‘Scoutcraft,’ Robert Baden-Powell said, ‘is a means through which the veriest hooligan can be brought to ... God.’ It was in a similar spirit that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport last week gave £5 million to uniformed youth groups to create 5500 extra places in deprived areas across England. It won’t offset the projected £2 billion shortfall in children’s services by 2020. But the minister for sport and civil society, Tracey Crouch, says the money will equip ‘vulnerable young people’ with the ‘friendships’ and ‘important life skills’ they need to ‘reach their full potential’.
In Roald Dahl’s The Twits, the eponymous couple wage attritional marital warfare. Mr Twit gradually lengthens his wife’s walking-stick and chair-legs to make her think that she’s got ‘the dreaded shrinks’ and will soon die by dwindling and finally disappearing. Such an end now awaits the fast-shrinking Big Society. Before Margaret Thatcher, Conservatives in government were chary of pursuing political projects. The likes of Lord Salisbury and Stanley Baldwin saw their job as keeping the seat warm, for fear it might pass to someone who meant to use office and not merely sit in it. But it doesn’t do nowadays for Tory leaders to own blandly that the propertied interest has its fists round the loot, and intends to keep things that way. Unlike Bob Cecil or Stan ‘the man’ Baldwin, Dave Cameron has to ‘reach out’ to the rank-scented many. Even the party of cloven-hoofed squirearchs must proffer a ‘vision’ or ‘narrative’ to voters who supposedly crave such a thing.