Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Anthony Browne spouts latest broken society piffle

If you want a sense of what the next Conservative government will sound like then read the latest report from Boris Johnson's new Policy Director and Policy Exchange wonk Anthony Browne.

The report entitled 'Has there been a decline in values in British society?' (you can guess the answer) is part of the Joseph Roundtree Foundation's 'social evils series', in which leading think tank wonks dissect our impending social doom.

Browne runs through all the usual nu-con talking points from multiculturalism and moral relativism (bad) to the benefits culture and 'human rights' (note the obligatory quotation marks) - also bad.

Disease-spreading immigrants and muslims are given a wide steer this time, but that aside, this is pretty standard fare from the man soon to be thrust upon London town.

However, what is striking to me in this report is the complete lack of answers given to any of the problems that he outlines.

We learn that society is broken, ipods are symptomatic of our social alienation, families are increasingly messed up, the poor are increasingly dependent, 'human rights' make us irresponsible, benefits make us lazy, Nick Cohen is on the good side, the rest of the left are on the bad side, etcetera, et-bloody-cetra.

But when it comes to solutions, Browne's hand comes up empty. I will quote you Browne's conclusion in full to show you what I mean:

What can be done?

"Policy-makers are left wondering what can be done about all this. The first challenge is to be really clear about what changes have been for the good and what for the bad. The legalisation of homosexuality was a definite improvement, as was the decline on the taboo in pre-marital sex.

"There are many other things we wouldn’t want to change because the benefits they bring are so large. We don’t want to uninvent female emancipation, even if the earlier lack of freedom of women meant fewer families broke up. We can’t uninvent television. Even where there is widespread agreement that we should tackle some aspect of decline, government has been notably ineffective in making much difference.

"In Britain in 2008, we have tried a decade of passing ever more draconian laws to curb behaviour such as binge drinking, but it has just got worse. It is clear that where there has been moral decline it is usually pretty unresponsive to legislation. Behaviour change can be powerfully affected by a change in culture, but a change in culture is notoriously difficult to achieve.

"For half a century we’ve had a value system that declared that the state knew best, and had the right to intervene in the most private part of people’s lives. That, hopefully, is now on the wane. There are many things we can do, not least start talking about it.

"Politicians can use their pulpit to bring to national attention some of the issues that we face as a nation. We can shift legislation, to put more emphasis on responsibilities rather than rights (such as the responsibility to do community work if you want to receive unemployment benefit). But there is no magic bullet. We should be concerned, but not despair. We have an open society that talks about and confronts its problems in a generally honest manner, which is the first step to making things better.  

"There have been improvements but also unprecedented, unsettling declines in values in our own lifespan. Each age has been concerned about moral decline. Ours is no exception –although a lot of what is happening to society now is exceptional."

And that's it. That's all we're getting. Society is on the decline. Laws don't work. Human rights don't work. Nothing works.

So what's your solution Anthony? You actually are a policy maker now. You've got the big job. 

In less than two years you may even have a seat in Number 10. In less than two years it could be you calling the shots in Broken Britain. 

It could be you Anthony. In fact it is you right now. We're all looking to you Anthony. What have you got Anthony? We're waiting for you. What have you got?

You can watch Boris's new Policy Director talk about Broken Britain at 18.00 this evening at the RSA or listen live on their website.


barry rochford said...

Actually, when you read his 'what can be done', true there are no solutions, but so much makes sense in that governemnt intervention has been useless. The most useless intervention was probably Thatcher's 'there is no such thing as society' which encouraged youngsters only to think of themselves. With investment banks collapsing, society can say 'there's no such thing as thatcherism', but the damage has bene done.
It hasn't been so much the assertion of rights that has been the problem - why shouldn't people have rights? But it requires more than governemnt pronouncements to ensure people act responsibly.
The growth of the prison population shows that this problem can't be ignored. However, if all we end up with is harsher sentences, more prisons, security cameras on every corner (well every corner where there's a shopping mall or department store), then the problem will be stated, but answers will be few and far between.
No, I'm not convinced Andrew Browne has a clue, either, but his analysis has some sense to it.

The Troll said...

Of course I'm not suggesting that none of the problems he highlights exist. What I am suggesting is that his solution - that the 'bully pulpit' will nudge them away is a fantasy. What we need (especially in local government) are people who can offer solutions, not people whose only experience is in knocking outs academic versions of Melanie Philips article.

Anonymous said...

The problem the Tories have is that they have spent so long in opposition that they can no longer think of any solutions. All they have got are ways of pointing outr things that have gone wrong from the other guys.

The problem with this is that when they do get into power, like Boris, they just revert to doing what tories always do which is slash and burn.

You can see this in their comments of 'we have had unprecedented groeth in spending but we haven't seen the results' which translated means "let's spend less." It's not actually a solution it is just reversing what has already been done.

I predict that if the Conservatives win the general election we will see very little new, other than just reversing some of the things that have already been done. That is all they've go and the fact that such a blowhard as Browne has risen to the top of Tory thinking says it all.

Helen said...

"...the earlier lack of freedom of women meant fewer families broke up" - fewer famililies broke up before 1948 because divorce was only an option for the rich (until legal aid became available) plus the social stigma. Does he really think that all women would love to spend all day in their pinnies, scrubbing the front step and making traditional English fare such as stuffed lambs' hearts and tripe? Oooh yes, yum, yum, yum. Mrs T of Grantham says: "My husband doesn't shag his secretary because he just *loves* my steak and kidney pudding and my anti-macassars are the whitest in our street!"

Helen said...

Yes, famililies.

The Troll said...

It's almost poetic.

sarah hart said...

This starts to be a useful discussion and how right Helen is about the social agenda - the many traditionally minded Tories (incluidng those who do not allow women to go out to work) would set the social clock back. However, such is the demands of the labour market, that the practical Tories do see women as part of a modern skilled labour force.
Despite everything abhorrent about Thatcher, women in work (albeit largely unskilled and part--time) increased like nothing before between 1980 - 1997. A paradox?
However, I do agree with the comments that the Tories will have no imaginative policies - boot camps, 'short sharp shocks' and 'the birch'. That will stop violence!

Anonymous said...

"We don’t want to uninvent female emancipation, even if the earlier lack of freedom of women meant fewer families broke up"

That's a little ambivalent isn't it? So if it hadn't been invented he wouldn't complain?