Monday, October 06, 2008

I’ve always said the same thing, which is that the end is partly nigh

Just before the Tory conference got going, David Cameron did a TV interview.

David Cameron has made a tactical retreat over his claim that Britain had a "broken society", saying instead that "parts of Britain" are broken. … Mr Cameron denied changing his tune, insisting: "I've always said the same thing, which is that parts of our society are badly broken."

Is this true? Has he “always said” that only “parts” of society are broken?

Of course not. He’s used the phrase “broken society” without any such qualification, over and over again. So, has he ever said that only parts of Britain are broken? Well, possibly, but I’ve been unable to find a single instance. Sure, he’s never said explicitly that the whole of society is broken, but he’s not nearly stupid enough to tell such an obvious lie. Instead, he mongers doom about “our broken society”, unqualified, knowing that he’s given himself room for legalistic wiggling if it comes to that.

But his response to claims that ‘brokenness’ is only partial is more usually to dodge the charge and up the ante. Here’s what he said just a couple of days after that interview:

Some say our society isn’t broken. I wonder what world they live in. …it’s not just the crime; not even the anti-social behaviour. It’s the angry, harsh culture of incivility that seems to be all around us. When in one generation we seem to have abandoned the habits of all human history that in a civilised society, adults have a proper role - a responsibility - to uphold rules and order in the public realm not just for their own children but for other people’s too.

And then there’s this, back in July, arguing that the problem is deeply pervasive:

we are living in a country where being stabbed is no longer the dark make-believe of crime fiction but the dreadful reality of our children’s daily lives. … The thread that links it all together passes, yes, through family breakdown, welfare dependency, debt, drugs, poverty, poor policing, inadequate housing, and failing schools but it is a thread that goes deeper, as we see a society that is in danger of losing its sense of personal responsibility, social responsibility, common decency and, yes, even public morality.

And this, in January:

I want to speak about the senseless, barbaric and seemingly remorseless prevalence of violence in our country.

Did he then explain that while it may seem this way, violence is not actually remorselessly prevalent? Of course not:

The culture of violence in our country isn’t the concern of any one community, any one gender or any age group…the terrible truth is, none of us know who next will fall, whose family will next be destroyed and whose community will next suffer.
But these horrific and mindless acts of violence are the worst expression of a phenomenon we see all around us. A growing culture of disrespect.

[Tells the story of one victim of violent crime]
This is not an isolated incident. It’s just a particularly vicious clash of an ever-present and unnerving background hum of violence which we have become accustomed…
We’re collapsing into an atomised society, stripped of the local bonds of association which help tie us together.

If Cameron wants to tell us the whole country’s going to the dogs and/or hell in a handbasket, fine. But he doesn’t get to then turn around and pretend he’s not doing that.


Liam Murray said...

This will read like a sneery Tory riposte which it certainly isn't but this post, along with a few others you've done on Tory dossiers about the economy and attacks on Brown etc. can be reduced to one sentence:

"Tories exaggerate and mislead to maximise electoral advantage"

I always read these posts with a 'No sh** Sherlock' expression, wondering what the wider point or angle is. We agreed to differ before on whether or not Tory tactics were materially different from Labour's pre-1997 (and adjusting for an internet-savvy 24hr news media world) and that issue is still at the heart of this.

Of course 'Broken Society' is a bland campaigning trope that means whatever Cameron & his team want it to mean at a given time - it can no more withstand detailed analysis that 'Tough on crime, tough on....' ever could or Obama's 'change' narrative or any number of examples from all parties.

I suspect from Cameron's point of view if opponents only seem to be tackling him on these things rather than any substantive policy issues then he'll be quite happy...?

Tom Freeman said...

If Cameron's opponents are all of my calibre, then he'll be in Downing Street by the end of the week! If I've given the impression that I think of myself as someone able to campaign meaningfully or to have any influence at all, then I apologise...


You're right that this sort of thing is only to be expected from an opposition party (and converse things from a governing one), but I think there's still no harm in us small fry pointing some of it out.

Think of Fraser Nelson at the Spectator and his 'Brownie'-watch. Some of his points are very fair, others more matters of opinion and some utterly specious, but it's an exercise worth doing even if the overall effect is minimal (and the Speccy's readership is vastly bigger than mine).

If I can get half a dozen people to gently nod to themselves, or even to make it to the end of a post awake, then I count that as a good day's blogging.

(Another line of reply is that this 'broken society' thing is much more than a soundbite: the analysis that street violence is part of a much broader social decay, which is caused by family breakdown and an intrusive state, leads to certain policies. Perfectly valid to argue against this chain of thought at its source.)

PS Not heard much from you lately. I thought one of these anti-Cameron posts might flush you out!

Liam Murray said...

That's fair enough. I 'gently nod' at your posts quite often but, you won't be surprised to learn, also regularly shake my head ('gently' as well).

Don't sell yourself short either - arguably if it was bloggers Cameron had to convince (or Brown) they'd have a far toughter time than they do at the hands of Richard & Judy et al.....

Tom Freeman said...

Actually, if this credit crunch gets much worse, he'll be a typo away from being right - we'll be a broke society...

Liam Murray said...

"we'll be a broke society..."

That's far too nice a line to be buried in a comment - delete quickly and post a witty post on it....