As part of his pre-election manoeuvring, Conservative leader David Cameron, according to the BBC, has today accused Labour of ‘moral failure’ and presiding over a country in both economic and social recession.
He has said the UK rewards parents who split up and is a place where professionals are told to follow rules rather than do what is best.
As an example of what he calls ‘broken Britain’, Cameron talked about the case of 2 brothers sentenced today for brutally attacking 2 other boys in South Yorkshire.
The brothers, aged 10 and 11 at the time, attacked their victims in Edlington, Doncaster, last April. They threatened to kill their victims, then aged 9 and 11, stamped on them and attacked them with broken glass, bricks and sticks. The brothers admitted causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
While stressing that the case is not typical, Cameron cited it as a shocking example of what he calls Britain’s broken society, one of the key themes of the party’s campaign but a diagnosis rejected by the Government which said the Doncaster case was “uniquely terrible and extremely rare”.
In a book of interviews with him by GQ editor Dylan Jones, published this week, Cameron is quoted as saying: “I’m going to be as radical a social reformer as Mrs Thatcher was an economic reformer, and radical social reform is what this country needs right now.
“Margaret Thatcher in her time realised that the big challenge was reviving Britain’s economy, and we should recognise that the challenge for the modern Conservatives is reviving our society.
“It’s dealing with the issues of family breakdown, welfare dependency, failing schools, crime, and the problems that we see in too many of our communities.”
In fact, the ‘broken Britain’ theme is not new. Several years ago, Cameron tasked former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith with creating a ‘think tank’ to investigate and report on what was wrong with Britain, with a particular emphasis on social factors. Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice has produced several very interesting reports since and has been using the term ‘broken Britain’ since at least July 2007. The concept began to capture headlines in a big way in February 2009 when Duncan Smith used the outraged headlines around 13-year-old Alfie Patten fathering a child by 15-year-old Chantelle Steadman to hold up the under-aged parenting as prime example of “what’s wrong with broken Britain”.
So is Britain broken?
Well, our kingdom has a hell of a lot of problems – just think:-
- Struggling to make any sustainable progress out of recession when many other comparable countries are clearly on their way to recovery
- Saddled with a national debt, the paying back of which will take decades long-term or, short-term, cripple much of the public sector through severe cuts and/or hamstring the private sector through raised taxes
- High rates of petty crime, drug addiction and alcoholism compared to the rest of the EU
- The highest teenage pregnancy rate in the Western world
- Unsustainably high rates of male unemployment
- A growing problem with gun crime and knife crime
- Rising ethnic tensions as multi-culturalism is acknowledged to have failed and the Government fails to deal with high rates of immigration – see the Blog: ‘Is restricting immigration discriminatory?’
- The gap between rich and poor being acknowledged by the Office of National Statistics to be greater now than it was when Labour came to power in 1997
- Politicians widely perceived as corrupt for lining their own pockets via the public purse and permitting the bankers to outrightly rape the public purse to pay their own bloated bonuses
- The very union under attack as the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish campaign for more powers for their devolved governments
But is it worse than it was? It’s interesting to note that in 1996 Tony Blair used the James Bulger case to attack the Conservative government of John Major in a similar way to Cameron attacking Labour today. Blair said: “We hear of crimes so horrific they provoke anger and disbelief in equal proportions … These are the ugly manifestations of a society that is becoming unworthy of that name.”
Qualitatively, I doubt that Britain is more ‘broken’ than it was when Blair cited Bulger but quantitatively maybe…. There have always been horrible, shocking crimes against children – just think of Ian Brady, Myra Hindley and the ‘Moors Murders’ back in the early 1960s. There have always been ruthless, brutal criminals – again, think the 1960s and the Kray Twins. Under-age pregnancy and alcoholism are millenniums-old problems and highly-addictive recreational drugs have long been available, if you knew who to ask. And racism, at root, is just a manifestation of tribalism.
2 things, though, have changed dramatically over the past 50-60 years:-
- Firstly, the sheer scale of these problems across Britain is mind-blowingly larger than it was back in the 1950s. While Britain’s post-war, pre-Americanisation ‘Golden Age’, as depicted so charmingly in the Ealing films of the era, was a manufactured myth, the scale of crime, corruption, substance abuse and teenage pregnancy we experience today would have been unbelievable to most British citizens of the time.
- The wide-scale spread of these problems – once largely the sinful preserves of the more wealthy classes – has permeated right through the ‘ordinary’ people – what used to be considered traditionally the working and lower middle classes. These ‘salt of the earth’ types generally held higher moral codes than many of their so-called social betters. I’m making huge mythical generalisations, of course; but, as generalisations and allowing for many exceptions, they pretty much hold true. For example, when I was a snobbish middle-class teenager in the late 1960s, my friends and I thought it was ‘cool’ and ‘groovy’ to smoke cannabis. However, our working class peers thought it was disgusting and anything to do with hippies was morally depraved. Nowadays, the use of cannabis amongst working class teenagers is commonplace. Whilst the older brothers of my working class peers considered it good sport to bonk a girl in the alley outside her parents’ house late at night, they thought the middle-class hippie couples living together openly without being married was going to lead to societal meltdown!
Where’s the morality gone?
Back in 1999, when I was involved in putting together the HemsMESH project under the watchful eye of Spiral Dynamics ‘guru’ Don Beck, I remember Don talking about how the British churches didn’t do BLUE any more. In other words, they weren’t projecting strong moral codes on how people ought to live, treat each other and relate to society. In Don’s view, the British churches had become dominated by liberal GREEN thinking, with its motif of whatever fulfils the human spirit and doesn’t overtly harm others is OK.
If that sounds similar to some of the hippie mantras of the 1960s or rave lyrics of the 1980s and 1990s, then you’re hearing the same codes in action. GREEN undermines BLUE disciplines and releases RED to indulge as much as it likes without restraint, aided and abetted by ORANGE technology facilitating unlimited internet gambling and beaming uncensored violence and explicit pornography into your 10-year-old’s bedroom. It seems like an absurdly simple diagnosis of the causes of our ills – and there is, indeed, much detail to fill in – but, as an overview, it’s as simple as that.
Don Beck, from ‘Bible belt’ Texas, would, of course, be highly sensitive to the failings of the British churches; but the United States is generally acknowledged to be a much more religious country than Britain. Of course, the US has many of the same problems we have and often in more extreme versions and concentrated pockets – East Los Angeles makes Brixton look relatively idyllic! However, as percentages of national populations, the problems are on nothing like the same, overwhelming scale as here. The American churches by and large make a good fight against the ‘sin’ – though it’s clear GREEN is starting to undermine BLUE in the controversy over the ordination of gay bishops in the East Coast Anglican Church.
But, in seeking to resolve Britain’s problems, we can’t just re-engineer large-scale religious BLUE and expect it to work.
You only have to look at the opposition to the so-called ‘Islamification’ of Britain. It’s all but impossible, of course, but if you could factor out the extremists and their ideologies and discount the racist antipathy towards Islam simply because most of its practitioners have brown skins… then Islam offers much the same kind of solid BLUE values for living that Christianity traditionally has.
And a very sizeable part of the British people simply don’t want that. The proverbial RED-GREEN harmonic of it’s-good-for-you-to-do-as-you-like is now too embedded in British culture. As an example, for all that The Sun moans and whinges about Britain’s moral decay, it’s not prepared to do away with its page 3 girl or stop publishing photographs of various celebrities in indiscrete poses. Why? Because that’s what a sizeable number of people want, as verified by the paper’s sales and visits to its web site. There’s enough BLUE left in society at large to recognise the mess; but not enough to embrace the disciplines necessary to get out of the mess.
So, what Spiral Dynamics calls a 2nd Tier approach is needed – the ability to look at all the competing codes and their values and take action in the interests of the whole, meeting all needs as far as possible within that paradigm but even being prepared to sacrifice some freedoms to establish the paradigm.
David Cameron is to be praised mightily for putting his party’s emphasis on social factors. But, if he simply wants to bring back certain disciplines, it’s going to mean as little to current British culture as John Major’s (PURPLE-BLUE) ‘back to basics’ campaign did in 1997 against Tony Blair’s (RED-ORANGE) ‘let’s make money and live the good life’ ethos.