The Kaiser Chiefs Do NOT Get to Say They Called This…

Well. These are certainly interesting times to be living in London. Interesting times to be living in England full stop, in fact. In particular, I definitely picked an ideal time to move to Clapham.

I have a bad habit of being more or less completely oblivious to what’s going on in the world, unless it happens in either the tech or movie industries. I subscribe to those blogs and news sites, but I rarely read the paper or turn on the news, so something has to land with quite a thud, more or less in my lap, for me to notice it much of the time. When a waitress walks into the restaurant in which I’m eating and announces that riots have kicked off just outside the station I arrived via around twenty minutes earlier, though, that is something I notice. Likewise, when I can hear the sirens from my bedroom window and see the helicopters flying overhead, I pay attention.

Politics is something I don’t really talk about on this blog, and often avoid discussing in real life. Here, my passion far out ways my knowledge, and this combination amounts to quite the metaphorical JCB when it comes to digging oneself metaphorical hole. That said: I feel recent events merit some comment. Others have already done so, and with eloquence which exceeds my own. Russell Brand (yes, that Russell Brand; whom I continue to find myself impressed with as a writer, scarily enough) and Peter Oborne being two who’ve stood out to me. Fair warning: I’ve read these articles and the writers’ opinions have informed my own.

Frankly: something stinks in British society right now, and it has been ripe for quite some time. It’s only that this summer has finally circulated the odour more fully. The particular element of this bouquet which stands out to me the most is entitlement. We have a whole lot of people in Britain right now who think you receive things because you’re entitled to them. That you become a musician or a celebrity by appearing on a reality television show. That the world owes you and if you’re not receiving then it’s okay to just reach out and take. That where possible you should cheat the system and ring out every last drop that you can. Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you.

Now, I’ve never really known hardship. Not true hardship which my grandparents would recognise it as such. I once had calluses upon my hands, but now they’re soft and if I want to use the phrase “I work wi’ me ‘ands” I have to add “on a keyboard,” sotto voce. I’ve been close to personally destitute more than once, but I could always have solved the problem with a phone call and an ingestion of pride. Realistically, I have no real first hand knowledge of just how bad it can get. Those who rioted last week, were not, for the most part, stealing food, though. They were stealing Nike trainers and 42″ televisions.

42 inches. That’s a big television. It fired off a question in my head: What is the difference between a looter who steals (say) £800 worth of television during a riot, and a politician who bills the state for an £8000 Bang & Olufsen television?

I think the main difference is that the politician doesn’t make you worried about your own physical safety. If you were to choose which of these two people you wished to encounter in a dark alley, you would probably choose the second. It’s one hell of a lot easier to look down upon the former too, isn’t it? To see their act as that of a barbarian, rather than a scampish little white collar criminal. I put it to you, though, that while there may be many deep differences between the individuals, the differences between the two specific acts in question are mostly superficial. In both cases the individual decided they were entitled to something which they had not earned, and then obtained it through the most expedient means available to them.

I’m not trying to excuse those who rioted or looted in any way. I don’t deny that many of them may have had legitimate grounds for protest, but you kind of loose the high ground when you knock over The Car Phone Warehouse and run off with a crate of iPhones. What I’m saying is this: what we saw this month was a symptom, and what scares me the most is that I don’t think we’re even close to a diagnoses of the actual disease, let alone any real notion of what the cure might be.

One last point, and I think this is important. I think Peter Oborne got something dead wrong in the article I linked to above. Specifically, in the tittle: “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom,” and more specifically in his use of the words “top” and “bottom”.

“Bottom” is a dangerous word to use here. A divisive word, and the divides in our society are almost certainly part of the problem. We really need a lot more “us” and a lot less “them”.

“Top”, though, is just plain the wrong word. Britain is, on paper, a monarchy. Functionally, though, we’re a parliamentary democracy. This means that our politicians are not above us. They are not a ruling aristocracy, regardless of what the Tories would prefer. They work for us. They are, at most, our equals.

If you have a comment to make, regardless of whether you agree of disagree, I encourage you to leave it below. If it’s uncivil I am going to either delete it or make fun of you, though.

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  1. #1 by Mat on August 15, 2011 - 1:35 pm

    I agree entirely (with the exception of spelling and grammar). Entitlement is a great problem, and one of the key pitfalls of providing welfare. The key point here is that, if people can get something, they will; regardless of whether it is legally, morally, or otherwise allowed; take it with both hands. The more that is given out, the more people will take, and also the more people will expect to receive. People will also look at others and think “they are getting something for nothing, where’s my share?”, and come to be expectant themselves. Some people will start exploiting the system, and others will wonder “why shouldn’t I?”. This is not just a problem with welfare, as you pointed out, but seems endemic in governmental spending. If a politician can divert funds in some way, and gets away with it, then they will; and others will follow suit.

    It’s like leaving a large plate of cakes on a table in a room full of people, and not telling them that they aren’t allowed to eat them. Politeness will prevent most people from assuming they can eat the cakes, but as soon as someone takes one, everyone will begin to think they can too. You soon end up no cakes, and a room full of people expecting more cake.

    The solution here is fairly basic; police the system properly. Tell people when they can and, more importantly, cannot expect ‘cake’, and they will not keep looking for it, and might possibly go out and earn some for their selves. Close the loopholes and people can’t use them. Catch out the people stealing from the system, and others may be deterred. Only give people what they need from the system (why give out money? Why not food and accommodation vouchers or the like?).

    Of course there are many problems with actually implementing this solution. Firstly, policing is difficult. It involves keeping a record of everyone that is currently claiming benefit, and checking whether they still deserve to receive. It involves everyone along the chain not being corrupt, and bearing responsibility. Secondly, telling people that they cannot claim benefits is unpopular. (Several states in America have recently mandated that everyone submitting a claim for benefits submits to a drug test. This has caused many people to throw up their arms and cry out about infringement of human rights). No politician is going to consider fixing any of the problems in the system if it means they will get voted out. Thirdly, you don’t want to accidentally exclude those people genuinely in need of help. Policing will inevitably do this, as it makes it harder to claim benefits.

    The list of problems continues on, but those are the main three I can see. It’s just frustrating because the welfare systems we have in this country are good, but they could be great. It unfortunately would depend upon people being good people, and that doesn’t happen a lot. Maybe it’s time to let the machines take over…

    • #2 by harveynick on August 15, 2011 - 4:24 pm

      Yes, proofreading is not one of my strong points, and I got tripped up by the Lion autocomplete a couple of times. Feel free to point out any specific spelling/grammar instances and I’ll correct them.

      • #3 by flippingchannels on August 19, 2011 - 12:10 am

        I noticed you said little instead of title in the 4th paragraph up from the bottom. There may be others, but I wasn’t really thinking about it until I saw this comment.

        No biggie though. I’m off to follow your links.

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