Tuesday, 1 April 2008

A grumpy old man writes ....

It's a little disconcerting to find myself agreeing with a Tory blogger on two separate issues within as many days, especially when it is a Tory (Iain Dale) who also says, with every appearance of seriousness, that he agrees with the preposterous Christopher Booker about anything (in this case windmills, on which Booker has lately produced one of his trademark hysterical rants, full of mendacious twaddle).

Issue 1 is the Tory press. Or at least the Murdoch and Mail press (I suppose Dale has to be nice to the Torygraph, since he writes for it). Most of us non-Tories have been fulminating for many decades about the way the right-wing press distorts our so-called democracy. Now Dale is complaining about Murdoch's and Dacre's "bully boy tactics" in trying to alter government policy in their own vested interest. This sort of thing is usually left to the likes of Polly Toynbee to say. It's great to find a Tory admitting up front that the behaviour of the Tory press just will not do.

Issue 2 is the collapse in standards of public behaviour. This is provoked by a Time magazine cover story about British youth, "Unhappy, Unloved and Out of Control". Dale heads his piece Britain: Again the 'Sick Man of Europe'.

Historically, Time's attempts to look across the Atlantic have not always been very convincing. But here they are on to something. The Time article begins:

An epidemic of violent crime, teen pregnancy, heavy drinking and drug abuse fuels fears that British youth is in crisis.
And they produce a load of statistics to back it up, to do with booze and drugs and fights and under-age sex and family breakdown, and not least the UNICEF study that placed Britain bottom of a league table of 21 industrialised countries for child welfare.

As Iain Dale observes, this is not mainly the fault of any politicians in particular, and possibly not much to do with politicians at all:

What we have now is a society in which permissiveness and a lack of willingness on the part of society in general to impose discipline on impressionable minds have caused a fissure between those who obey the norms of society and those who, despite having gone to school, haven't got a clue what those norms are. They don't conform because many of them don't know what they are supposed to conform to.
Mainly, Dale blames feckless parents, and "the complete failure of our liberal education system". He goes on:

I think 40% of children in Britain are born to single parents, many at a very young age. Many single parents to a brilliant job with their children, but others do not - can not. The lack of any form of male role model is to the detriment of any child's upbringing. The inability of parents to say 'no' nowadays is just as bad.
Well, do you know what, I agree with every word of all that.

I don't entirely agree with Dale that none of this is Thatcher's fault. I do think she made matters even worse by deliberately encouraging the idea that selfishness and greed are good, and "there is no such thing as society". But the rot started setting in in the 1970s, in my view.

However, the more interesting point now is what the present-day Tory party thinks about all this. David Cameron has sent mixed signals. On the day of his election as leader, he said "there will be no more whingeing about modern life; I am comfortable with the modern world", or words to that effect, and I thought straight away then, well, he's just chucked away the entire "grumpy old man" vote in one fell swoop. Since then, though, he seems to have changed tack, talking about a "broken society".

I have long been clear that I am completely out of sympathy with many aspects of the modern world, especially as regards what one might broadly call "the popular culture", and I do indeed think we have a broken society. What anybody can do about it now, though, is a question to which nobody seems to have any answers.

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