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Monday, 30 May 2011

Nat the hat

I was impressed by Nat Wei when I met him 10 days ago at the House of Lords. Young, bright and clearly determined to make a difference he somehow seemed out of place in what to me looked more like a gentleman's club than a place where social change is possible.

If' you've not been through the 'Peer's Entrance' at Westminster you might be surprised (as I was) to find the guy behind reception wearing white tie and tails. Then after the inevitable photo ID and security scan, you find yourself in a large cloakroom. Each member of the Lords has a coat-peg and like Primary School, each has their name by in so they don't lose their coat.

I've no idea if he arrived there because he was 'chosen' or if in fact he threw his hat into the ring. I guess it was a bit of both. Clearly though the place has beaten him and the crusty old farts who form the bulk of inhabitants will feel they've won. After all, who wants someone to challenge the status quo, demand change and present very cogent arguments for what for many must look like rocking the boat.

I wondered what could have gone wrong and quickly realised that Nat had made a big mistake on day one. A mistake from which he never recovered. You see he was expecting to be paid, not unreasonably, but was told that the quota for paid Cabinet Office advisers was full. He took this at face value, worked for free and the rest is now history. To do 'Big Society' you have to challenge the status quo, bend the rules and sometimes overturn tradition.

Someone told me that the quota system for paid advisers was a Tory move to counter the massive influx of paid advisers hired by the Labour administration, but that's politic, not pragmatism. Big Society is not political; it's about doing what's right so that the masses of frustrated folk trying to make a difference at grassroots level can actually succeed.

Now Nat's hanging his hat on the Community Foundation Network coat peg. Here I know he'll be able to move on and make the difference he is clearly capable of delivering. What's more I'll be there helping him where I can, as I too work closely with the Community Foundation movement.

In three weeks time, I'm meeting Nick Hurd to talk Big Society. Do you think I should drop a few hints about my future role?

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