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The Neoliberal Phoenix: The Big Society or Business as Usual

John D. Bone
Sociological Research Online 17 (2) 16

Abstract: At present something curious appears to be occurring in the UK in the aftermath of the 'credit crunch', with respect to the political, economic and social complexion of the policies currently being implemented by the Coalition government, and not least in terms of the manner in which they are being introduced. Specifically, as this paper argues, despite a degree of rhetoric to the contrary, asserting a movement towards a more socially 'progressive' and inclusive 'Big Society', the current policy framework appears quite clearly to have been framed from a fairly radical neoliberal perspective, to the extent that much of what is being implemented and proposed bears more than a passing resemblance to the neoliberal Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed by the IMF and World Bank on developing economies since the 1970s. This paper suggests that the implementation of the Big Society agenda - while seeming earnestly advocated by its presumed architect Philip Blond (whose Red Toryism has been cited as providing the intellectual foundation for the project, much as Giddens' Third Way informed 'Blairism') - may have implications that are largely oppositional to its asserted aims. Such initiatives can be considered, in their application at least, as potentially legitimating discourses for the advancing of neoliberal policies against the background of an increasingly uneasy populace. In this vein, the Big Society, as the latest variant of such socio-economic visions, can easily be construed as being little more than a convenient vehicle, employed to rehabilitate and further entrench neoliberalism in the aftermath of its self induced crisis. This view is supported by the observation that a key feature of the Big Society agenda, in practice, appears to be the increasing marketisation of the public realm and, crucially, dismantling the 'Big (Welfare) State', where the latter, in almost Orwellian fashion, is now being indicted for many of the social and economic ills that the 'free market' era has delivered.