Libby Purves concurs with Cameron’s diagnosis of society in the Times today:
"As Mr Cameron said, there’s a lot we have started to shed responsibility for — public manners, civic pride, carrying a job through and taking the rap if we foul up. And the way has been led by a governmental and official culture of denying guilt and refusing ever to resign, and a mania for removing responsibility from individuals by hedging them in with restrictive rules. Head teachers, police, NHS staff, museum curators, officials of all sorts are made to spend far too much time in the tedious tasks of “accountability” (meaning form-filling and pretending to have hit imaginary “targets”). Individuals, meanwhile, fear to tackle nuisances in case they themselves are jumped on by the law."
Click here to read yesterday’s civility speech in full (over 4500 words) or continue reading this post to see a few extracts. It brilliantly articulates some of the subtler, underlying problems with 21st century British society. The New Culture Forum has also covered the speech.
"A civilised society is a civil society – in the literal sense of being civil to one another. Civility is what builds the institutions and traditions that make our society strong. Civility is not something you can measure – like the size of the economy or the productivity of public services. Indeed, to me, this is a sign of its importance[…] We have come to assume – and to resign ourselves to the fact – that civility is on a permanent and inevitable downward slide. This is curious, since in other areas, we assume the opposite. We don’t assume that the economy will get worse."
"Think of the messages parents give children from an early age. Be careful. Don’t do that. Do it this way. I’ll do that for you. That seems to me a fair summary of most of the messages that government gives the public. We are infantilising people – treating them like children, with the result that many of us are behaving like children. Policy is made for the minority who do wrong rather than the majority who do right."
"We need to reform our welfare system so it encourages responsibility… reforming Incapacity Benefit, for example, so there are clear incentives to get people off it and into work wherever possible. We support the direction that the government is now taking on welfare reform. But we would be different in one crucial respect: we intend to place far greater emphasis on the small local organisations and social enterprises that can play such an effective role in getting people off welfare."
"And we must remember too that the civic institutions that matter in our communities go well beyond local government. A community includes the sports club and the church, the charity and the local business, the school and the GP’s surgery. It includes all the private associations that people form for public purposes – to clean up the streets, or look after the elderly, or give teenagers something to do. It is these neighbourhood institutions which, alongside local government, will help bring about the revolution in social responsibility that our country needs."
Stifling voluntary action
"Meanwhile people are prevented from engaging directly in their own communities by a host of laws and regulations designed to protect the vulnerable. The effect of these laws is to prevent the vulnerable from receiving the support they need from the community."