BY ED WEST
CATHOLIC Labour MP Jon Cruddas has urged the Church to engage with David Cameron’s Big Society.
Declaring himself “a big fan of the Big Society”, the Dagenham East and Rainham MP told the Big Society Conference-organised by the London Churches Group, Mission in London’s Economy and the Diocese of Southwark Public Policy Group, that “the Big Society could be the cornerstone of the new politics”.
“I come from an Irish Catholic working class background in that order,” said Mr Cruddas, who in an interview with The Catholic Herald in December attributed his belief in Labour’s social values to his Catholic upbringing. “It meant a deep communitarian disposition.” Although the Big Society was a Conservative phrase largely promoted by Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Cruddas said he was keen on the idea as a means of repopularising communitarian values.
But he said that it could be used as a cover for cutting services. “There is also a fear that it is a vehicle for unfinished business regarding the state. The jury is out on whether it is a vehicle for a more malign view of the state,” he said. Mr Cruddas also praised religious communities in his own east London constituency for helping to rebuild society. “The faithbased communities held the line against extreme political voices (the BNP) ricocheting around. The interesting thing about the Big Society is that is that it says more than its dessicated materials, we should all evangelise around it.” Mr Cruddas said that there would be much suffering following the cuts, especially in housing. He said: “I hope to see faith communities organising the terrain.” But Debra Allock Tayler, chief executive of the Directory for Social Change, a group that trains volunteers, said that the Big Society was not a new idea and that the Church and faith communities had been doing it for hundreds of years.
The one failure of the Church, she said, was in not telling its own story of success sufficiently loudly.
She also pointed to the contradiction at the centre of the rhetoric, that the austerity programme would see cuts being made to the very organisations that could deliver the Big Society.
Last month Westminster archdiocese gave its backing to a bid by two Catholiclinked community organising groups seeking for Big Society funding.