It may be just my generation that has a gut feeling that all is not well in UK PLC since there is a natural inclination to view the past through rose-tinted spectacles. Of course the fact that, ‘back then’ we had no need of spectacles in the first place and certainly had yet to feel the impact of arthritis or experienced the dread of the multiplicity of visits to the GP with the underlying fear of a terminal diagnosis. Notwithstanding these considerations it does seem to be the case that all is not well with the PLC.
Without being too fanciful, the recent torching of Nantes Cathedral, one of many such attacks in France, might offer an all too visual indication of the erosion of the Judeo-Christian belief system that is a cornerstone of our society and even more so in the USA. Such a term neither lends itself to a widely agreed neat definition nor is the implementation of its principles a simple task. The broad understanding of Judeo-Christianity in this piece is that it is a liberal term for the idea that Western values rest on a religious consensus that included Jews; this might be further simplified to ‘the way things were’.
Should that erosion descend into total despoliation it may not be the end of the world but it certainly would fundamentally change the way our society functions. There are a number of factors that sustain a cohesive society and a common belief system is surely one of them. In claiming that, no suggestion is being made that we all have to be practising Christians or Jews; rather the seminal point is that UK PLC has largely developed from a belief system that has, maybe unknowingly to most of us, become enshrined in the way the country operates. Perhaps it ought to be said that other religions might also welcome the mores of Judeo-Christianity.
Since there are many interacting influences on how our society functions, it would be a fruitless endeavour to attempt to prioritise their importance, so no inferences ought to be drawn from the sequence offered below. It should, incidentally, also be recognised that the following diagnostic effort is undoubtedly guilty of sins of omission – after all this Author does not pretend to know all the answers.
A short consideration of Political Correctness (PC) might be a useful starting point for this rant since it seems to permeate much of society’s thinking and actions; it might also provide a useful backdrop. Two definitions are offered:
Dictionary: “The avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.
President Harry S Truman: “Political Correctness is a doctrine, recently fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and promoted by a sick mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end!” Allegedly suggested in a signal by Truman to General Douglas MacArthur on 1st September 1945
While both definitions focus on minorities, it matters not which definition a reader decides is appropriate, there is little doubt that PC is an ever present factor in the functioning of modern society. Some might be surprised at, and even applaud, the prescience of a Democratic President identifying the role of the MSM in the advancement of PC.
Bearing in mind that in GB the wealth of the richest 10% of families is 5 x greater than that that of the wealth of bottom half of all families combined, some argue it cannot be gainsaid that our society faces a social mobility challenge. However, to mitigate such a headline grabbing statistic, it is worth noting that there is healthy representation of the ‘self-made’ in the Sunday Times Rich List. Of course, there have been many well publicised studies into the issue of social mobility, notably by Alan Milburn, once referred to as the “social mobility Tsar” whose practical achievements in the role seem to mirror those of Nicholas II in his. Milburn is not alone in addressing the issue and there is an abundance of offerings recommending a disparate menu of cures.
However, money is not the only arbiter of social mobility. Many of the initially disadvantaged have succeeded in moving ‘upwards’ without making a dent in any rich list. Armed Forces Officers, teachers, nurses and other professionals offer examples. If one takes the general view of the Parable of the Talents, anyone who improves his/her lot has achieved a measure of social mobility so a single upward step on life’s ladder represents social mobility. As with any easy to suggest concept it defies universal application; consider the challenge facing the progeny in trying to improve on the parental achievements of a successful businessman/woman or a Field Marshal or a High Court Judge. Another factor that blurs the statistical debate is that as the rich get richer the offspring of the remainder appear to descend into poverty. However, child poverty is an issue beyond the scope of this rant.
Although looking back is often a nugatory exercise, I have always felt that National Service (NS) and Grammar Schools offered the greatest spur to citizens improving their lot. As a student of Obituaries I am struck by the preponderance of the Great & Famous (G&F) who have benefitted from one or the other or both. While accepting that NS is not coming back any time soon, having spent three years serving in a Junior Leaders’ Regiment I can bear witness to the transformation of young men who trained there, many of whom were probably reluctant and recalcitrant schoolboys. [To be clear, in those days the Regiment was boys/men only!]
As for the contribution of Grammar schools to social mobility, perhaps journalism could usefully be added to those professions where an individual can ‘do well’ without, necessarily, being rich. Andrew Neil in his powerful book Full Disclosure certainly reveals a passion for the contribution of such schools: “Paisley Grammar was my passport to an excellent education and social mobility”. His enthusiasm was further manifested in his reaction to a Labour controlled Regional Authority’s plan to close Paisley Grammar School: “…a sixteenth-century foundation whose main crime seemed to be that it remained a centre of educational excellence in an age of comprehensive mediocrity.”
Notwithstanding the general sense that social mobility has stalled, the situation may not be as parlous as many believe. In the 2019 Civitas Report – Social Mobility Truths – it is argued that social mobility is ‘common and widespread’; for example, “65% of people born into the working class have been upwardly mobile”. If true, this more positive view raises at least one question: In whose interest is it to perpetuate a myth? Flowing from that rests the possibility that we are following Vladimir Lenin’s belief that: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”. However, it is surely the case that telling any section of society, especially the young, that the system is unfair will not only blunt their aspiration but also engender a ‘call to arms’ in the battle to ensure fairness.
There is also another factor that skews the social mobility statistics, namely those people who are content with their lot, with little or no desire to climb the social ladder or are equally happy with a sideways move. It is not for others to pass judgment on such choices regardless of whether the perception is that that unambitious cohort is blessed with talent and ability; the well intentioned who are inclined to motivate the already content might wish to recall the irksome impact of this insert into a school report: “It’s time for Michael to pull his socks up”.
Also influencing the statistics are those who start life on the higher rungs of the social ladder only to slip down it apace; consider the Marquis who dissipated the family fortune, mostly on buying drugs (£7.5M?), and ended up living in the lodge house of the family estate. Of course such declines might be creating space for replacements!
“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess” – Oscar Wilde.
It is a curiosity of the Brits that on the one hand we applaud Lottery Winners while, on the other, we are contemptuous of those who have succeeded by their own hard work and determination. For example, bearing in mind the financial risks he took and his many years hard work, it is inexplicable to me that James Dyson should be so widely traduced for being ‘rich and successful’. Yet, apparently, his skill, inventiveness and doggedness are as nothing compared to the skill of winning the Lottery! Such counterintuitive attitudes dent aspiration without which the desire to climb up the social ladder through one’s own efforts are blighted; indeed, they seem to reflect the mantra that: “Somewhere, somehow, someone is better off than I am and it shouldn’t be allowed” (except in the case of the talented Lottery winner).
The Welfare State
The Welfare State is no longer just a safety net for those who have fallen through the cracks of society; it has become a right rather than a privilege whereas my parents’ generation were grateful for it because their lives straddled the years before its inception and its subsequent introduction – notwithstanding, in the case of the NHS, such areas as Maternity were specifically excluded. Today, as of right, abortions, sex change – both guidance and operations – IVF etc are delivered by the ration truck. As for the economics of the Welfare State we reached a stage where it was financially more beneficial to be on the dole and any 18 year old (or is it 16?) has a right to Council provided accommodation. So, why stay in the parental home? In parallel we have witnessed the demise of the family as a homogeneous unit, whether that is because of the foregoing factors or a natural progression opinion is divided.
In the round, it might be suggested that the Welfare State has blunted the sword of personal independent thought and deed; the attitude now is ‘the Government will pay’ or ‘it’s someone else’s responsibility’. Such thinking extends across the board from: Picking up litter (‘not my job’) to obesity (it’s the NHS’s job to keep me alive’) to putting loved ones in care homes (‘they are not our responsibility’). Exacerbating such factors has been the brutality of modern architecture and disastrous social engineering projects by such architects as Richard Rogers; separating family generations by the mass expulsion of Londoners to such places as Basingstoke did not help either. In this context, when staying with my family in Northern Ireland (NI), three generations lived under the same roof, notwithstanding Grandmother was as mad as a broomstick; that said, there was never any question of putting her in a care home.
Rules and Regulations
One conundrum is that the more rules and regulations Governments introduce the worse we seem to behave which, again, is perhaps partly a result of Welfare State thinking. An aspect of the consequential ‘something for nothing’ thinking is the growth of litigating for a quick buck; consider the Tsunami of whiplash claimants or shoppers spreading grapes on a supermarket floor allowing them to claim for injuries sustained when they slipped over. I recall young parents in the West Country saying in a Press Conference that they would sue their local hospital for £250K after it had saved their child’s life via remedial action; their, to me hypocritical, line was ‘We are not doing this for our sake but for the sake of others, lessons need to be learnt’. That was some 20 years ago – how many minor operations could have been undertaken with that sort of money?
The rules and regulations thinking has soured the general atmosphere. Well intentioned Individual measures such as Health & Safety and Race Relations Acts have led inexorably to the further development of a Rights-based society; in the latter case, engendering an exponential growth in minorities wielding huge power and influence that supine, appeasement-minded politicians either accept, or worse still, actively support. Consider such organisations as: LGBT, #metoo, BAME, BLM etc – take your pick there’s a pressure group for every gripe, manufactured or real. Lemming-like we are heading to a society in which the minorities have more influence than the majority which is not really the concept of democracy.
Into the mix we see the widespread development of virtue-signalling with those who do not subscribe to such hollow gestures being vilified; failure to bend a knee is now almost a crime against human nature. The British philosophy of my generation, and before, was one of unstated tolerance but the virtue-signalling mantra requires us, for example, enthusiastically to ‘celebrate our multi-racial society’.
Virtue-signalling on a mass scale may have grown out of the sweeping aside of the national traditions of stoicism, understatement and a stiff upper lip which once underwrote our behaviour. Today it is rare for any event not to feature whooping and cheering which, although not my preferred form of behaviour, is relatively harmless. What is harmful to a civilised society however, is the parallel growth in jeering and acrimonious debate and a deep-seated intolerance of the views of others. Whether that growth is attributable to exponential growth of virtue-signalling and/or the explosion of social media that has allowed for debate to be limited to ‘I am right; you are wrong’ entrenched positions. It is also noticeable that a huge proportion of UK PLC are classified as ‘Heroes’, leading to a wholesale devaluation of the word.
It is said that the Military lags behind society by some 10 years but it too has caught up fast and are now blessed with a virtue-signalling CDS and CNS. Whichever section of society is give to virtue-signalling, the idea of such action raises the fundamental question: Does it really represent progress or merely adding to society’s divisions?
Cohesive Nation and Minority Rule
The necessary components of a cohesive nation are a common language and Laws that are evenly applied to all citizens – yet we spend millions of £s on translation programmes and are encouraged to take a tolerant view of Sharia Law (our animal loving society is now obliged to turn a blind eye to the cruelty of Halal meat production). How can we ever achieve a cohesive society when, for example, the Metropolitan Police support a National Black Police Association and a White Police Association and Muslim Police Association (to think we used to complain about the Masons!). The USA has a similar problem through the creation in the 1960s of the term ‘Black Americans’ – why not just Americans? To me it is an axiom that one can only serve one master (in today’s PC climate it might be safer to say ‘Boss’) which surely means a uniform belief in, and support for, the nation and an acceptance of a common primary language and the laws enshrined by an elected parliament.
It is natural that differences challenge harmony; these can be religious and others, not just race. Consider NI as an example, where a village was 99% Protestant, harmony with the Catholics prevailed but when the ratio became 60:40 friction resulted because the former felt threatened (the reverse applies to a Catholic majority village). This numbers game of fear or distrust may dissipate in time although that may be a forlorn wish since the demographics are changing so profoundly and rapidly. Throughout history UK PLC has accepted Huguenots, Jews, Ugandan Asians and many others with equanimity but in numbers that could be absorbed without seeming to threaten the nation’s basic way of life but somehow the position is more challenging today.
Without wishing to be accused of being melodramatic, it may be the case that community relations are balanced on a knife edge since a proportion of the majority, for understandable reasons, feel that precedence is being given to the minority. That feeling may cover such areas as housing, education, media attention and the application of quotas, in preference to selection on ability. In considering education for example, White students are less likely to go to University than any other ethnic group and White working class boys are bottom of the league in school performance.
The combination of these factors may suggest a poor prognosis for our society. Studies show that the “more diverse society becomes, the less trust & reciprocity there is, and the less willingness to pay taxes to fund universal public services and welfare systems” (Nick Timothy DT 20th July 2020)
To draw any conclusions from the incoherent ramblings of this piece might overrate its worth – in other words it would be a fraudulent act. It’s canister shot spread merely reflects concerns about the state of the nation that have been rattling around the mind of a natural pessimist, so it inevitably lacks objectivity. These thoughts are also bereft of research and have failed to address such issues as: The part played by parents and teachers – particularly those self-declared Marxist Primary School teachers overtly involved in politics.
However, it might be concluded that dwelling on a bigger picture might be worthwhile. The outside world is not a happy place either but we seem not to know or care as we luxuriate in our Rights-based society, navel gaze and agonise over such issues as: Our next sun-soaked holiday location; which statue to remove; historic slavery; and which comfortable mattress to buy. After all we are all far too busy to worry about others.
Perhaps the only two certain conclusions are that our Society now operates in a world in which people are looking for reasons to be offended; it may well be that the exponential growth in rules and regulations has help to foster that world. Second, progress does not appeal to all, as illustrated by the 19th Century Postmaster General’s objection to the introduction of the telephone: “We have plenty of messenger boys”