If you think there really is a big idea behind the Big Society, then you agree with the unlikely pairing of Jon Cruddas (Lab, Dagenham) and Jesse Norman (Con, Hereford). The latter’s new book, “The Big Society: The Anatomy of the New Politics”, attempts the seemingly impossible task of providing a grand philosophical narrative to underscore David Cameron’s often amorphous rhetoric.

Cruddas and Norman debated at the Institute of Economic Affairs last night, alongside the IEA’s Professor Philip Booth and Dr Steve Davies. The ninety minute discussion did more to expose the philosophical fault lines in modern British politics than any public event I’ve attended since the General Election.

Jesse Norman is the sort of MP who gives even a cynic like me some hope about the future of our nation’s public life. He is independent minded, understands the value of ideas, is willing – indeed eager – to subject himself to fierce cross examination and has the charming ability to mix modesty with conviction. He thinks the Big Society concept is exciting, radical and transforming. It moves us beyond a tired rhetoric about the power relationship between the individual and the state to recognise the intrinsic social nature of humanity and the enormous value of voluntary institutions. He readily concedes that the Big Society is a “fuzzy” concept, but is insistent that it is not a vacuous one. In fact, he draws together an intriguing case that it is many ways the culmination of much traditional conservative thought and is thus a new idea with strong foundations.

Read the rest of the article on the Spectator Coffee House blog.

Mark Littlewood

Director General, IEA

Mark Littlewood is the Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the IEA’s Ralph Harris Fellow. Under his leadership, the IEA has continued to communicate the benefits of free markets to an even wider audience around the world. In 2014, Mark was ranked 38th on The Times’ ‘Right-wing Power List’, and in 2011 was named ‘Liberal Voice of the Year’ by the Liberal Democrat Voice. Mark frequently comments on political and economic issues on television and radio including BBC Question Time, Any Questions, Newsnight, Channel 4 News, Sky News, Radio 4's Today Programme and LBC. Prior to the IEA, Mark was Head of Media for the Liberal Democrats before going on to found Progressive Vision, a classical liberal think tank. Mark was educated at Balliol College, Oxford.