Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Friday, May 13, 2005

British Mass Hysteria

On the 1st of March I wrote a post complaining that the nation is slowly whipping itself up into a frenzy about ever smaller and smaller things in terms of national significance.

This hasn't been better summed up than in the nonsense of the past couple of days. I've been finding it hard to believe that people are seriously getting themselves worked up over an item of clothing, but when the Express announced its new "Crusade!" today that hoodies should be banned, I realised that this nation is in the grip of a seizure of stupidity, led by the moronic "free press". We love to hail our free press as the finest in the world, holding the government to account. But they sure are pillocks.

You would think this nation would tire of moral panicking on demand of the Express, the Mail, the Sun and the Mirror, but no... it seems we are just as eager for it as ever. The tiresome weekly demands from these papers never seem to come to anything, but they sure as hell create a fine excuse for a good few days of the worst journalism the country has to offer, where anything and everything can be linked back to the initial item of moral panic. The problem now is that we no longer have a government who can act as the voice of reason, ready to inject a little seriousness into the debate.

Instead, they roll over and prepare another crime and disorder bill for Parliament to digest. Another piece of badly thought out, poorly drafted legislation hurtles towards the statute books. Meanwhile, the real issues remain off the agenda, for they aren't vote winners. Let's face it: you either talk tough (and talk is cheap), gain support, ride to the rescue of the nation and then look like a saviour, or you could look at the real problems in the destruction of society from further isolation, which might cost a lot of money and also might look "weak".

There is no contest.

This government has also gone so far as to realise the power and the opportunity a good old fashioned moral panic creates. It even whips them up by itself now: witness the rubbish talked about the threat of terrorism during the passage of the "Anti-Terror" legislation. It's funny how since that passed, we've had nine or ten control orders placed on people and then absolutely nothing since then. Are we really expected to believe that the threat of terror was so high that nothing less than the suspension of Habeas Corpus was necessary to defeat these 10 individuals? Do we really need so much legislation to tackle every single ill in society? If there really was such a threat from terror, why have no more control orders been issued?

We have a government that is media obsessed. It is so focused on pandering to certain segments of society that it would drop its trousers for them if it was asked. As many people, including myself, warned about New Labour, it is not remotely interested in resolving the real problems of society. It seeks power purely for the sake of it, and when in government it will do as much as it can to hold onto power, even if it means selling itself down the river for the latest craze. The traditional Labour project is dead.

Meanwhile, Britain slides into fever over pieces of cotton. It is not the government's role to tell people what they can and cannot wear. There is no uniform for society. We must stop blaming the youth for everything and anything. There are problems, I admit, but they are vastly overstated. Attempting to demonise people wearing hoodies (criminalisation is not feasible) will only tend to make the problem worse. I have not worn a hoodie in many years, and now I'm getting the urge to go out and buy one just for the sake of rebellion. Now they have been given their official recognition as the Most Evil Item of Clothing, you can be sure that sales are going through the roof in stores nationwide. What better way to express your contempt of adulthood than to wear the Evil Garment and thus prove your rebel credentials?

Groupthink is bad for society. This is the problem. We are increasingly at risk of setting off intergenerational warfare in this country. We have adults - who have the power to stop this nonsense but choose not to - who believe that they are the last bastions of "normal" society. Only they can save us from certain doom. Meanwhile, there are children, ever more emancipated, who feel the oppression of adults on them on a permanent basis means they must be rebelled against at every chance, in order to disrupt the social order that adults want to inflict on them.

Neither position is correct. Neither group has the right to be obeyed. Mistrust breeds further mistrust, and we are already deep within this cycle that it looks increasingly difficult to get out of. There is far too much generalising in society. We've got to get back to realising we are dealing with individual cases here. Each individual case likely has an individual problem. Hoodie wearing may or may not be a symptom of a much wider problem, and it's blindingly obvious to say that the hoodie itself is not causing it. Sure, many individual cases will have similar problems, but the generalisation is unhelpful. Each one needs to be dealt with down at their level, in their language, and dealt with in a way that empowers the individual to choose to better themselves. Forcing the issue often makes the problem worse.

Having said that, there are a lot of adults who have serious problems too. The breakdown of deference in society is a very good thing. Class barriers are deeply wrong. That doesn't mean there should be a certain level of respect for fellow humans, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the people who start these crusades are middle and higher class members of society who are endlessly concerned that their rank on the social ladder is in serious jeopardy. Of course, this is a generalisation - something I have just said is bad. But it is a similarity that will occur time and time again. The individual adult cases will also vary.

But is there something that can be done to make some initial progress? Yes. It's very simple. It's also free.

Reopen lines of communication. Talk. Listen. React. Calmly. Restate. Debate. Resolve. There is a way to work out what the problem is for everyone, but be prepared to accept that you might also be a problem. Change is needed from every direction. Only when each side knows what the other wants, and has been able to cast aside all prejudices, can a genuine solution be worked upon. The solution might take time, effort and yes - even money. By doing this, we instantly work upon solving the first problem at the root of this whole business: the isolation and fragmentation of individuals and subcultures in society.

In this case, the government can set an example... perhaps even lead the way. But it chooses not to.

Another wasted opportunity, lost in a further mire of blustering authoritarianism. Thanks, Tone.


Since the end of the election I've been unable to drive myself to post anything new or remotely interesting. I've been following the discussion about PR on certain blogs and injecting a note of caution that PR will not save the day in British politics. It is certainly a step I would like to see taken, but I just cannot decide between the plethora of systems available. All I can say is that I don't want to see a list system, and all those who are advocating STV are deluded. It may be good, but it's never going to be acceptable to politicians in this country. Even the Lib Dems professed support for it is probably not sincere.

The only options are for AV (which is still not proportional), AV+ (slightly more proportional, and probably more likely), or AMS (the most proportional of the three and retains a constituency link too), such as that in Germany, Scotland and Wales. I know I don't want AV, and I fear AV+ will be used to destroy the Tory party and not for genuine reasons. I like AMS, but it may be a sudden shock to the political culture of this country to see permanent coalition governments become the new order of the day. AMS is like a more inclusive version of FPTP... most countries with AMS end up with two blocks, one of the right wing, one on the left wing. Governments can be extracted, but at least now the new government would command more than 50% of support.

But we need more than PR. The politicians themselves could do with a good clearout. Michael Howard's new beauty contest Shadow Cabinet fills me with dread as to who we're going to be seeing a lot of in the next 20 years, and I fear that Blair has left his legacy on the Labour party for decades, or at least, now in his final term he will move to ensure that's the case. As for the Lib Dems, it's very tough to see where they go now. They will need a new leader eventually, and I just can't see who that might be.

In the face of this, AMS won't make much difference. We'll still get the three main parties holding a considerable majority of the seats. We might see a couple of Green MPs, UKIP MPs and very likely BNP MPs given their share of the vote at the last election. Veritas might even be lucky to scrape one. But it's just tinkering at the edges. British politics needs a much more radical reform, only I'm not sure how it can be achieved. A written constitution wouldn't go amiss. Perhaps it's time to bin the whole system and hold some elections to a constituent assembly, charged with redrawing British politics from scratch. That would certainly be more interesting.

Who am I trying to kid?

As for this blog, I am not going to continue it for much longer, I'm afraid. I know my many fans will be disappointed (ha!), but I just don't have the energy to continue ranting about the slow descent of the British into moral panics over the slightest things. Hooded tops, anyone?

More on that very soon...