May 12, 2010; Source: Third Sector Online | Imagine if after the next national elections, there were a coalition government of the Democrats and the Greens or the Republicans and Libertarians (assuming the Tea Party doesn’t morph into a political party of its own). In the U.K., there really will be coalition government, as the May elections deposed Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour government, gave a plurality but not outright majority of seats in the Parliament to David Cameron’s Conservative Party, and put Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats in the catbird’s seat of carving out a role in a new coalition government. The Liberals cut a deal with the Tories, making Cameron the incoming PM.
The UK’s nonprofit sector leadership organizations, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, and others are moving quickly to meet with the new government to, in the words of NCVO’s Stuart Etherington, “clearly set out the role our organizations can play” in Cameron’s “big society” concept for the nonprofit sector. Although Cameron’s platform was initially warmly received by some of the nonprofit leadership, the Conservatives appeared to have “kicked their big society agenda into the long grass after it proved unpopular,” according to the Third Sector Online article.
Sitting on the wrong side of the Atlantic, we didn’t see much in the Liberal Democrat Party platform [PDF] directly addressing the role of UK nonprofits. During the election, however, Clegg apparently ridiculed Cameron’s “big society” platform as the “do-it-yourself society.” That might explain ACEVO’s Stephen Bubb’s lumping Labour and the Liberal Democrats together as likely to “compromise the sector” if they coalesced because of their leanings toward union-supporting entities that are “opposed to wider voluntary sector service delivery.” However, Bubb and his colleague, Louise Richards at the Institute of Fundraising, seem certain to raise the critical topic of money—how to fund Cameron’s notion of a “Big Society Bank,” how not to redirect money away from the Futurebuilders program, and how to simplify and improve the process of “Gift Aid.” For all the talk about the “big society” in the UK or social innovation in the U.S., without money, it’s just words.—Rick Cohen