Why won't New Labour claim credit for the Golden Age of civil society?
"Late 19th century liberals and social democrats gave considerable thought to how the public realm ought to be strengthened. They envisaged a sweep of civic institutions from guilds and friendly societies to mutuals and trade unions that would generate public value, and offer protection from the turmoil of rapid industrial change.
These bodies were not positioned against the state. Over the course of the early 20th century, they were seen as increasingly complimentary to the expansion of government activity. But this insight was steadily emasculated in the second half of the 20th century, with the growth of the post-war welfare state and the enlargement of the public sector at the expense of community organisations."
NCVO "The State and Voluntary Sector"
Between 1997 and 2006, income for charities increased from £17.5 bn to £33.2 bn. 634,000 people work as paid employees for the voluntary sector.
New Labour helped to double the income which charities received. Income for the voluntary sector increased faster than increases in public spending throughout Labour's time in power. Over 600,000 people now work for charities, and hundreds of thousands more volunteer.
This should be a source of massive pride and something to build on and learn from for the future. But instead, even one of the key architects of the policy - someone who was an adviser in Downing Street while this happened - claims that the public sector grew at the expense of community organisations.
For all the talk of the friendly societies, guilds and mutuals, and all the rest which existed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the real Golden Age of civil society was between 2000 and 2010, when it grew at a scale without any precedent in the whole of British history. There were a far wider range of civic institutions, generating more public value, protecting and supporting people, involving more people and with far greater resources in 2009 than at any time between 1850 and 1940.
Instead of lectures about how social democracy needs to go back to the days before the NHS, the architects of this Golden Age should be highlighting the way that under the cover of the "Big Society", the Tory cuts to the welfare state and public sector are threatening thousands of civil society organisations.