Monday, August 15, 2011

The broken society, 1995-2011

British Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken of Britain's 'broken society' following the recent riots. I was sure this sounded familiar so I looked it up and found this:

Tony Blair in 1995 asked us to look at “the wreckage of our broken society” and, using the now-familiar language of rights and responsibilities, called for a new civic society where everyone played a part. The phrase then really came into its own in the Conservative leadership campaign in 2005, first from Liam Fox and then with David Cameron taking up the term in his leadership acceptance speech. It is now strongly associated with Iain Duncan Smith’s work for the Centre for Social Justice and the Conservative’s Social Justice Policy Group, and the promise to “mend Britain’s broken society” became a dominant theme of the Conservative general election campaign.

So this idea of a broken society was one of Blair's pet concepts about a society ruined by the Conservatives, before being picked up by the Conservatives to describe a society ruined by Labour.

To me an odd thing is that I don't remember this kind of negative talk about societal collapse here in Ireland, despite fairly simliar economic circumstances. Instead I'm reminded of an observation by comedian Dara O'Briain, who said that British people are convinced that their young people are scum: criminal, depraved punks. Irish people, on the other hand, think their young people are great! Haha, grand, lovely young people without a care in the world!

Hence Ireland produces films like Intermission or Man About Dog, showing young people as mischievous and sympathetic criminals: essentially decent, if willing to bend the law. Britain produces Harry Brown and Outlaw, depicting young people as vicious, immoral scum: hooded, aimless, swaggering criminals laughing at an impotent justice system.

Well this is not a serious or carefully considered post! Obviously there are true differences in the cultures and experiences of Britain and Ireland. But I do doubt that Britain really deserves this sense of pessimism. Maybe the past was never as golden as people remember, the present never as black.

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