like the 10 Donwing Street Petition site that attracted so much derision under Labour, or that the sight of Cameron desperately trying to appear with-it by associating with Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg was rather like watching the proverbial Dad dancing at a disco, so instead I’ll concentrate on another aspect of Cameron’s supposed love-in with open democracy and social media, and that is how short-lived it’s been.

Earlier this week, after a tense week of stand-offs and supposed sightings, Raoul Moat died besides a river in Cumbria having shot his ex-girlfriend, her partner and a random policeman. Whilst it would be impossible not to feel immense sympathy for the families of the dead and wounded, there is also nothing wrong with feeling sad that this whole sorry mess (which probably could have been avoided) ended with another death.

I may not a believer, but I understand it’s meant to be Christian to forgive one’s enemies, and to feel sympathy for all God’s creatures. Well, not for committed Christian David Cameron apparently.

Cameron responded to a (ridiculous) question from a Tory back-bencher, who had asked him to give Zuckerberg a call and ask him to take down a (distasteful) page in memory of Moat by stating that he thought it was a very good idea (to have the page taken down) and couldn’t understand how anyone could have any sympathy for Moat. Facebook, I’m glad to say, said no but in case you can’t see what’s wrong with this whole scenario, I’ll try to keep it brief.

1) David wants us to tell him how to run the government, not just via Facebook but through a new Treasury website too. The same people will be able to do that as feel the need to commemorate on Facebook someone who was almost certainly a murderer. You can’t have it both ways Dave. Defend to the death their right to say it and all that.

Speech is free, even for idiots who think that the financial crisis can be solved by taxing Gypsies. What will you do when they say that the way to cut the deficit is to sack the police and legalise drugs (which you know they will)

2) I find it just as distasteful to see a PM playing to the hang ‘em & flog ‘em brigade as I do to hear of praise for a man so selfish he’d rather kill his girlfriend and her new partner than let them find happiness (not to mention the collective sickness of a nation who found that the whole thing made rather good prime-time viewing). Especially as the only good things (IMO) this government has done so far is roll back attacks on civil liberty and challenge the idea that locking up more people is always a good idea.

Because, at the end of the day, what we start to see here is that whilst democracy is a wonderful thing, it isn’t perfect: we might not always like what it says about us, and it becomes a cruel beast when the people executing it lose sight of compassion.

After all, if politicians had been giving the public everything they wanted for the last few decades the Guildford 4 & Birmingham 6 would probably be 10 graves, whilst there would be a lot of dead paediatricians, and there’s nothing to ‘like’ about that, whether on Facebook or in the real world.

V image by knuton on flickr

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