Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Myth of the Broken Society

The Myth of the Broken Society - this was written over a year ago, but still relevant since Cameron is still going on about 'the broken society'

By Ben Mackay

To say that society itself is broken suggests that it is a general condition, something identifiable anywhere and everywhere in the country. There are many social ills in Britain but I cannot agree with David Cameron that this points to a Broken Society. Yes, there are problems in 21st Century Britain and one has only to glance at the newspapers to read of another terrible and tragic stabbing or to read shocking statistics about the constituency of Glasgow East which featured in Mr Cameron’s ‘broken society by-election.’ To find out that in the largest city in Scotland and the third largest in Britain there are areas which have life expectancies lower than the Gaza Strip is disgraceful. But to take a variety of independent social ills and to concoct a view that our very country is rotting seems to me to be exaggeration and hysteria.

Extreme cases are small and scarce compared to the vastness of this country. There are definitely problems that need to be fixed and there is no underestimating knife crime and muggings.

A lot of the reasons Cameron has cited for social problems including knife crime, such as family breakdown, welfare dependency, debt, drugs, poverty, poor policing, inadequate housing, and failing schools I would agree with, but he goes on to say, ‘it is a thread that goes deeper, as we see a society that is in danger of losing its sense of personal responsibility, social responsibility, common decency and, yes, even public morality.’ This is where I disagree. Instead of ‘a society’ he should say ‘some people’.

To say that 21st Century Britain seems to be exclusively broken and damaged forgets history. Cameron ignores the sexist, racial and class inequalities of the past, inequalities that were spurred on by society itself, hegemonic because of all the traditions and dogma of older days. That is not to denigrate older generations but it seems that the eternal lament ‘it was better in the old days’ comes into it all? Were there not the drug and sex filled hippy years of the sixties and seventies? Wasn’t there the ruthless individualism of the Thatcher shaped Eighties? Wasn’t there the hilarious back-to-basics campaign led by John Major in the Nineties?

Our society is definitely flawed. To compare it to a piece of rope it is frayed but not broken. We must get to work to try and right these wrongs but we should not get overly hysterical and claim that the whole country is falling apart. There are problems, but there have always been problems and to claim that this contemporary period is exclusively broken or our society is in some disastrous state seems to me to be slightly over the top. Cameron is right to emphasise these issues and highlight the terrible poverty, violence, obesity and drug abuse that pock mark the nation but we must not forget that the overwhelming majority of people have their morality, personal responsibility, common decency and social responsibly intact, and not broken. It is an insult to suggest otherwise.