Quadrant Magazine is a well-known Australian online social and political review. Here, in the words of Hal Colebatch, is a view of British society from the outside.
Before Margaret Thatcher made great moves to set British Industry to rights, the "British Disease" meant strike-happy unions, obsolete industrial plant and work practices, low productivity, and industries ripe for foreign takeovers.
(So that's what she was about. And all this time we thought she was just trying to privatise everything so her friends could make lots of money out of it. She seems to have been successful with the unions. The obsolete industry, unproductive work practices and low productivity are still with us. And of course the foreign takeovers have already happened - GOS)
After eleven years of New Labour government, Thatcherism is looking like an anomalous interlude of relative social health between two rather different kinds of social pathologies. The new British Disease, in many ways more potentially totalitarian and threatening to British identity and traditional values than the old, is also rather harder to diagnose.
Further, while the Labour government of Gordon Brown is obviously on death row, it is hard to be confident that a change of government will tackle many of the problems with a sufficient degree of new thinking: Britain appears to be in a late phase of a successful Gramscian campaign to capture not merely parliamentary power (the British electorate shows itself highly distrustful of ideological extremists at general elections), but, probably more importantly, the institutions of power and ideology at local government and quango levels. Although David Cameron is now looking a better and more effective leader than pessimists - including me - previously thought, these are not things which either the Tory Party or the conventional political processes in general seem really geared to dealing with. The conflict taking place over what sort of country Britain will be in the future is social and cultural at least as much as it is political in the sense of conventional party activity at the national level.
New nanny-state intrusiveness at the local government level seems to be reported every day. Among the latest developments are that every town hall in Britain has been ordered to send out surveys demanding local residents' personal information including details of their children, mortgage, ethnic background, religion and sexual orientation.
While this would be outrageous enough if the information were kept confidential, there is no assurance that it will be. Ministers have even given instructions that local councils must try to disguise their involvement in the survey to avoid attracting criticism. The questioning will be paid for out of council taxes and carried out every two years.
Questions on ethnicity and sexuality are intended to be used in government initiatives to promote greater numbers of local councillors from ethnic and sexual minority groups (which presumably means that potential local councillors not from such minority groups will be penalised).
(Hal Colebatch is being polite here. What he actually means is that the Neue Arbeit government are going to tell us which councillors we can and cannot elect. It's democracy, Jim, but not as we know it. They might recognise it in Russia, though, where you can elect anyone you like so long as it's the government - GOS)
Town halls are also assembling a database called ContactPoint to contain details of every child in the country, including information on health and education.
I am waiting for some sign of anger at or defiance of this demand. I think I know how a demand from city hall bureaucrats to publicly disclose one's sexuality would be replied to in the USA, and I certainly hope I know how it would be replied to in Australia - the reply would be short and to the point. Perhaps the fact that more than 300,000 people turned out in Britain over the Christmas holidays to defy the ban on fox-hunting is a hopeful sign of some kind of fightback.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that 80 per cent of new jobs are being filled by foreign workers. Poles and other well-educated and motivated Eastern Europeans are seen as more desirable employees than are the products of the British education system.
More than one in five births in Britain are now to immigrant mothers and, strikingly, more than half of British babies are now born outside marriage. All these statistics are significant but it seems to me that the last is the most important because it indicates how widespread the breakdown of conventional family life has become. It symbolises the "broken society", with an explosion of juvenile crime, drug abuse and alcoholism, gangs of fatherless feral children in the cities and mothers leading half-lives on welfare in inner-city slum apartments. The Daily Telegraph reported recently:
"Every year, almost 50,000 girls under 18 fall pregnant, leading critics to claim that government-led efforts to encourage safer sex are backfiring. The number who conceive is at its highest level since a multi-million-pound teenage pregnancy crackdown almost a decade ago. Britain has the highest per capita rate of teenage mothers in western Europe, despite also having a record number of school-age abortions …
"In the 1970s, rates were similar across western Europe, but while other states have had marked success in bringing down the numbers of pregnancies, Britain now has the highest teenage birth rate: six times that of Holland, four times that of Italy and three times higher than in France.
"The Government committed itself in 1999 to halving the teenage pregnancy rate among 16- and 17-year-olds by 2010, compared with 1998 figures.
"However, by 2005 - the last year for which full figures are available - the rate fell by only 11.4 per cent. The same figures show that between 1999 and 2005 the overall number of 16- and 17-year-olds becoming pregnant increased from 39,247 to 39,804. When girls aged between 13 and 15 were added, the total rose from 46,655 to 47,277, more than when Labour launched the strategy in 1999.
"In 2005, 47 per cent of pregnancies among 16- and 17-year-olds were terminated, compared with 42 per cent in 1998. Among younger girls, the rate rose from 53 per cent to 58 per cent."
It has been pointed out repeatedly for years that government taxation and welfare policies are not only encouraging unmarried teenage mothers but are also penalising marriage heavily, despite the government's professed commitments to families and family values. In the 1970 fewer than one in ten children were born outside marriage and in the 1950s fewer than one in fifty. Marriage among the indigenous British population has slumped to the lowest level since records began to be kept more than 150 years ago. Evidence of the positive benefits of intact conventional families both for the well-being of children and the efficient delivery of social support is too overwhelming to need re-statement, yet this seems to have no effect on the government's anti-family incentives. Tory spokesman Iain Duncan Smith has said this "has done more to damage the prospects of children than at any time for more than 100 years".
In the past three years 4368 children have been admitted to hospital because they drank too much. Another study in 2007 showed that girls aged between eleven and thirteen are consuming almost double the amount of alcohol that they were seven years ago. The number of alcohol-related hospital admissions has increased by almost a third in two years with new twenty-four-hour drinking laws. More than 500 people a day are now being admitted to hospitals in England after drinking too much.
As schizophrenic as the government's family policies has been the granting of knighthoods and other honours to icons of the drug culture, while declaring "war on drugs". In its attitude to the defence forces, it has committed more troops to war service overseas than any government since the Second World War, yet has stinted the defence forces of money and equipment and treated defence personnel so shabbily that recently all five former chiefs of the defence forces publicly condemned it. A number of military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have been blamed directly on stinted and inadequate equipment, and complaints about equipment issued to servicemen on active service have been made by responsible senior officers for at least a decade. In a recent incident which seems to epitomise the shoddy treatment of servicemen, amputees and others mutilated by war wounds have had to go to public swimming-baths for rehabilitation, where in at least one case they have been verbally attacked by other pool-users offended by the sight.
Decline in educational standards, particularly physics and other "hard" subjects, is endemic. A third of university physics departments have closed in the past few years. Journalist Jeff Randall wrote of strategies announced in the 2005 budget to restore Britain's technological expertise:
"[Chancellor, now Prime Minister, Gordon Brown is] going to open 250 after-school science clubs. No, don't laugh, he means it.
"Truancy rates are running at their highest level since 1994, 55,000 pupils miss classes every day, despite the government having spent £900 million to tackle the problem.
"With so many children refusing even to turn up for school, persuading them to stay behind for lessons on splitting the atom looks challenging ..."
Increasingly the government appears to tackle social problems by announcing a series of gimmicks which no one, including the government itself, even pretends to take seriously. There is something like Eastern Europe circa 1988 about this.
Two stories from the same edition of the British Weekly Telegraph of October 17, 2007, made ominous reading, the more so when one considered the fact that something like them could be read almost every week. One article stated that one child in seven was unable to write his or her own first name or say the alphabet after a year in school. An analysis of 535,000 five-year-olds showed that 76,500 could not write simple words such as mum, dad or cat. The other article was a feature by senior journalist Charles Moore on public health standards:
"Florence Nightingale's famous Notes on Nursing, published in 1859, state that "the greater part of nursing consists in cleanliness". In my edition, the foreword points out that much of Miss Nightingale's writing, excellent though it is, is now out of date. In particular, the need for cleanliness is well understood. That foreword was written in 1946.
"Now it is 2007, and we learn that nurses in the hospitals run by the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells National Health Service Trust told patients suffering from diarrhoea to "go in their beds". Between 2004 and 2006, 90 patients died from Clostridium difficile, and the disease was a factor in the death of a further 241.
"Were it not for bad nursing, bad medical attention and bad administration, none of these patients need have died. Indeed, they would not have contracted C. difficile at all unless they had gone into hospital. So, after 150 years' advance of education, technology, prosperity and science, we have lost what Florence Nightingale taught …"
Having been part of a government which has initiated or condoned attacks on most aspects of Britain's traditions, Prime Minister Gordon Brown now declares:
"I want to see an Institute of Britishness so that we can discuss, debate and celebrate the ideas and writings that have made Britain the great country that it is … We must always strive to go further in understanding, valuing and celebrating our national history."
At the same time, Mr Brown more-or-less secretively signed the European Reform Treaty which constitutional experts say has further severely reduced Britain's sovereignty by handing a further swathe of power to the European Union. This suggests cognitive dissonance on an almost Fuhrerbunker scale.
The break-up of the union with Scotland, quite unthinkable in serious political circles a few years ago, has now never looked more probable.
Some commentators have drawn attention to the fact that Mohammed, or some variation thereof, is on track to become the most popular boys' name in England and Wales. The name was second only to Jack in 2007, which has been top for the last thirteen years. This says something about Britain's immigration policies over the last few years, and has implications about its future demographics. Further, there is a great deal of evidence that British-dwelling Muslims, particularly the young, are becoming more, not less radicalised with the passage of time. There are plans for a gigantic new "super-mosque" which will overshadow much of London. Conservative columnist Peter Hitchens wrote recently:
"The deeply English, deeply Christian city of Oxford, one of the homes of free thought, is now being asked to accept the Islamic call to prayer wafting from mosque loudspeakers over its spires and domes.
"If that is not a threat to our "way of life", then I don't know what is. Allowing the regular electronic proclamation of Allah's supremacy in a British city is not tolerance, but a surrender of the sky to a wholly different culture. Just you wait and see what opponents of this scheme are accused of."
However, I find it at least equally significant as the popularity of the name Mohammed the fact that in 2007, Alfie made it into the top ten for the first time in recent years. This, according to the press, may have been influenced by the hit single Lily Allen wrote about her brother, Alfie, as well as the remake of the film Alfie.
Alfie? In English history Alfred the Great was a noble, wise and heroic king, the deliverer of the nation, a patron of learning, an intrepid warrior, a champion of Christianity, one of the brightest lights of the Dark Ages whose darkness he did much to dispel, and whose achievements and fame have resisted all efforts at debunking or revisionism. Alfred is a name anyone might be proud of. Even today it has echoes of majesty and heroism. But Alfie? That it should be so rising in popularity speaks volumes about cultural infantilism, and not anything very pleasant. I have not seen the re-make of the film Alfie, but in the original film, starring Michael Caine, Alfie was a working-class lecher who got his friend's vulnerable wife pregnant and forced her to have an abortion. A hero for our times?
Meanwhile, the government's "equality" tsar, Trevor Phillips, has claimed British history should be re-written to make it more "inclusive". An example suggested was that it was actually the Turks, not Sir Francis Drake and co, who saved Britain from invasion by the Spanish Armada, a suggestion which a leading Turkish historian, Professor Mete Tuncay, is quoted as saying, "is not known at all".
The points I have listed here - and there are many more I might add - might be criticised as being not obviously connected, but I think this is not the case. Most of these things point in the same direction - to a slow but definite many-sided cultural breakdown.
The GOS says: "bad nursing, bad medical attention and bad administration …"
My elderly mother - over 90 years old but normally spry and very, very acute - was admitted to hospital in Hereford recently, almost in a coma after an adverse reaction to some medication. She arrived in A&E at 8 o'clock in the evening, and wasn't seen by a doctor until 5 o'clock the following morning.
She has since made a full recovery. Pretty grumpy, though.
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
Copyright © 2008 The GOS
This site created and maintained by PlainSite