PRIME Minister David Cameron has used his Christmas message to try and breathe new life into his ‘big society’ theme as he praised volunteers and “good neighbours” across the country.
He described 2013 as the year “real progress” was made on turning the economy around.
And Mr Cameron also added words of support for those in the “emergency and caring services” to those traditionally extended to the country’s armed forces.
The ‘big society’ was the central theme of the Conservatives’ 2010 General Election campaign but has featured only intermittently during the coalition Government’s time in office and has been criticised by opponents as a way of glossing over significant cuts to the public sector.
But Mr Cameron returned to it enthusiastically today in his Christmas message which is also notable for its overtly Christian tone.
“Together we have made real progress on strengthening our economy and creating more decent jobs so that people can provide for their families,” he said. “This progress is down to the efforts of millions who go out and work hard every day, putting in the hours, running businesses and keeping our economy going.
“And there are those millions who keep on strengthening our society too – being good neighbours, running clubs and voluntary associations, playing their part in countless small ways to help build what I call the ‘big society’.
“Many of these people are Christians who live out to the letter that verse in Acts, that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’.
“These people put their faith into action and we can all be grateful for what they do.”
Previous Christmas and Easter messages from Mr Cameron have contained strong religious themes, provoking criticism from some quarters.
Then Downing Street Alastair Campbell famously summed up the received Whitehall wisdom that politics and religion are a dangerous mix when he told an interviewer quizzing Tony Blair “we don’t do God”.
In his messsage today, Mr Cameron said: “For me, this season is also a time to think about the meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope that gives to millions.
“In Handel’s Messiah, these words from the Prophet Isaiah are brilliantly put to music: ‘His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’.
“With peace in mind, I would like to say thank you to our brave service women and men who are helping bring peace here and around the world; to their families who cannot be with them; and to all the dedicated men and women in the emergency and caring services who are working hard to support those in need this Christmas.”
In his message, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described Christmas as “a time for hope, kindness, family, and goodwill”.
He continued: “For Christians it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus as a gift from God and someone who embodied the values of love and forgiveness to which we should all aspire.
“But what is so extraordinary about this time of year is that it brings together the whole country – religious, non-religious, Christian, non-Christian – to embrace these values and celebrate together.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband, the Doncaster North MP, called on people to “take time to think of all those alone or suffering at this time of year”.
He also paid tribue to “the many people, churches and charities who will be looking after those who are alone or homeless this Christmas time.”