Reflections on elections (for social entrepreneurs)

ElectionIt's looking more likely that either a Conservative minority or Con-Lib Dem coalition will be coming into power following one of the more unpredictable and uncertain elections in recent times. Indeed, as happy as I was to be asked for my opinions on what was "great", what we should "hate" and what would be our priority from a new government, it did seem (and still does!) a little premature. So what's the news for social entrepreneurs?:

– All the parties are broadly supportive of social enterprise + social entrepreneurship, so this area can actually be a place of coalition + partnership: a thing they agree on. This could be a good thing (stuff might happen) or it might mean that the focus and priorities are elsewhere. This article, which quotes Nick Hurd and Jenny Willott, implies that the cross-party consensus makes it more likely that this will be an area of progress.

– Local still matters. It was interesting that Shaun Bailey, the Conservative social entrepreneur candidate in Hammersmith, failed to win. But many think this was largely a rejection of the council's activities (link is to an Independent article, which is refuted here) rather than Bailey himself, or a reflection of pretty equal campaigning resources on the ground. Countless other constituencies reflected local concerns and issues, rather than national ones.

– Bailey was front and centre of the Big Society idea as well (the Big Society blog gives updates / discussion). Much has been written on this too, from those on the left who see it as a cynical front for Tory cuts in welfare, and those on the right who view it as near-Fabian in its communitarian aspirations. My feeling is Patrick Butler has it about right in this round-up: "the election knock-about over David Cameron's 'big society' has
somewhat obscured, misrepresented or trivialised some of the ideas
within it";
and a group of social entrepreneurs and support agencies have signed a letter to that effect, 'defending' civil society.

Not to say that the idea shouldn't be questioned, investigated, challenged and critiqued (most cogently by Rob Greenland), but it has tended to be simplified to "volunteering" in the newspapers. And the debate has rather ignored that most of the policies in the social enterprise / entrepreneurship space are similar on both sides, and that, simply, cuts will happen. The disagreement on cuts can be about how much, how fast and where they are targeted, but there's little disagreement between the parties that social entrepreneurs and the wider civil society will be expected to grow and do more.

– Social Enterprise Magazine has a round-up of those MPs (relevant to social enterprise) who have lost, gained or saved their seats. Whatever happens, we will have a new minister for the Third Sector (or Civil Society), as Angela Smith lost her seat as expected; as did previous minister Phil Hope in the even more marginal Corby.

– On a lighter note, SSE Fellow Susan Archibald stood against Gordon Brown in his Kirkcaldy constituency, and just narrowly failed in her attempt….she is, however, the most searched person on the SSE website this week…

– And finally, it's interesting to consider that the politicians are now having to take on what they always encourage from us: partnership and coalition working. We won't know the result for a bit, but we can certainly guarantee a significant amount of resources, time and energy expended on partnership formation….problems over governance + agreeing process, and bringing the people in both organisations with them will be a challenge.

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on elections (for social entrepreneurs)

  1. Well, I’m fairly happy with Big Society as an idea, in the sense that it marks a re-emergence of the honourable tradition of one nation Conservatism – which I don’t personally support but whose supporters have done a lot of good over the years.
    I’m as sceptical about the magic bullet properties of Labour’s John Lewis councils and Gordon Brown’s personal oxymoronic ‘compulsory volunteering’ plan as I am about those of the Big Society.
    My concern is that the social enterprise movement is currently in danger of making (or going along with) some very big promises about its ability to transform the delivery of public services which aren’t yet backed up either by coherent plans for how that transformation could be delivered or the capacity to do so.

  2. Yes, I pretty much agree David; I’ve often said that we’re not a panacea by any means. And I think your point about the necessary capacity (or lack of) is crucial, because I’m not sure any of us (or at least in sufficient numbers or scale) are set up for that at this point. That’s presumably why other sector-heads keep talking about it being both a “challenge and an opportunity”.