Tuesday, 8 March 2005

Great Britain? Think again...

Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin, Churchill... Stonehenge, Canterbury Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, The Angel of the North... The Lake District, the Cornish Coast, the Norfolk Broads, Snowdonia... few would argue that Britain has a heritage, culture and history that is unsurpassed. It's easy to look back at the past and feel a warm glow at being part of a nation that has done so much, given so much.

Think again. Instead of looking back through such red, white and blue-tinted spectacles, take a look through your window at the Britain of today. Take a walk down any provincial high street. What do you see? Gangs of teen thugs, studies in ignorance, loiter on street corners, their every characteristic designed to suggest menace. If you are lucky, they will content themselves with a bit of mindless vandalism, or using their numerical strength to be intimidating. A bit of verbal abuse aimed your way, perhaps. Dare you say anything back? Of course not. At best you will be vilified for abusing their human rights by telling them to behave. At worst they will be carrying a knife.

A trawl through any mainstream newspaper will yield further evidence. Just last week, incredible as it may seem, a two-year old died in Glasgow after being shot with an air rifle. Yesterday, the BBC News website informed us that Police were questioning a man about a missing 34-year-old building society worker after a woman's body was found near an airfield. Such stories are no longer shocking to Britons, it seems - this story came below such "important" news as Virgin Radio offering 3G mobile phone services and Manchester United missing two players for their next Champions League match.

Perhaps such problems are inevitable, given the cartoonish nature of violence in Hollywood's TV and film offerings, the supposed credibility afforded to gun-crime by gangster rap, and computer games wherein success is dependent on aggressive "play". Sadly, the problems in Britain's streets don't stop with violence and anti-social behaviour. Soaring teen pregnancy rates, rampant compensation culture, a justice system that can legitimately favour the criminal over the victim, an education system that is hamstrung by bureaucracy and on obsession with quantitative testing, a health service that is as likely to make you sick as cure you (when you finally get seen, that is)... I could go on...

... so I will. This "green and pleasant land" is anything but - compare our recycling rates with, for example, Australia (something like 12% of all rubbish is recycled here, compared with something like 60% down under). This tiny country, with its burgeoning population, can ill afford more land-fill sites, let alone the ecological catastrophes that are commercial incinerators. What's more, an aged and failing public transport network has led a situation where the only viable solution to the nation's transport woes is just to build more (and wider) roads. That, together with John Prescott's absurd house-building plans, mean that this fair nation of ours is in the process of being tarmac'ed over.

And what has become of the British public? It seems that every other person one meets is like a character from "Little Britain" or "Wife Swap" and, incredibly, finds no shame in this. Worse still is the number of people who are quite happy to act in a self-centred, ignorant manner and do so without so much as a second thought. By way of an example, I challenge you to take up a vantage point in any British high street and time how long it takes for you to see someone littering. Quite often this will be done in clear sight of a waste bin. If you're feeling brave enough to take issue with the offender, prepare yourself for the inevitably profane response. Society as a whole has become so obsessed with its rights - "I have the right to do whatever I like" - that it has completely neglected the concept of personal responsibility. Who's to blame? I don't know, to be honest. Directly, parents who are more concerned with their own lives than being responsible parents, perhaps. Indirectly, 18 years of right-wing Tory rule may have bred a "me, me, me" culture. The increasing globalisation, specifically Americanisation, of mainstream Britain is another factor, perhaps. Maybe the media should take some of the blame, for establishing the cult of celebrity as a new religion, and disseminating its pathetic gospel. Whatever the cause, I fear it is too late for Britain; too large a proportion of its population seem happy to embody everything I've outlined here, favouring their rights over their moral responsibilities because it's easier and provides more instant gratification.

Great Britain? Don't make me laugh. If not for family and friends, I would leave tomorrow.

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