People are always bemoaning the state of the country. They always have been, for as long as I can remember. “It’s not like it used to be, is it?” they say. They’re right of course, and perhaps it’s also right that a country shouldn’t be static, but should be progressively marching forward into a new and better future. But is the UK of 2010 “not quite the same as it used to be” in all the wrong ways?
Most of the population seems to live in fear, far more fear about everything than ever before. There’s the fear of terrorism. Then there’s the fear of being unable to pay one’s way (or indeed the massive credit debt bill) and the associated repossession etc. We fear all the diseases we can get too, which seem to number more than ever, including the global pandemic killer swine flu. All those fears are old ones: the terrorism & Al Qaeda thing conveniently replaced the cold war & Soviet Union; we always need more money; and disease has been with us since the dawn of time. The trouble is, now we fear each other as well. We’re brought up to think that the rapist, murderer, paedophile or Satanist animal-sacrificer could be living next door. Or that we’ll meet them walking down the street. We used to have “eccentrics” – harmless individuals who had character and behaviour beyond the norm – but now they’re all weirdos and not to be trusted. The result is that nobody can walk down the street without being in danger. Children can’t be let out to play. Women can’t walk the dog at night. Reception teachers can’t give an upset child a cuddle or even stick a plaster on them, despite the child seeing the teacher as a parental figure. And heaven help you if you should smile at a stranger, much less wish them “good day” or give up your seat for them on a bus – you pervert, you.
So how did we get ourselves into this mess? How can we get ourselves out of it? Is it a purely British problem or is it global? Well, having travelled in other countries and been greeted warmly and offered great trust everywhere despite being a stranger, and worse – a foreign stranger – I can safely say it’s not a global malaise. So what caused it here? I’ve no idea – although it’s definitely institutionally encouraged and perpetuated within government, both local and national. It’s something to do with “political correctness” and bureaucracy and the never-ending desire of politicians to avoid doing the right thing and instead opting to look like over-enthusiastic puppies wanting to please their masters. Or worse, chameleons pretending to be puppies.
I also think it’s something to do with the appalling state of education. Here I’m not speaking of league tables, or exam results, but of whatever became of our tradition for a robust general education. Perhaps it’s the fault of the National Curriculum, or perhaps that was just a milestone along the way. In the Britain of 2010 teachers would much rather have a pupil diagnosed with ADHD or some such other non-existent syndrome than take responsibility as an educator for their lack of understanding in maths or English. And don’t tell me this doesn’t happen, because I’ve seen it for myself. They’d also rather tell school children that all alcohol consumption is bad for you and that if you drink alcohol you’re an alcoholic, rather than leaving it to intelligent, caring parents to impart ideas of self-control and moderation. Again, this has actually occurred. In our schools, our children are taught to fear everything in our society… and just beyond fear lies the vast, desolate wasteland of hatred.
Hatred is rife in our society. We hear the word every day. Actually it’s not so difficult to hate something, we seem to do it all the time, to television programmes and foods and politicians. Hate is the new dislike. In fact we “hate” so much that we no longer have a word to describe true hatred, which may be why it goes unnoticed when it happens. You might be forgiven, observing the lack of running street battles with National Front vs Anti Nazi League and riot Police in attendance, that racism has disappeared in the UK too. But it’s alive and well – the targets have changed, as have the perpetrators. Yes, some white people are still racist against black people, and some black people are racist against white people. Some people of every colour and religion dislike someone because they’re different, and it was always so. Jewish people have become very closely integrated into British society, and we have establishment figures and celebrities who are Hindu and Muslim – but it doesn’t stop the racism.
The respectable-appearing UKIP wants to “Ban the Burka” and the BNP is just the National Front in suits. There are still lots of people in the UK who would happily see someone else carted off to wherever they came from, as long as someone else did the dirty work for them. But now we have the bloody Eastern Europeans coming over here and stealing our jobs too. Oh dear, I’m sorry, I appear to have come over all “Duffy” – for the purposes of demonstration only, of course, for I am a descendent of a relatively recent previous wave of Eastern European immigrants, for whom the UK was a sanctuary from likely death from the forces of hatred. So it’s always bothered me when hearing a Jewish person, for example, being racist against a black person. Of all the people on this planet, what right has someone of a race that has been so persecuted through the centuries to be racist? Alas I heard only yesterday a first-generation British man of South Asian descent talking about the Eastern Europeans who should be sent home, and how out of touch Gordon Brown is for thinking that a million European imports doesn’t balance a million British ex-pats in Euroland.
Let’s be very clear about this, if people want to come & live here it’s because it’s not a bad place to live. Perhaps that’s why so many Brits are working so damned hard to make it a place where nobody wants to live.
Nick Clegg was right to imply that Britain has never quite got over itself as victor of world wars and sore loser of its empire. We still like to believe that our industrial might is still intact, that our foreign policy word holds sway over the majority of the civilised world and that we are still a world power. We have never quite come to terms with the idea that the smashed shadow of post-Nazi Germany, which we helped to rebuild, became a more successful economy retaining much of its engineering & manufacturing base with a better standard of living & quality of life. Still, we’ve not done badly by and large, and so here we are in 2010 with high-definition LCD TVs and computers in every home, and eight years olds with mobile phones – mostly on credit. And shopkeepers stabbed by schoolboys, unprecedented levels of under-age alcoholism, sex, teenage pregnancy and thirteen year olds with chlamydia. Where everyone is scared of everyone, and where everyone seems to think the world owes them something. Yippee, what a wonderful country we’ve created.
Oh look, since I’ve mentioned those two I may as well mention the David Cameron one as well. Alas when you look at the detail you discover that he’s personally said very little of any meaning about anything, particularly as it relates to healing our society. He and his little Oxford chum George Osborne would rather engage in old-style Conservative political personality point-scoring, which is all fine and dandy except for all the stuff a chap called Ian Duncan-Smith has been up to since entering the back-benches and forming his Centre for Social Justice. So far, from the Cameron-commissioned report entitled “Breakthrough Britain” which came up with a very coherent set of almost 200 recommendations for healing social injustice, Mr Cameron has taken a piecemeal set of only 29 cherry-picked recommendations into Conservative policy. However he has indicated that Mr Duncan-Smith might be his Minister for Social Justice if they get in, so who knows… Ian Duncan-Smith might yet be forced to compromise his principles and forget social justice.
Finally, a little about politicians in the era after the expenses scandal. A lot of people say they mourn the passing of a prior era, when
strong leaders like Winston Churchill were around, who would take difficult, unpopular and very often distinctly unsavoury decisions on behalf of the nation. Yet they also say they want politicians to be human and trustworthy and… nice. Then they complain when Gordon Brown is heard muttering something under his breath about someone, and not without some justification if you actually bother to listen to the woman and her attitude. We all have a public face and a private face – even Nick Clegg & St David Cameron – it’s part of being a human being, with all the complex social behaviour that brings. Churchill himself was difficult, temperamental, depressive, and borderline alcoholic, and yet few would dispute his courage and leadership during the years of the Second World War. So come on, people, actually work out what it is you want the politicians to be… you’re confusing the poor dears.
Let’s just hope on May 6th we don’t take a further step towards wrecking our country and our society. Lord knows we’ve been fantastically good at it so far.