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August 13, 2008

The Difference between Civic and Civil Society

Civic society can be understood as the local state – where citizens join school and health boards, community planning partnerships etc. Civil society is where citizens undertake voluntary action not under the direction of any authority wielding the power of the state. David Cameron, Tory Leader, in a recent speech seems to understand the difference

David Cameron

Speech to CPRE on Local Communities by David Cameron


“The attitude that has done so much damage is the belief that the only thing that matters when it comes to policy and administration is economic value – that social value doesn’t matter.

“So for the last decade or so, in the name of modernisation, rationalisation and efficiency we have been living under a regime of government by management consultant and policy by powerpoint.

“The result has not been a contented, streamlined nation humming with efficiency and gleaming with modernity.

“The result has been an explosion of bureaucracy, cost and irritation endless upheavals and pointless reorganisations the elbowing aside of colourful, human, informal relationships based on common sense and trust in favour of the grey, mechanical, joyless mantras of the master planner with his calculations, projections and impact assessments.

“The real world effect of all this? Post Office closures, library closures, police station closures, the closure of small shops, small schools and now GP surgeries under threat. All this because we live under a regime that prizes bureaucratic neatness above all else.

“A regime – indeed a whole culture that it has spawned – which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. This is not just socially destructive; it’s economically inefficient too. Because when you attack and undermine the institutions that are the foundations of our society – family, neighbourhood, community – all you do is create extra costs for the state to pick up.

“These are the costs of social failure, the failure to recognise social value as well as economic value the failure to recognise that there is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state.


“So our philosophy is one that understands social value and seeks to enhance it. But what will that mean in practice? Let me give you some examples of the specific steps we will take.

“Our school reforms will make it easy to set up more small, independently run schools that are sensitive to community needs and not the direction of central or local government.

“Our police reforms will create accountable police forces, so that people can come together and make the police – through elected commissioners, crime maps and beat meetings – act on crime and anti-social behaviour.

“We will stop the top-down reorganisations and pointless structural upheavals that have done so much damage in the NHS.

“We will make it easier and more attractive to set up co-ops: voluntary collective action to serve local needs. The Conservative Co-Operative Movement was established last year to encourage and help people to start co-ops, and to recommend what more government can do to help.

“And in perhaps less obvious areas, too, we will look for ways to give power to the local, the individual, the community. Power is – literally – a case in point. The energy market in this country is crying out for Conservative reform.

“In the twenty-first century, we shouldn’t have to depend solely on the big, lumbering national grid that wastes so much energy in generation and transmission. So our plans for feed-in tariffs will encourage a shift towards more decentralised energy so farmers and others can become producers as well as consumers of power.

“There’s something else we’re looking at too: the position of small shops. The personal and specialised offer from independent retailers, combined with their tendency to be more involved in community activities, to be plugged into local social networks or to support local suppliers, means that they should be treated differently. They should be considered to compete with larger chains not just on economic terms, such as price or the range of goods or services available, but also on their social value.

“If small independent shops have a greater social value than chains or larger shops, then it makes sense for them to benefit not only from retention and strengthening of the ‘needs test’ in planning law but also from an advantageous tax and regulatory regime which tips the balance back in their favour against the larger retailers.

“This new approach is part of a bigger picture. The next Conservative government will attempt to develop a measure or series of measures of social value that will inform our policy-making when in power. When making decisions, ministers will take account not just of economic efficiency but also social efficiency.

“Some people may question if this is possible. I say to them that it has been possible to develop new measures of the impact of public policy within the environmental sphere, which were previously not included in public policy making, and I see no reason why it should not be the case within the social sphere. Taken together with our renewed emphasis on localism – more powers for local government and greater rights for local communities to decide for themselves on issues that affect them the countryside will be immeasurably strengthened.