Thursday, May 05, 2005
So, election day dawns in the UK. Fittingly, like the campaign, it is dull and dreary. Hardly the ideal weather for 'getting the vote out'.
I've refrained from offering comment until now. Not from any antipathy towards politics, or politicians - I have always been politically aware and never short of an opinion on the matters of the day. Rather, I subscribe to the old maxim 'if you have nothing worth saying, say nothing', and with such a spartan choice available to the UK public, I simply couldn't find anything worthwhile to say about my voting inclinations.
One thing I am sure of is I will vote. It is forecast that the turnout today may slip below 60% for the first time since 1918. I will not be one of the missing 40%. I believe in democracy and choice, and despair of those who whinge and moan about the government, only to reveal when questioned that they did not vote at the previous election.
To me they are symptomatic of a longstanding and growing sickness in British society. As a nation we are becoming apathetic, listless, selfish. Happy to blame others for our ills and accept no personal responsibility. Expecting more whilst offering less. Glorying in ned/chav culture. Our TV screens celebrate banality and turn idiots into icons. Reality TV is not the source of our decline, but is a mirror of society.
As a long standing Labour supporter, I should be ecstatic at the prospect of a third Labour government. I certainly was delighted and inspired when Tony Blair led Labour to victory in 1997 - but he has not lived up to his early promise. On foreign policy he has been overly adventurous, and on domestic policy he has yet to really deliver.
I hated the Thatcher years, with their celebration of greed and selfishness. I'm no enemy of capitalism, but Thatcher took it beyond the boundaries of acceptability. Actively seeking to destroy society and promoting the cult of the individual. The shameless 'loadsamoney' society was born. The comic character who reflected this new lifestyle was intended as satirical comment, yet was adopted as it's figurehead. Such was the shamelessness.
When Labour came to power I hoped this would change, and to an extent it has. Unfortunately we are now trapped with the worst of both worlds. The selfishness of the Thatcher years, married to the extended welfare dependency of the Blair years, has spawned a whole new class - the non-working class. A class who are poor but not starving, and revel in their mediocrity and lack of exertions.
When I was a child, the economic heart was being torn from Scotland. I witnessed the end of the Ravenscraig steelworks, the betrayal of the Caterpillar workers, wholesale coal mine closures. Massive unemployment and virtually no work opportunities.
People demonstrated and fought for the right to work. They demanded a job.
Now the economy, while hardly perfect, is in much better shape. Yet a walk through any major town centre inevitably brings the persistent demands of aggressive beggars(my favourite ever opening line being 'gies money'), the hassles of the neds and junkies, and the assault on the optic nerve of acres of overexposed, underwrapped blubber, paraded in the mistaken belief that Jade Goody is the ultimate style icon. The bodies reflect the mind - rarely exercised, badly fed, gorged on junk and revelling in their decrepitude.
My blood boils when I see reports of villages and towns where jobs go unfilled, yet unemployment persists. Places where local people refuse to work in the factories because they are 'too dirty' or 'too smelly'. Yet they expect to live a comfortable life on benefits - benefits paid from the taxes of those who do work. An entire class exists whose primary contribution to the economy is providing the subject matter and stars of a new genre of sub-Springer daytime TV shows.
It makes me laugh, a bitter, humourless laugh, when I see complaints about immigrants overrunning the country, asylum seekers sponging off the government, and the decline of British culture. Yet businesses need to recruit from Eastern Europe and beyond to fill the jobs the complainers won't do. I say bring as many immigrants as the ships and planes can carry. When they arrive, they want to work. They seek out opportunities. They put in the hours our fellow citizens refuse to. They expect less and offer more.
I look back to my own family history and see what can be done. My great grandfather left Dublin to move to Scotland. What his father did, I cannot tell you, since in his time only the rich were educated enough to write. So such fundamentals as parentage, occupation, place of birth, went unrecorded.
He found a job in an ironworks, married and produced a family. Among them was my grandfather. He in turn worked first in a public baths - not a swimming pool, but the communal washing facilities for his community. Later he progressed to work on the railways.
In time he too started a family and his son, my father, went straight from school to an apprenticeship as a joiner. He learned the trade and worked hard at it.
By the time I was born, my parents owned a home. The first generation of the family to do so. They encouraged and cajoled me through school and, to borrow from the Kinnock/Clinton speech, I was the first child in the family to attend university. From illiteracy to graduation in four generations. This is hardly a unique story. Millions in the UK and Ireland have similar tales to tell.
Each generation of the family aspired not to some ephemeral form of social advancement, but simply to doing the best they could for their children. Now I am about to become a father, I intend to continue that tradition.
Millions of others seem oblivious to this responsibility. They revel in failure, glorify mediocrity and seem incapable of nurturing the faintest levels of responsibility or discipline in their kids. They blame the government, the schools, the police, for the misdeeds of their children. Anyone but themselves.
Reversing this decline in our standards will be the greatest challenge to the next government. Rather than throwing more money at the police and education system, they need to put more emphasis back on the public to inject an element of decency into their lives. The carrot approach has failed; it's time for the stick.
I'd like to see much more focus on good parenting, and a reassertion of parental responsibility. The CSA has been an administrative shambles, letting evasive dads off the hook financially, and the courts are woefully slow to bring parents to book when they permit or encourage their children to commit unsocial acts.
Human rights legislation has tipped the balance so far in favour of the wrongdoers that many feel they can operate with immunity. This is particularly true of schools where enforcing discipline seems almost an impossible task now. It appears teachers can only teach with the permission of the kids, rather than by enforcing their authority. Any form of discipline or punishment seems to breach some convention or other. Children suing their schools for giving them detention. Ludicrous!
When I was at school kids were keen to learn. Their parents made sure they were. The accepted path was to study at school to earn the chance of a job. Then work hard to support yourself. That is truly a working class ethos, which fosters respect and dignity.
Now, too many kids are learning from their parents and peers there is no point studying hard to get qualifications and a job. Why bother when you can get what you want from the benefit system? They lose respect for themselves, and if they cannot respect themselves, how can they respect others?
That is why the yob culture has flourished in Britain. If the tide is not turned soon it will engulf us all in a sea of mediocrity and fecklessness.
Let us hope the next government has the will to fight for decency, respect and civilisation. That is a war worth winning.
Posted by Div at 2:15 p.m.