Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What planet do these people come from?

A national day to promote a stronger sense of British identity, and prevent communities from becoming more divided, has been suggested by two ministers.

Just reading that headline makes my heart sink.

I know that I'm politically naive, but time was our elected officials were there to serve us. They had a few important tasks, like making sure there were schools and hospitals, that there was a decent transport infrastructure and a well-provisioned army to defend us in time of war. A police force to protect us from those who weren't prepared to abide by the rules was useful, as was a basic social security system to help people pick themselves up when they fell.

Actually, making all that work is a pretty tall order for a country with a population around 60 million. So you'd think that our government would have it's head down and be busy beetling away at getting it right.

But no. They have to keep dreaming up new ways to pester us, and ever more complicated 'remedies' for the problems that they could have avoided in the first place by just doing their jobs properly.

It seems that Mz Kelly and Mr Byrne bemoan the fracturing of society, and see it as a root cause of many of the problems facing the country today. I guess to a certain extent they have a point. Cultural alienation certainly makes it easier for nutters to develop the idiot ideas that lead to atrocities like the July 7 bombings. Binge drinking, football hooliganism and all the other associated social ills can, quite possibly, be blamed on the breakdown of community. So it stands to reason that rebuilding communities will bring these dark times to an end and usher in an era of rose-tinted wonderfulness.

Err, no. For a start, the lost age of civility and neighbourliness was never as good as we remember it. You might hark back to a time when young women didn't lie in their own vomit on Friday night, when Ibitha was the pride of the Balearics and when children could play in the streets without fear of molestation or accident. I would hark back to a time when grinding poverty condemned most of the working class population to short, hard lives. When children played in the streets to get away from violence at home, or because they had nothing else to do. When rigid social structures meant it was almost impossible for someone from a poor family to better themselves. A time when terms like 'Paki' and 'Nigger' weren't even particularly derogatory.

But false nostalgia aside, it is true 'community spirit' has fractured in the UK over the past thirty years. Possibly more. What isn't true, and what can never be true, is that you can rebuild it by any kind of government edict. There is a principle of unintended consequences in all legislation, and no area is more prone to this than social engineering. As a general rule, the more government tries to dictate how society should work, the more society will fall apart. Our current situation is a direct result of decades of misguided policy. That may only occasionally have been the intention, but it has been the result. And now they want to tinker some more.

Perhaps I'm being a bit too much of an idealist here, but I can't help thinking that if our elected representatives concentrated a little bit more on the job of providing a basic, quality public service, then left to its own devices a sense of community would rebuild itself. Instead, it works tirelessly to remove us of our responsibilities - making every aspect of private life subject to endless regulation and control - and then wonders why we all start to act irresponsibly.

Of course, it's very hard to turn around a crisis-laden health service, deeply unsexy trying to unravel the mess that constant tinkering has made of the education system. Far better to make vacuous pronouncements about social cohesion and creating 'good neighbour contracts'.

But what would you expect from an administration that has promised so much, so often, and yet delivered so very little in the ten years since it was brought to power? Is it any surprise that our youth is disaffected, preferring the solace of lager and Bacardi Breezers and cheap European holidays over any form of social responsibility. I'm no longer a youth, but even I can't help but be cynical as these people make yet more empty promises and come up with ever more idiotic justification for their continued existence.

Is there anyone out there genuinely standing for less government? If so, they've got my vote.

Labels: , , ,


Blogger Vincent said...

Strangely enough, I disagree with most of your rant, but agree with the basic point. Perhaps I'm just young and naive, but I don't see that society is in decline, I think the failings of the NHS are those of any really large organisation and it, like the education system, works far better than most people give it credit for.

However, I do believe society emerges out of the interactions of all the people within it. The shape it takes is the net result of all those interactions. It's not shaped by a soundbite-friendly government policy that thinks 'Britain Day' will bring communities closer together. Similarly, the binge-drinking culture won't be addressed by a few warning labels on drinks bottles and an expensive public education campaign.

But still, the nanny state isn't always a bad thing. Once the smoking ban comes into effect, I won't have to wash my clothes after every visit to a pub to get the cigarette smell out and if 'Britain Day' is made a new Bank Holiday, I could probably live with that as well.

June 05, 2007 1:18 pm  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

I looked at this earlier, and have come back to it and am still not sure I'm in any position to comment. I would agree, though, that we look back on the past with false nastalgia. I would agree that we idealize things and don't see them in a balanced perspective.

And ultimately, I think things like this get pushed because they're "public" ideas that get press and media attention and help get people re-elected while doing little more than slapping a band-aid on a gaping wound.

June 05, 2007 9:36 pm  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Handwash only