Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A Thing I Don't Understand

Yes, I know this could be the first in a series of 493826473892837 posts. But don't worry, it's a one-off.

Here's the thing. Why do politicians work hard to become governors of this country, and then slag it off?

I'm so fed up with hearing about 'broken Britain'; that we're all passive people living in soulless communities; that our communities need organisers who will chivvy us all into doing voluntary work and taking control of our neighbourhood services.

You know what? In the Britain I have lived in all my life, my family members, friends, and neighbours have mostly been active, powerful people, doing large quantities of formal and informal voluntary work, and running lots of neighbourhood services themselves. Everything from sports clubs to play and stay groups, fund-raisers for - or in memory of - individuals to big community events. But this seems to count for nothing where the politicians are concerned.

It's odd that Britain has such a miserable image to its residents. I'm not saying it's a perfect society. How could it be? It's made up of human beings, and none of us are perfect. Yes, there are problems: unemployment, anti-social behaviour, domestic violence - the list goes on. But, the whole country, 'broken'? When we have a world class national health service, an excellent education system, a thriving third sector, reasonable public transport in most places, good and mostly well maintained roads... yes, again, I know none of these things are perfect. Everyone has their stories of a doctor who didn't listen, or a nurse who didn't care, or a teacher who couldn't teach, or a school that wasn't user-friendly, a charity that couldn't help, a village where there are no buses, or a great big pothole. But that doesn't mean the whole of our society is broken. Look at Zimbabwe, Yemen, Somalia. Those are, arguably, broken societies. Bits of our society may be dented - the bodywork needs attention and it could do with a full oil service - but it's not broken; in fact, it's still driving along, and shouldn't have any trouble getting through its next MOT.

What I see in our society is people living effective lives and helping each other in a myriad of ways. I see single parents, people with illness and/or disability, and those who are out of work getting support from all quarters. I see people who would help each other in a heartbeat, and do - and who don't think that's anything special. I see organisations offering help for practically everything, much of that help free to the people who are most in need.

I'd like to see our politicians acknowledging some of the many, many positive aspects of our society. Apart from anything else, the way they've been talking over the last few months is hardly motivational. Imagine the MD of a big business saying to the staff, 'this business is broken, you're all passive and soulless, and your work is useless crap.' Would that encourage staff to work much harder, or demoralise them so they make less effort? Bit of a no-brainer, really.

But this is just my view. What do you think? Is Britain 'broken' and full of miserable, alienated people, or do we live in a society that functions really quite well for most of its members, most of the time?


Cathy said...

I don't think Britain is broken but, in the big cities at least, it is being fragmented into smaller groups/communities and people are far less willing or able to step forward for voluntary work.

I did voluntary work, supporting families affected by autism, for ten years and as older members of the committee stood down no one came forward to take on the roles. The group is now closing down as members only seemed interested in what they could gain from its services rather than what they might give back. I think though that it's indicative of an inherent selfishness rather than a 'broken' society.

The 'Big Society' concept will flounder on the fact that voluntary groups have been heavily dependent on grants from local government which will be disappearing with the cuts. Many will disappear, leaving less rather than more support. People also have less time to volunteer, now that most families have to have two working parents, just to be able to pay the bills.

We do have many things of which to be proud, such as the NHS, despite its occasional faults. We have universal education, but our standards have fallen behind many other European countries and individual needs are not being met in the rush to achieve targets. There is room for improvement but a 'broken' society? No, it's not that bad.

HelenMHunt said...

I think, as always, it's a bit of both. And largely, the bits that are broken are broken because successive governments have damaged them.

Carol said...

I couldn't agree with you more!! I don't think our society is you I think it's a bit dented. I see people helping each other every single day and I hate that we are constantly told, by the powers that be, that no-one is doing anything!

C x

KarenG said...

What an interesting post! Not living there, I don't know what you're referring to about the politicians saying the country is broken. But if someone in leadership is saying it, then it reflects on their leadership and they are blaming the people for their own deficiencies. Funny-- in the U.S. it's the people saying the government is broken. Which is our fault too since we elect the leaders. I like your comparison of the business. So true. Leading by example is the best way.

Queenie said...

Cathy, I think also that voluntary groups sometimes quite naturally expand as more people get interested, and then contract after a while as those people get ill/bored/distracted, and then perhaps expand again with another group. Not that that's always the case but sometimes - and it's still not evidence of a broken society! I do agree that there's room for improvement, and that resourcing is key.

Helen, even-handed as ever!

Carol, me too.

Karen, I think you're so right that it reflects on their leadership and they're blaming people for their own deficiencies. Maybe if we all stopped blaming each other it would help. Might take a miracle, though.

Anonymous said...

If anything's broken, it's bloody politics! They just love to invent a problem so they can be seen to "fix" it.

Anonymous said...

Agree! I feel like no-one gets praise for doing things right, which may motivate people or organisations who need a bit of motivation. I suppose I think there are some who could do more, and I often think I could, but yes, I think broken is too far. I think too that it shouldn't all be on the voluntary sector to deal with the dents; we have a means of having our say already which is via our MPs and maybe they need to listen a bit more...

Talli Roland said...

As an 'immigrant' and a new citizen, I must say that I love Britain! It's vibrant, diverse, and has eveything one could ask for. Plus, the economy is (or was) much better than back home. There are problems but nothing that warrants the whinging of most. It's a great place!

Queenie said...

Cap'n, I've been wondering whether David Cameron has been saying all this stuff about how terrible Britain is so that, in a few years when he wants to be re-elected, he can say 'look how much better it is'.

Hilary, I wish they would ACTUALLY listen instead of talking all the time about how much they're listening. Someone should tell them it's not possible to do both!

Talli, that's great to hear, thank you!