Dave has not had a good week. At this moment of crisis for the country I feel he has come up rather short. His handling of the crisis from the start has been far from sure footed. This started with his initially slow reaction from holiday, through responses which seem a little knee jerk and have ended in an unconvincing tone not quite connecting with the people.
There has been no ‘People’s Princess’ moment or set-piece like ‘Thatch’ the Leaderine, scarves flowing in a tank like a latter day Boudicca. Even Gordon Brown – brilliant yet dysfunctional - had something of the ‘cometh the man, cometh the hour’ about him when he bounded around the G20 stage in London, leading the world in its moment of financial crisis.
I do however have some sympathy with Dave over the Big Society (whispers – am I allowed to admit that).
The idea was to transfer power from central government to local government, support co-ops and mutuals, provide more open and transparent ground and encourage active involvement in communities.
As a Liberal I think that is all good.
As a Liberal I want to balance the values of liberty, equality and community. I want to intervene where we need to, to allow this. For me this means dispersing power and fostering creativity. As a Liberal I see the role of the state being to enable and to allow people to take part in the decisions that affect their lives – not control them!!
So the Big Society concept is a good thing. It is the basis on which the LibDems and the progressive Conservatives can do business (and remember – it is a business arrangement!)
But the problem is, the Big Society itself has been rather nebulous and I don’t think the Conservatives get it anyway. So it withers on the Tory vine.
I believe there has always been much more to it than a front for cuts – socialists don’t get that!
A rotten time for Dave though to try to introduce such an idea when he is having to introduce deep public sector cuts to see off the sovereign debt crisis!
So, even though there is something of the school bully about Dave there is something quite interesting trying to get out.
That’s another reason why it has not been a good week for him.
He has pleased the right wing and the Daily Fail by wittering on about banning social media (the thin edge of an extremely dangerous wedge), toying with bringing the army onto the streets (wouldn’t work, ask the people of Northern Ireland) and generally talking tough (upsetting the police authorities as he went).
It has been a bit knee jerk and I think Dave is going back to the right wing core and leaving considered Dave - who has a feel for the breaks in our society - behind.
Considered Dave, potentially, has it in him to lead at a time we need to stand back and act effectively. Right wing Dave can’t.
It is a cliché, but we need to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. I know – this turned out to be an empty phrase you say. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t what we should be doing.
Our government needs to engage the problems unearthed by the rioting with emotional intelligence.
We should take advice! And that includes taking advice and input from Americans who have some comparable experiences. We can also get advice closer to home. The Liverpool Matrix project apparently has some valuable lessons and Strathclyde Police have a great track record of dealing with gangs and youth violence and civil disorder.
Indeed, we need to understand why the cities of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stayed calm. How did the great conurbations of Yorkshire and the North-East stay out of trouble? And why were there no problems in Southampton, Portsmouth and Brighton?
I don’t know what the answer is but I have been mightily impressed by the credibility of those calling for the whole community to be involved in the solution to our social problems.
This is about getting close to the people and working with them. I read that where city authorities have been successful at dealing with problems they have involved the council, schools, local health and social professionals, community and outreach workers and the police.
They have sought to understand, relate and communicate with people. And, at the same time, emotional intelligence is about assertively drawing some clear lines about what is acceptable and where the lines are!
As well as getting close to individuals and communities we need to be tough on gang culture and bad things that come with it – the casual violence, the lack of respect for people and property, sexism, bullying and extreme homophobia.
This emotional intelligence and holistic approach seems to be at the foot of why things worked in Strathclyde – maybe it can work for Dave?