The rhetoric of the big society "echoes the popular mood" and Labour must offer a credible alternative, shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell has warned party members.
Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Manchester, Jowell repeated the call by the new party leader Ed Miliband for a "good society", which she said must go beyond the "empty slogans" offered by the coalition.
"To be a credible government in waiting, we need to spell out our own vision of what the good society means," she said.
"While the policy that underpins the big society is so flawed, its rhetoric does echo the popular mood.
"People want to feel a sense of ownership, control and accountability; something that neither free market fundamentalism nor remote and centralised statism can provide."
Giving examples of what her party could do, Jowell cited the mutualisation of Northern Rock and a Post Office ‘people’s bank’.
She urged Labour councillors to "forge a new relationship with their communities based on the cooperative values of fairness, accountability and responsibility".
Jowell accused the government of cutting £742m from civil society in its first 100 days in office and warned this was before the "real cuts follow in three weeks’ time", in the comprehensive spending review.
Jowell said the voluntary sector had doubled in size under Labour. "Remember Make Poverty History, campaigns against smoking in public places and those campaigns for gay rights?" she said. "Community movements that captured the imagination of the public and found their champion in our government. They changed the law and they changed our country for the better. And it's all happened under Labour."
She contrasted that with the current situation. "Confidence among charity leaders is lower than ever before," she said. "The little platoons required to build the coalition's 'big vision' are afraid that they're being led off a cliff."