On Wednesday I was in London again to attend a meeting of the Community Sector Coalition. Our guest speaker was Philip Blond, Director of the Progressive Conservatism Project at DEMOS. Philip is charged with “rethinking what modern conservatism means”. The proverbial ‘Red Tory’ is an impressive performer – intelligent, articulate and extremely fast-talking: it was often quite a struggle to keep up with him. Among many other things, he argued that most people feel society is broken: associative relationships have weakened. The key question for the community sector is “what builds associative non-state civic behaviour?” The resources for community renewal lie in the community itself: the state and the market now need to play a different role. Whereas traditional Tories want to reduce demand on the state by passing over responsibilities to the voluntary and community sector, “progressives see the voluntary and community sector as more effective in delivery than the state”. Philip Blond spoke a great deal about ‘subsidiarity’ – “power should be exercised at the most appropriate level” and ‘the right to parish’ – giving a group of local people the opportunity to manage the public money that is spent on their community. He felt that third sector organisations could share more back-office costs and should have the right to use unused public offices and other assets. At least I think that’s what he said! My impression was that his focus was mostly on VCS organisations providing public services rather than wider issues about civil society. But much of what he said was encouraging for the community sector and he gave us some clear advice on how best to make our case to a potential Conservative government.
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