Thursday, August 30, 2007

What’s wrong with these people

A friend of mine from Australia was on an extended visit to Derby earlier this year. He recounts:

I, myself, still retain a rather schizophrenic impression of England on the whole. The flip-side of that Izaak Walton world and the gracious culture that surrounds is the dog-poor bitter terrace house chlostrophobia - I ran into it late one night in Derby - a place called Normanton - good grief, how close and depressed it was..and bitterly cold...whores begging for fags in their thin cardigans with their shoulders scrunched upwards.

I counter recounted with a snippet of my own. We lived in Italy for a few years and returned to the UK in the late Nineties. I remember in the indeterminate days after we arrived back in England, I took my daughter, who was 10 at the time, for a drive in North Manchester (that explorer's urge of mine - where will it take me next?). At one point she turned to me and said, “What’s wrong with these people? Why don’t they care?”

Simon Heffer has an idea.

Has anybody noticed that the more we spend on the underclass, the bigger it gets and the worse it behaves?

Has anyone noticed, either, that what we used to call the working class has shrunk? Not merely because, as surveys tell us, so many now think of themselves as "middle-class", but because something called the respectable working class has almost died out. What sociologists used to call the working class does not now usually work at all, but is sustained by the welfare state. Its supposed family units are not as the rest of us might define the term. It lapses routinely into criminality and lives in largely self-inflicited squalor. It has low educational attainment and is bereft of ambition. It is what we now call the underclass.

Janet Daley has another, not unrelated idea.

What has happened to working-class parents, and to the communities they inhabit, is that they have had the concept of "respectability" itself - the notions of discipline, adult authority, and even the most basic principles of "right" and "wrong" - pulled out from under them.

When the great progressive movement for personal liberation took hold of our public institutions - when the concept of authority itself was trashed by the education system, the media and the mainstream culture, and the idea of individual guilt was replaced by the assumption that all crime and bad behaviour had a socially determined "cause" - it was not the educated, affluent classes who were cut adrift...

[Working-class parents] could expect the schools to encourage outer discipline and the inner self-discipline of structured learning. They could expect the State to attempt to deter single girls from having babies on their own. They could expect the police and the courts to side unfailingly with the law-abiding rather than offer excuses for the criminal.

They could, in other words, count on the idea that all of the forces of adult life were joined together to uphold the structure of civilised life: that we all had pretty much the same conception of right and wrong, and the will to enforce it.

The British elites persuaded themselves that their great crime was to impose bourgeois values on everyone. In fact, it is the undermining of those values that is destroying the lives of the poor.

(Thank you to Ninme for both articles.)

And there's more. (Is it the time of year?)

Boris Johnson on the adventure of Phillips of Sudbury in the County of Suffolk, who did what so few adults now do and intervened against some 10-year-old boys. For so doing, he was chastised by the police.

The implication is that there can only be two figures of authority on the streets - the thugs and the cops.

This is the point that Anthony Andrews was making a few days ago, and it is the same point as those made above. The absence (physical, psychological and as authority) of adults. No law, no number of police or CCTV cameras can ever make up for that absence.

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