It’s not broken but the instructions are missing

Dr Edmund Chattoe-Brown, Department of Sociology, University of Leicester:

The most important question is not whether Britain is broken but how we decide if it is. The first question produces futile restatements of personal opinions (usually based on no evidence). The second sets up the kind of debate that might actually achieve something. (It is an interesting question how much political debates founder on an inability to see the difference between these two approaches.) The fundamental job of social science is to tell us what is going on. What is happening to crime rates? Is the distribution of wealth more unequal than was? Is Britain classless? Given the inevitable difficulties of measuring behaviour, social science gives convincing answers to these questions. For example, John Weeks clearly shows how UK income inequality got significantly worse (and has remained worse) since about 1984 regardless of the party in power. Of course, one can argue about the weaknesses in any kind of research but this doesn’t undermine the basic result any more than miscounting a barrel of marbles stops there being ‘a lot’ of marbles in a typical barrel. Politicians sometimes cast doubt on the fine detail of research hoping it will distract from the embarrassing consistency of the ‘big picture’ and citizens need to know enough to stop them getting away with that.

The first challenge social science faces is just letting people know what is going on. While about 50% of the population don’t think of themselves as belonging to a class (British Social Attitudes), class (as measured by sociologists) clearly shows that routine manual workers have a death rate that is more than twice as high as large employers and higher managers. This ought to worry us. It would appear that, as far as explaining what is happening is concerned, sociologists actually do know better than ‘the person in the street’ about class. They certainly have better evidence for the claim that class is still important to everything from educational success to life expectancy than do politicians talking about a classless society.

When it comes to solving these problems, however, things immediately get a lot edmund-armsfold-white-bgharder though social science can still help. It is one thing to show an association between class and mortality but another to know what causes it and what can be done through policy to change it. It is a commonplace that however the school system is changed to promote equality, those with material and other resources will try and ‘buy’ advantage (whether by moving to better school areas, paying for coaching or whatever). Thus, introducing any policy will also change behaviour in ways that may defeat the policy.

The other thing that complicates matters is that people are just different in what they ‘mind about’ as citizens and social science cannot tell people what to want. (Though sociology, by closely observing real settings, may help to give people the sympathy to care more). While almost nobody would claim that murder is a ‘good thing’, people often believe that a certain amount of unemployment is a ‘good thing’ to promote market competition. (I wonder how many people who believe this have actually been unemployed however?)

Thus the job of a democratic government is, at the same time, to find out what people mind about and figure out how to sort it out given what is actually going on. This is what ‘evidence based’ policy means, the idea that we should do things based on an accurate perception of what is happening and how it might reasonably be changed. Put like this, it is hard to see what the alternatives are. Do what bankers like? Follow your nose and hope for the best? The very fact that there is a debate about whether Britain is broken suggests that these approaches aren’t seen to be working.

Unfortunately, not only do governments tend to use social science like a drunk uses a lamp post (more for support than illumination) but they seem to take every opportunity to undermine its value. Constant ‘fiddling’ with politically sensitive statistics makes accurate comparisons impossible (which is sometimes very convenient). Insisting on ‘applied’ research that contributes to ‘the bottom line’ makes it very unlikely that issues of inequality and disadvantage will be tackled (since disadvantage often helps profitability with its potential for exploitation). Making social science degrees ‘too expensive’ by withdrawing funding will ensure a new generation of voters too ill trained in critical evaluation of evidence to challenge government platitudes (and, in turn, a shortage of competent academics to provide evidence). Even the idea that education is a ‘public good’ (which benefits society as a whole and not just the receiver) has come from social science. Like defence and street lighting, economics clearly shows that the market will under provide public goods. Rather than a debate based on emotion, let the government prove that education only benefits the receiver and therefore (unlike defence or transport) deserves little government support. Only once we really know what is going on (and know we can trust what we know) can we move on to trying to decide how much we mind and what we might do to sort it out. Far too often political engagement with social science doesn’t even get to first base in this regard.

Dr Edmund Chattoe-Brown is a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Leicester and teaches research methods on the MSc. His research deals with decision-making, computer simulation, social networks and models of innovation and change.

He has also written for Leicester Exchanges on ‘Happy nation – should we measure national well-being?’: Happiness and the unknown unkowns

Find more posts about: Is Britain broken?

30 Comments

  1. Pamela Read
    Posted 23/03/2011 at 09:31 | Permalink

    How do I get my address removed from this site ?

    Please help

    [Reply]

    LXmoderator Reply:

    Should be all done now Pamela. There was one feed that had gone undetected but we’ve cancelled it now. Best wishes.

    [Reply]

  2. Mark O'Sullivan
    Posted 20/03/2011 at 12:46 | Permalink

    I have never seen a definition of “broken Britain”, which I had thought of as simply a slogan invented by the Conservative Party and the Daily Mail. So it was a surprise to stumble across this website.

    However, my observation, for what it is worth, is that we can divide the idea into a number of fields. The first field is the political: it is felt that there has been over some time a growing cynicism about politicians and consequent damage to the political process. No one is quite sure why – the political parties criticise each other about it – but everyone recognizes that the expenses scandal in the House of Commons is widely felt to bring it to culmination as an issue. I am not convinced of this. It seems to me that there has been a suspicion of politicians in Britain for a very long time, indeed, that it was perhaps almost a condition of the 1688 settlement. Manifestations of it which are pointed to, such as low turnout at the polls or poor ratings of politicians in surveys, have actually been around for many years, though they do go up and down a bit. I suspect that the concern about this is nothing to do with the public, but rather growing insecurity among politicians themselves. As a civil servant for many years I was astonished by the self-importance of members of Parliament, and am not surprised that they have been very much taken aback by the expenses crisis (though in truth, I thought, it was grossly overblown by the media). I suspect that politicians are starting to come to terms with the fact that they are much less powerful than in the past: in the 1970s they could aspire completely to restructure the economy, and could devise an elaborate plans behind closed doors which would only be revealed when complete. Now, global markets, the European Union, universal instant communication, and media which are deeply skilled at manipulating powerful images have pitifully constrained their room to manoeuvre. It is not surprising that they think something is wrong.

    The second field is the economic. This seems to argue that the British economy is in crisis because of excessive regulation of business (eg health and safety, licensing of entertainment venues, equalities, employment protection, TUPE, money laundering), threats in particular to small business, and above all an overweening public sector. However, most regulation these days seems to be imposed by international treaty. As to the public sector, I have to say that in the 1970s a lot more of the economy was run by the state and there has been a lot of growth since then; that there are a lot of quasi-monopolies in the private sector which are just as feather-bedded as the public sector; and that industries like health services or railways are going to make a very similar contribution to the national economy whether they are publicly owned or not. There are some structural economic problems in Britain, such as a failure to train people in workplace skills or the maintenance of an excessively high exchange rate, but they are very longstanding, not recent, and there has never been a determined effort by any politician to address them.

    The third field is the coherence of society. This is perceived in town centres ruled in the evenings by gangs of drunken teenagers, in rising crime, in long queues for health treatment, and in general feelings of personal alienation and a lack of material improvement. I think this is partly the persistence of images from the past which current politicians find it in their interest to reanimate (the NHS has improved hugely in the past 10 years, and violent crime has fallen over a longer period, though for reasons that no-one seems able to understand). But I would suggest that it’s helpful to think about this in two sections, one about the decline in public services, the other about a more general feeling of disintegration.

    The perception of a decline in public services is troubling. After all, we continue to get richer year by year. In 1963 we could afford to give all our students generous maintenance grants, and fund the NHS so well that prescriptions were free. Now, except in Scotland and Wales, everyone seems to accept that this is impracticable, even though in real terms our economy is twice as big and distributed across a similar population. I don’t really have an answer to suggest to that one. But maybe it’s down to our having led the industrial revolution, which might have generated attitudes of entitlement, so that we don’t feel as the French do that it’s all right to pay lots of tax because we have to pay for our social benefits, nor as the Americans do that it’s all right for the poor to live in misery because everyone else enjoys low taxes. Hence we want it both ways, and as we fall further behind in the international wealth stakes this becomes more and more uncomfortable.

    What about the more general feeling of disintegration? Feelings of personal alienation have been with us for a long time (see Freud, Marx, or indeed Christianity or Islam), and feelings of status about material improvement are probably down to slow growth in the developed economies, advertisers exciting ever greater aspirations, and the fact that over the past 10 years the fruits of economic improvement have in general gone to the rich rather than the wider public. As for the more general issue, much of the unhappiness is no doubt down to the fact that we tend to find utopia in the past, maybe because we form our attitudes in our teens and by the time we reach middle age the changed world about us looks unfamiliar and inferior (the myth of a golden age goes back to the Greeks and beyond). And there will always be problems of specific disadvantaged groups (for example Muslims in the North of England) or antisocial cultural phenomena (such as excess alcohol use among the young) which need attention, though they will obviously move around from time to time (we are no longer as bothered by road safety or housing as we were in the 1960s, since these have greatly improved).
    But perhaps there is something more specific as well, about how people form their collective identity. Whether this is the decline of empire, a failure at last of James I and VI’s project of “Britain”, the decline of our international status, pluralism in race and religion beyond some threshold, the end of large collective workplaces, the decline of monarchy as a focus for identity, or something quite different…is something on which I have as yet no view.

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    Mark O'Sullivan Reply:

    “feelings of status about material improvement” should have been “feelings of stasis about material improvement” (itself not a very elegant phrase). Apologies.

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    I really like this. Balling up problems into catch phrases (like “Broken Britain”) is another great way of avoiding genuine understanding. Economically, we might be going great guns while socially we are going to hell in a handcart.

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  3. Adrian
    Posted 16/03/2011 at 15:57 | Permalink

    The Centrality of ‘Things’

    For anyone trying to reconcile or seek to wrestle with the challenge social science faces, e.g. “is just letting people know what is going on” It is essential to grasp the centrality of ‘things’. Community engagement is about ‘things’, it is about being excluded from ‘things’, because of a lack of money, low self-esteem. It is about not having ‘things’ like a job, self-respect, self-confidence, justice, or any plans for the future.
    The gap between the disengaged, those that have little or no conception of what it is like to be trapped, in a society that excels on lipservice, but fails to listen. It is as true today as it ever was: ‘if we fail to listen we shall not be heard’. And, thus the system remains largely unchanged because no one can be arsed to do the hard work of listening, and then ensuring that those who commissioned the report also listen, but above all actually engage with the findings and then act. There is the rub! For action does indeed make cowards of us all… Perhaps the recommendations are far beyond the resources actually available, or perhaps it was just an exercise to gather information to ‘tick the box’ and ensure that the professionals appear to be engaged and politicians can pontificate. Community for so many ‘invisible people is about having ‘things’ like isolation, depression, loneliness, ill-health, run-down estates, noisy and often anti-social neighbours! Ask yourself, where would You begin to tackle such issues? Would such ‘things’ enable and encourage you to entertain such half-baked ideas as CaMoron’s “Big Society”? The failure to acknowledge the centrality of ‘things’ has been and sadly remains the major barrier to engaging those who are trapped by such ‘things’, and likewise challenging those who are disengaged from such ‘things’ to realise that: “apathy” is an overused excuse to describe and dismiss those who are trapped by ‘things’ such as an environment that closes in on them, or ‘things’ that overwhelm and dispirit such as when ‘things’ breakdown or get damaged, they remain broken and damaged.
    When people are being trapped by their situation and discounted as apathetic, ‘rough & ready’, scroungers, poor, disadvantaged, is it any wonder that they become ‘excluded’. A sense of self-worth is vital to our lives; too often this is neglected and undermined by a paternalistic approach that reinforces the gap between the ‘helper’ and the ‘helped’. It can lead to a relationship that disables and dismantles self-worth, ‘brick-by-patronising-brick’. Affirmation is the tool to address the needs we find within our communities, not through the throw back to some Victorian-style-charity (“Big Society”), which traps the poor in their poverty. We do not need the imposition of a disengaged concept of “Big Society” we require a “Just and Compassionate Society” that listens and actually engages with people and not for people. The idea of some “Big Society” is simply the repeated mistake of keeping the poor impoverished of skills, confidence, and dignity. It does not assist in the radical action of enabling the disengaged to become a little less disengaged and the trapped a little less trapped. The notion of the Victorian “Big Society” just serves to make the ‘helper’ feel good, and the ‘helped’ still dependant. This dependency destroys self-worth, reinforcing a sense of helplessness.
    We need to urgently reconcile our society, the disengaged and the trapped. However, I fear that the gap is already too wide, and events since the ‘the Crash of 08’ have accelerated the universal abyss between the ‘mega-rich’ and the rest of the planet. We are all familiar with the reasons, or the spin, for the crash and the subsequent bank bailouts when we were told that the Banks were to big to fail. I am afraid once that lie had been swallowed is was only a matter of time before we would be facing a series of “crises” that would witness the rich and powerful with their snouts at the trough over and over again. Giving themselves obscene bonuses whilst the weaker sections of society were told that they would be carrying the cost through cuts in service, unemployment etc etc. There is more than a whiff of corruption in the air. The bankruptcy that is most self-evident is the bankruptcy of any kind moral or ethical code that used to in days long gone at least give an illusion of society and possibly, just possibly ensure the lie that we are all in this together fooled the majority. I do not see how this creditability can ever be restored. Without we stand on the very edge of self-destruction. For as a wise man once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere.” (Martin Luther King Jnr).

    Adrian.

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    Hereward the Wake Reply:

    Bang on Adrian.Especially-corruption-bankruptcy of any morals and ethics and
    the requirement of illusions.

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    Bronwen Reply:

    How do we begin to disillusion the elite without so frightening them that they take us all with them to self destruction of the planet and its peoples…

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  4. Richard Ogden
    Posted 16/03/2011 at 04:08 | Permalink

    Around 66% of all British children are growing up with separated parents.

    It takes educated men of good standing literally years to get visitation access to their children if the mother objects.

    Yes most get access at some point, but not before years of court action that most people would regard as absurd if they knew about the detail of these cases.

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    But this is why legal involvement in “private” matters is so difficult. Who can say if a women has a “reasonable” basis for objection? Who can say that that educated man of good standing is not an abuser? (Some are.) How can the rest of us decide (given that all the parties in a divorce have axes to grind) if the system as a whole is giving too much power to one side or the other (when so much of the evidence is, by its nature, private). It may be that efforts should be made to speed up the outcomes of these cases for the good of all concerned (particularly the children who await access rights).

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    gerri milner Reply:

    Saying this however there are a significant number of children killed by there fathers every year after their mothers have tryie to deny access. The up comming problems for our nation are 1: the huge numbere of one parent children who just have never seen a healthy relationship between the genders 2: the number of children that bring themselves up or are shunted between carers. by this i mean manny children who have two parents have two absent parents who need to work all day every day, this sofens family bonds so that young people just cant or dont feel able to go to thier parents, because they don’t know them. 3: the level of depresion/ self harm, in children. this is one of the most frightening satistics i have ever herd. if our youngsters are this sad what will happen when we have died and they are in charge. i have herd that its a shigh as 1/4 of girls harm themselves delibratly and 1 in 9 boys though this was suspected of being widely underestemated. 4: bullying, this is so wide spredd and volent with stabbings and mobile abuse, name calling and constant harrasment, when i was a child it was shoving and punching ended in a fight which sorted the pecking order and that was it. 5: drug abuse, seems that every time i walk past two or more teenagers they are smoking drugs. i know that the link between phycossis and weed is still a matter of much debate but these youngsters look and sound hopeless and are doing it to fill a gap bordom (i have ask them)
    If we are to answer the question is our society broken the answer has to focus on where we are going and our young peoples ability to hold society together, i think by the time i am old the youngsters now will have little care or controll of much although some will this disinfranchisement of the current youth is a very sad indication of where this nation is going. i would say brittain is broken hoplessly so that there is little to no hope of us surviving as a nation more than about 50 more years. I think children deserve a parent at home when they get in and that that is the best place to start

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  5. john Allan
    Posted 14/03/2011 at 19:34 | Permalink

    Well, thanks for some quite intelligent and thoughtful comments, for a change.
    I just want to add that I find the assertion quite comical and meaningless.
    I think it came from a Politician who recycled it from a Journalist: both just trying to promote their bigoted opinions.
    I think it was Pamela pointed out that Britain was never really joined up; as some have hinted at – what part, or aspect, of Britain are we talking about ?
    Some people like to drink too much Gin (or whatever), but some did 100 years ago, and before that no doubt it was something else.
    Many people are doing very well, thank you very much.
    30 years ago I predicted there would be no Revolution in the UK in my lifetime because there is too much Vested Interest (in the status quo); what Mr Blair later referred to as “stakeholders” – unfortunately he got too ‘up himself’ and forgot to extend this privilege to the lower classes. What is stretched is peoples’ faith in government and its unhealthy alliance with big business, Dictators, arms dealers, Bankers, American ‘leadership’…..please add to list as you see fit….fond regards fellow thinkers.

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Yes, I agree we really have to watch for an imaginary view of a “Golden Age”. In particular, although we have some idea that more people went to church in Victorian times, we are not at all sure they did it because they were more Godly. It may have been that, then, it was too unacceptable not to go.

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  6. Charlie Blackpool
    Posted 14/03/2011 at 13:41 | Permalink

    One of the biggest problems with this issue are the old “stereotypes”. British society has been in constant change for hundreds of years. The way people have lived together as communities and families has constantly evolved. There seems to be this fixation in the current debate on the idea of marriage and the stereotypical “2.4 children”, yet this was actually just another short phase in our history. Prior to that people often lived in large family groups, mainly a throwback to pre-industrialisation. As society became more afluent and more mobile it progressed to the current stereotype. Now it is moving on and we must adapt to that. It’s not so much that society is broken, it’s just in rapid change. The rest of Europe seems to be coping with that far better than we are, possibly due to that superiority complex we acquired during the days of Empire. Sorry folks, but we are no longer the example that the rest of the world looks up to or aspires to. We need to start taking a look at what other countries/societies and cultures can teach us.

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Agree. And also, even if were true that the “2.4” was typical, it wouldn’t follow that it was “good”. There would need to be an explanation backed up by data.

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  7. Posted 11/03/2011 at 20:25 | Permalink

    This site is of great interest to me as are the views of everyone who has posted. I am currently writing a social/political history on ‘Broken Britain – In the First Decade of the 21st Century’ (the working title).

    I also have a blog at:

    http://thebrokenbritainblog.blogspot.com/

    … and will welcome your comments on this.

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  8. TERENCE WALKER
    Posted 11/03/2011 at 12:27 | Permalink

    I do not believe that Britain is broken but badly bruised after years of incredibly poor leadership which has been and continues to be egocentric rather than democratic. The degree of bruising and indeed concussion is fully demonstrated by the leadership of the government of the day whose representatives continually shoot from the mouth before the brain has had time to engage. A PR man rather than a PM and an unemployable schoolboy economist as Chancellor is scary. All buttons pressed irrespective of interaction remind me of Morcambe and Wise with Previn. Not playing the wrong notes but not necessarily in the right order

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  9. Sagittas
    Posted 10/03/2011 at 10:36 | Permalink

    Edmund Chatoe-Brown makes some very interesting points with which I largely agree. I do not want to err into opinion but I feel that Britain is broken, or maybe just more fragmented than a few decades ago, in the sense that it is no longer a purely unitary state in the political and administrative sense and measuring sense.

    Administrative fragmentation surely has practical implications for the sort of social science research and statistical measurement, for instance class vs health, that Edmund argues should be the basis of British government decision. There are many ‘Britains’ as Edmund states. However, the actions of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies, able to promote differing legal, social and economic conditions within their regions can only add to the diversity of the ‘problem’, or is it ‘problems’ of finding out what is going on.

    Perhaps adding to the diversity just makes it all the more interesting.

    I wish him well.

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Agree. And there is also a challenge now to the costs of collecting the statistics on which part of our understanding depends. Apparently we can no longer afford to understand ourselves. What has gone wrong?

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    Roland Fox Reply:

    No but I am not sure Britain would survive a major earthquake and tsunami We should be aware that nature can really break cities on “the ring of fire” but they tend to recover. I haven’t noticed similar major challenges for Phoenix in the UK only improved housekeeping and being rather self sufficient embracing the BEST GMO crops and not dumping perfectly edible fish back in the sea. The bonus culture seems to be something that Nero would favour certainly not Jesus

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  10. CRILLBO
    Posted 08/03/2011 at 12:31 | Permalink

    Is Britain Broke ? Financially no,we have plenty of money and the reason we are told we are broke,is so that the speculators,bankers and the rich boy tax dodgers can continue ripping off the “Ordinary Citizens” by scaremongering and suggesting we are all doomed,meanwhile they (The Royals,The Rich Bullingdon Boys etc)swan off to their holiday homes and tax havens for R & R.
    When the MPs and so called business elite can tell me which Bank they use in the UK then I will be happy to know they are taking the same risks as me and meeting their tax obligations as well.
    Is Britain Broke ? Morally yes,While the gap between rich and poor is growing the real
    disgrace is the treatment of our elderly,infirm,unemployed and youth who are seeing their future being eroded by the Power Brokers with greed of unimaginable proportions
    and if we don`t see civil unrest soon on our streets I will be disappointed and amazed.

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    philip nash Reply:

    Some form of protest at the continued oppression of the poor accompanied by the profligacy of the rich is inevitable. It is just like Thatcher mark 2. There were plenty of riots then. Just give it time. It may be worse this time around because even the police are being hammered although pensioners are being offered jam tomorrow to buy them off when of course some of them will not be here. Its called PR politics. Three cheers for the Bullingdon boys!

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    Pamela Read Reply:

    What Jam? Those Pensioners existing on the State Pension are already hovering on the Poverty Line. They are about to be given a miserable £3 per week rise. This will not compensate for the horrendous ever rising prices of staple foods.

    It will push them well below the poverty line. Perhaps their millionaire Lords and Masters are hoping to starve them out of existence before the Olympics so as to hide one of the most shameful aspects of our Society.

    Society

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    philip nash Reply:

    I guess jam is the wrong word to use. We have a Tory government intent on increasing the huge gap between rich and poor. After all don’t you expect them to “stuff yuppies” first and the let the rest of us go to hell. The news has just told us that Stephen Hester CEO of RBS (81% public owned) is to receive a bonus of £7million! Remember the bank went bust! When are we going to publicly protest at these obscene carryings on.

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    Pamela Read Reply:

    Yes Philip I remember.At the moment all we can do is to join the march organised by the TUC for Saturday 26th
    March. It’s not much but at the moment it’s all we can do. Maybe there will be more later.

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    Dave Postles Reply:

    There is UKUncut. We have demonstrated against Boots, Vodafone, Arcadia and the banks. People might consider transferring their accounts from the big 5 to the Co-op Bank and all their insurances too, sending a letter to their bank with the reason why they are changing their bank.

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    And actually, it is a big problem to get a clear picture of where the money has gone. We are endlessly told what we can and cannot afford as a nation but public access to the detail of expenditure is far from straightforward.

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  11. Steven Capel
    Posted 08/03/2011 at 08:38 | Permalink

    The biggest cause of the breakdown in society is the demise of the family unit. This has changed the way many people view their position in society and their obligations to it. Things are viewed now as rights and not benefits that should be earned.

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    How do you know this?

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    Steven Capel Reply:

    Knowledge is gained by observation and by experience.My earlier comments are based upon my observations and experience over the previous 60 years.This may not be classed as “knowing” in the truest sense but is this basis for my considered opinion

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    But then we get stuck. Suppose someone else has a different experience and says it is mostly politicians or mostly technology or mostly Japanese imports? Very important to be clear I am not saying you are wrong or doubting your experience but worry where we go from there …

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    Steven Capel Reply:

    I understand your point of view on this and I don’t know where we go from from there. Perhaps the increasing multicultural make up of British society will eventualy lead us in the right direction. It is I believe no coincidence that all the major religions of the world practise a form of marriage as a vehicle not only for raising offspring but as form of building block to create a manageable and functioning society. As in any structure if the blocks that built and support it crumble then without repair the structure will deteriorate and eventualy collapse.

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    Steven Capel Reply:

    That said I will leave this debate and look foreward to future ones

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Perhaps it is a bit unfair to say this after someone has announced they have left but this does look a bit to me like “Leave me to my opinions, I don’t want to have to offer evidence”. And _that_ I fear may be part of the problem.

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    Dave Postles Reply:

    One could argue that it is precisely the concentration by the upper-middle class on their nuclear families which has propitiated selfishness. These people might be conceived as having no interest in society (and the wider world) outside provision for their own offspring, which is often to the disadvantage of society. They have concentrated social, political and cultural capital in their hands. There is evidence to suggest that inheritance strategies have produced perpetual dynasties of the privileged in the last thirty years (recent research on France in particular).
    More offspring? I hope not. That variable too can be regarded as having detrimental consequences. Who will employ them?
    Those with the disposable income might well consider buying articles produced or assembled in this country: cars, computer equipment (yes, there are), for example, to provide employment. Surely a nice Jag is infinitely more beneficial than a BMW/Audi/Merc/VW?

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    I think we cannot hope that any group will ever give up self interest completely. The trouble occurs, as you point out, when some groups are able to use the “rules of the system” to perpetuate their own advantage. But designing a system that does _not_ allow this is actually _really_ hard. Still, we should not give up and the “politicians have to live by everybody else’s rules” manifesto below would be a start. (I would certainly require a much better justification for government secrecy and immunity from criminal proceedings than currently exists. Allowing people to investigate and punish their own misbehaviour – and this applies to police and journalists too – is just _asking_ for trouble.)

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  12. Posted 07/03/2011 at 16:31 | Permalink

    Presumptions abound upon a foundation of presumptions! Why do we comply with the idea that there is any left or right public or private we are brainwashed by education to accept a manufactured status quo without even knowing it is a production. Try to deny that reality can be manufactured and imposed by repetition and imposition It operates right before your eyes and you absorb it without question. Those addicts who absorb it without question are chosen by the system to teach it to others to propagate the imposition of dictatorship by degenerates.

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    How do we get out of this? Is it like the Matrix? What is the true story? (And how do those who manage to see behind the manufacture convince us?)

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  13. Posted 06/03/2011 at 00:49 | Permalink

    Read all the comments and you’ll see a division – people who think about the problem and those who see it only in terms of their own political stance. The second group are part of the problem.
    Is Britain broken? Well, parts are, but the majority is simply confused. On either side of the confusion are diehards, where I live it’s so left-wing, it smothers democracy – can’t speak for other areas. I lay most of the blame with the Labour party who unceasingly strive to create class divisions – probably because they fear they’ll lose their mandate as a party if such old-fashioned divisions (valid a long time ago) disappeared. Yes, they do still survive in places, but the UK is now far much bigger, broader, more cohesive than that(given the chance by politicians and certain high profile, left-wing-leaning Qangos.
    Britain isn’t broken – it’s divided.

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  14. Pamela Read
    Posted 05/03/2011 at 15:15 | Permalink

    Britain was never whole. It has always been divided by an archaic class system; divided by riches and poverty; divided by knowledge and ignorance. Under the current Government the cracks marking the divisions in our Society have widened into enormous
    unbridgeable gulfs that threaten to destroy the very existence of that Society in which we exist.

    [Reply]

    peter voice Reply:

    Iwud have to ask those in power to examine their own credentials ,,, are they capable of bringing about the changes needed or just securing their own comfort in the pecking order ,,

    [Reply]

    Chris Williams Reply:

    Pamela, you say that Britain was never whole (true) but the coalition is trying to drive it apart to the extent of unbridgeable gulfs. High university tuition fees and loans rather than grants do no help to make the gulf bridgeable but otherwise the government is no more actively supporting division than it always done. What has changed is that there is no party now trying to change the balance of power as the old Labour party, particularly just after WW2. Furthermore, the muscular Christian social concience of the 19th and early 20th century has become flabby. If the Prime Mininister is to be given credit of “meaning” in the words ‘Big Society’ then that Christian social concience may be what he is talking about even though he could not describe it as such.

    [Reply]

    Pamela Read Reply:

    Chris
    I find it impossible to give credit to our millionaire PM for anything but the monstrous self-interest that
    lets him act without reference to any moral code. This is the man who recently went on a trip to blatantly promote our part in the International Arms Trade, boasts of his recent contacts with Gadaffi’s Trade Minister and
    was responsible for the supply of tear gas and other weapons used against the opposition in Libya. At home he
    uses the current financial crisis to carry out a Right Wing Agenda designed to privatise our publicly owned Social
    Services and put more of our public wealth into private pockets. Already we see the results. Unemployment
    rising,homelessness rising, building of new Social Housing brought to a standstill, School buildings falling into disrepair and our NHS put under enormous pressure to save money at Patients’ expense. We see the gap between rich and poor widening at an alarming rate, Meanwhile the PM and his millionaire cronies gleefully profit from
    their victims misery.

    [Reply]

    Geoff Hudson Reply:

    Cameron turns to business to get him out of the very deep hole he has dug himself into. I ask you what does he or anyone in the cabinet know about starting a business? He and and his cronies have to come to Coventry to see what business is all about, shake a few Rolls-Royce hands for the cameras, and then disappear to create the next publicity stunt. What does he know about engineering? He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, as was his father. What would University tuition fees have bothered the Camerons? These folk are aliens in a foreign world. They will never be able to correct the wrongs of the rich, because they are the rich. We are suckers of the government for putting up with Diamond – they forget that it is our money that the bankers take, for example, in credit card transactions. Re-structuring the banks – its just hot air! As for blaming the labour party for all our woes, the conservatives were just as palpable in opposition – they were silent about the banks. Cameron is yet another con man. Take to the streets!

    [Reply]

    Pamela Read Reply:

    Only business Cameron knows is bad business – like the International Arms Trade. He and his
    millionaire cronies at the Bullingdon Club used to trash property for the sheer joy of it – because they could afford to pay damages. Now he and his cronies are trying to trash our hard won social services. Like you say
    “Take to the Streets”

    See you on Saturday 24th March at the TUC organised March against the cuts.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    And, at least until fairly recently, MPs were trashing the education system without which they wouldn’t have got where they were. I wonder if we could impose the same “disadvanged background” clause on parliament as are supposed to be applied to unis.

    Robert Bluffield Reply:

    We are being conned by politicians on almost everything. I thought after Labour had almost bankrupted the country we had to give the coalition a chance but I am now doubting my sanity for believing in this. I have reached the conclusion that very few politicians have a clue about anything that they interfere with. They rarely consult those on the front line such as the teachers, the doctors, the nurses – and when they do they take no notice. This has of course been going on for years but it has got much worse since Blair, Brown and Cameron have respectively been at the helm. The worrying thing is not knowing where this is all going to end. I am 61-years old and have now entered the most difficult period in my life financially but nobody in authority gives a stuff. I feel sorry for our children, and their children because unless the people can influence change then I can only see things getting far worse. The cuts that Cameron is making will only contribute further to the collapse of our country, There is no direction and the Government provides no confidence let alone hope for a brighter future. Most certainly I believe Britain is broken as I aim to point out in the book I am currently writing. I seriously believe the situation is much graver than they are telling us because if we knew half of it it is likely that anarchy would break out as I believe it soon will.

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    While I’m not sure how much I agree with this, it would be very interesting to hear when supporters of the “broken Britain” thesis thought we should return to: Before the death penalty repeal? Before 1968 and the decriminalisation of homosexuality? Pre votes for women?

    [Reply]

    philip nash Reply:

    It is not as simple as Britain being broken. It is rather that there has been a decline in public standards ever since Mrs Thatcher came to power. Both main parties have contributed to this decline since politicians do not have any performance criteria not even ones that might be distated by commonsense. The UK, uniquely in western Europe, also suffers from a debilitating class system. Somewhere in your writing you doubt the existence of an “under class” Fifty years ago many US sociology books were written on the subject of “eliminating” this class. It is still with us. Nothing has worked. As someone who has worked in the east end of Glasgow with disenfranchised teenagers I can vouch for its virulence in these islands. What has happened is a decline in the quality of life as it is experienced by those in the lower classes. Our nation finds itself with 20 million people on benefits …….a third of the population whilst at the same time allowing bankers like Alan Hester to draw £7.5 million from a bank that went bust and is 83% in the hands of taxpayers! These indicators illustrate just how badly our politicians have performed over the last thirty years. A school report on them might read “MUST DO BETTER”

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Um. Didn’t mean to say that. There are certainly people who are poor and systematically disadvantaged but whether they form a “class” is another matter. It may not be useful to put long term unemployed youth, pensioners, single mums and the homeless in one “bag” except to the extent that they are all getting a bad deal and deserve better.

    In terms of social mobility (the ability of people from disadvantaged background to get into “top jobs”) you would be surprised that Britain is hardly worse than America which mistakenly believes it does not have class.

    Also, you are right, and it is surprising that it is not made more of, that inequality appears to be increasing.

    [Reply]

  15. Steve Hemmings
    Posted 05/03/2011 at 12:08 | Permalink

    I suggest a new 6 point Charter proposing laws that will force the political overclass down from its position of existence outside the realities of living in ‘Broken Britain’ and place its elected members truly back amongst the people.

    1. All MP’s by law have to send their children to the most underperforming state school in their constituency. I think we would soon see an improvement in state education.

    2. All MP’s by law have to use public transport. I am positive services would improve in all respects.

    3. All MP’s by law have to live on the worst crime rated housing estate in their constituency. I am positive we would soon see a reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour.

    4. All MP’s by law have to work for minimum wage. Living standards for ‘all’ would improve then.

    5. All MP’s by law have to send their children, when of age, to serve in frontline military units. I am sure we would not rush into any more illegal profiteering wars.

    6. All Mp’s and their families by law can only obtain medical treatment from the NHS and have to go to the back of any queues for drug treatments and surgery. Healthcare would improve, probably, overnight.

    [Reply]

    Harry Lloyd Reply:

    I could not agree more. Our political class (all parties) are a self-serving bunch of crooks. Their prime concern is short-termism for political advantage and how much money can they screw out of the tax-payer. The idea of them leading from the front is laughable.

    [Reply]

    James T Reply:

    The vast majority of MPs enter politics with honourable intentions.

    The vast majority of MPs are committed to making the lives of their constituents better.

    They may, from time to time, and quite often in some cases, make a hash of it. And a very tiny proportion have been shown to be corrupt and I do not deny the expenses scandal has not portrayed them in a good light.

    Let’s not become professionally cynical and assume self-interest behind every motive.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    I hate to be a bore but this pretty much illustrates my original point. How do we get past these positions of “shall”/”shan’t”. How do we know what the motivations of politicians are? Are they more crooked than the general population? Unless we start to address questions like that, these debates will literally go nowhere …

    [Reply]

    mike barton Reply:

    This would work and get’s my vote.
    On another subject I would also bring back the stocks for punishment of petty criminals.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    I love this. I don’t think we would actually need to _disadvantage_ the politicoes, just get rid of the advantages. This is also what John Rawls calls the veil of ignorance. Would you be so keen on slavery if you didn’t know if you would be born a slave or an owner?

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Why do you think the stocks would work?

    [Reply]

    Robert Bluffield Reply:

    Absolutely – a great idea and we should insist on this. MPs in the main only think about themselves and how they can benefit from their status.Few are aware of the realities of life and what tens of thousands of their constituents are having to put up with.

    [Reply]

  16. Posted 05/03/2011 at 11:52 | Permalink

    I very much agree with Dr. Brown’s assertion that the political arena does undermine the value of social science – and actually, that goes for all science in general. Science is regarded as a tool to further political aims rather than a set of principles or methodology at the heart of socio-economic and political management.

    For a progressive and stable society, it is not enough that politicians should engage with scientists, politicians must be scientists. Current politics is not pragmatic nor well-informed and unlike science it has a diverse and often contrary agenda. I could do a better job of it – and with a manifesto and your support, I will.

    I also agree with Julian Smith’s comments; all of which, to the astute mind, are self-evident but nevertheless often go unappreciated. There is a distinct circle of power-broking elite that manage the political and economic social engineering of the rest of society (see: Peter Oborne – The Triumph of the Political Class). It’s a cracking summary, easy to read , well evidenced and well worth the investment.

    A lack of social cohesion in modern Britain is not a matter of religious observation but a matter of a lack common values (which can be diverse culturally and sub-culturally) and therefore identity. It is obvious that identity is a form of human necessity and as such an identity devolves, so do common social values – religious or otherwise. The regression of purposeful and rational values is not due to an integration of cultures (which can make a society rich and diverse) and although many cultures are strongly influenced by elements of religion, there are emerging and extant subcultures that are not. There is a strong humanist (non-religious) sub-culture in Britain today which supports what one might identify as traditionally ‘Christian’ values or morality but such ideas are philosophically much more ancient than that! (See: Plato’s ethics & Marcus Aurelius Meditations).

    What were once ‘common values’ have become ‘common interests’ from which then, people derive value. Unfortunately, society in its present state has its interests guided by an elite intent on exploiting them. To a limited degree there is a ‘sense’ of personal choice but it is choice with socially-engineered boundaries. How can personal choice be truly effectual if it is not well-informed?

    Whilst I respect the differences and personal enrichment different religions might bring on a personal level, organised religion is a very dangerous affair when combined with matters of state. (As is evident historically and currently).
    At this crucial point – it is not a matter of what society thinks that it ‘wants’ but a matter of what it ‘needs – politics must either be replaced by science or become it.

    Regards; Alex

    [Reply]

    Jane Reply:

    I enjoyed reading what you had to say very much and wholeheartedly agree with you. I’ve ordered Peter Oborne’s book from Amazon – new and at £1.89 hopefully will provide further enjoyment and insight. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Agree as long as common values can include a willingness to allow diversity. I do not think we are harmed if some people like to eat pork and others will not. On the other hand, perhaps some diversity of values (for example as regards whether violence is a justifiable way of pursuing political goals) is not tolerable. But again, in all these arguments, I find people very rarely point to evidence of any kind, they just state a view …

    [Reply]

  17. Julian Smith
    Posted 05/03/2011 at 08:40 | Permalink

    Yes, society is broken but at the top, the freedom of the banks and big corporations to exploit the population is causing distress and disruption throughout society but generally those at the bottom care for each other at times of need. The immoral and destructive promotion of the “free” market and trickle down economics are the cause of our misery. Powered by an unholy combination of boundless cheap energy and limitless instant communication, globalisation is ruining the planet and destroying the happiness and prosperity of communities across the world.

    It appears that it is now cheaper to close local quarries and pay unemployment benefit to whole worker communities than it is to quarry stone in India and ship it across the world paying middlemen on the way to your local superstore. The root cause is the low cost of oil, built up over hundreds of millions of years to be sucked up and burnt in a few hundred. The cause was never the cost of local quarrymen’s wages, they were never very high, the cause of this mad policy lies in the abuse of Indian workers and of our most precious commodity, oil.

    The food and drink industry have lobbied to “free” the market in junk food and cheap booze. Pub’s, the heart of the community across the land, are boarded up whilst obese children drink alchohol cheaper than water under bus shelters. Whole communities have abandoned cooking, eating together and washing up in favour of junk food, scattering the litter into streets and hedgerows across the land.

    Sober banking has hijacked by the marketeers in a frenzy of competition and greed, the costs of financial piracy have been dumped on the public and the benefits distributed to small elite, generations are locked into mortgage driven wage slavery as a decades long property bubble ballons it’s way to a final explosion.

    The big corporations, having evaded most taxes within the communties they exploit, having avoided training costs, fair wages healthcare and pensions, now seek to lower taxation even futher. Not content to make communities redundant and consigned to living on a pittance, they resent even these feeble costs and seek to make social care and unemployment costs totally fall on the head of the community. They seek to avoid all compulsory levies, relying on charities to provide services and care. Thus charity becomes voluntary for the rich and another source of employment for the executive elites as they direct this system of privatised taxation from the comfort of their padded boardrooms.

    Yes, society is broken, but at the top, as the traitorous international elite direct the improverishment of their countrymen and the destruction of the planet from the safety of tax exempt privately owned island paradises.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Reply:

    You are talking more sense then majority of people in this forum Julian, however the mass of British society are moving in different directions due to cultural influences. It is their wants & desires that give opportunity to the predictor corporations, with no scruples to pray on.
    There are a few people that have the knowledge on how to manipulate the public’s wants and desires, and they are using it to direct them in any way that they can make themselves more money.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    More detail rather than more sense perhaps? Very few of the comments here have been “nonsense” though some are highly opinionated. Nothing wrong with opinions but they rapidly stall an argument unless we can go beyond them.

    [Reply]

    Robert Bluffield Reply:

    This makes a lot of sense Julian. Do any of us believe that globalisation is about to implode?

    [Reply]

    Bronwen Reply:

    It is certainly a nightmare I probably share with most even vaguely informed people …. deeply suspect that the fact that the elite, (taking rest of us in the minority world with them) are dependent on ruinously cheap labour and materials fuels their fear…….and huge defence (against perceived enemies without and within) spending at the cost of adequate welfare for everyone (whoever provides it). I would go as far as to suggest that fear, being contagious, is what pervades large parts of the populations of not just Britain, but almost every country. ‘Fear is a useful servant but not a good master’….if this is the case, perhaps the key question is what can each of us do to help to reduce fear….for the leaders, as well as the rest of us..in ways that reminds them, as much as ourselves that we are in this together as a species and that they too are not in fact immune from interdependency …. however much they (and we) are keen to believe it…..shall we all sing ‘always look on the bright side of life!’…both ironically and meaningfully in the face of all horrors… imminent and present…..

    [Reply]

  18. Clive Jude
    Posted 04/03/2011 at 22:20 | Permalink

    I don’t think Britain is broken – its leadership, culture and values ceratinly are broken. Having lived away for over 30 years I find many of things that made Britain a good place have beed seriously devalued and ‘broken’ by a culture of individualism, selfishness and ‘me first’. Perhaps too many people, too much competition and too little equality and space?

    [Reply]

    Chele Reply:

    I’d hate to go so far as saying Britain is broken – but with the social problems we now face, such as third generation unemployment and third generation drug addiction, some parts of our society have certainly been going wrong for many years and many of our problems are so deep rooted that even the most optimistic of us find it difficult to believe they can be solved. Successive Governments tamper with the same policies marginally, rebranding the same failed, recycled strategies under a different heading – but none are willing to make radical decisions about the tough problems – unemployment, crime, drugs, young people leaving school with no qualifications, jobs or aspirations…. Our society has lived within these structures for so long now, that anything so radical as not making unemployment a more lucrative option than work, is vilified. (I’m no fan of the coalition Government so I don’t make these comments as a fan of Cameron!) I think that our leaders need to start looking to other countries and how they have tackled similar problems with more success (for example, how Sweden has responded to the recession)and stop worrying about how they rate on the popularity scale, and we all need to start taking responsibility for our own lives (like stop blaming teachers for badly behaved kids).Only then can we maybe slow down and start reversing the painful issues that just aren’t going away.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    But radical is not good in itself: Unless you know what is going on and how society works, doesn’t a big change just allow for a big mistakes?

    On the old chestnut about benefits, think about this. Usually the Sun horror stories are about people drawing _lots_ of benefits (for kids for example). It certainly isn’t true that single persons benefit (especially for the young) is better than working (in money terms at least). But then, we don’t give benefits for dependent children and so on just to be silly. They are to stop suffering in people who presumably aren’t to blame for their condition. If we try to “de benefit” people into work, we either have to make their kids suffer or find ways to regulate how their kids are reared or even born (very difficult and authoritarian) or somehow give benefits directly to the children (again not very practical). There is more to the benefit issue than just slackness or lack of care.

    [Reply]

    Chele Reply:

    I think it’s depressing to consider “doesn’t a big change just allow for big mistakes”. The point I was making was that if our leaders looked outwith our shores for answers, there are many examples of where other countries, both within and outwith the EU have made small to significant changes to the social problems I mention. And on the point of benefits, it certainly IS true that, in more than a few cases, benefits pay more than wages, although I concede that this is never true for our young people leaving school/education and facing unemployment. I’ve worked in this arena for over 20 years – so my experience comes from trying to support jobless people into work and certainly not from sensationalist stories in The Sun. Again, other countries have policies where the approach is to “make work pay” – without having regulated birth rates!

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Fair enough. But we’d still have to be quite confident that it was the _policies_ making the difference and not other cultural variations between countries. Perhaps a German policy works because of other things in Germany not just because it is “smarter” than our policy.

    The other thing about “making work pay” is that there is nothing in economics that establishes wages at even survival level (that is what benefits are about among other things: a choice between any work and starvation is not really a choice). It is perfectly possible (in the theory at least) for a market to “clear” by people starving to death (which I guess nobody would approve). Thus even if benefits are above the lowest wages, we might want to be a bit cautious before arguing that this means we should lower the benefits (rather than attend to the wage level and its relation to “adequate” quality of life. Again, here, the “market wage” seems to acquire a status it doesn’t really deserve.

    [Reply]

  19. Chris Simmonds
    Posted 03/03/2011 at 20:18 | Permalink

    As the secular society gradually disasembles it’s Christian past and moves towards relativism then the cohesive values that most held onto and agreed with are lost. A simple personal faith and a belief in the principle of the 10 commandments and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are now lost today in a caucophany of conflicting jargon uttered by the latest seer of the age. It is little suprise that people turn to all kinds of ultimately harmful beliefs and pursuits. No ladies and gentlemen our the people of our country, and the west, need to rediscover it’s Christian past and it’s founder to enter a new period of personal happiness and contentment. Once you have discovered Christ class becomes unimportant as you discover true person behind the label.

    [Reply]

    Paul Matthews Reply:

    Chris, I respect your faith and what you say but have to disagree. Why do you think people don’t follow christianity ? It’s not that everybody’s leading bad lives (although some are !), it’s just people don’t believe the christian message of the divinity of Jesus like they used to. I’m no expert but have studied christianity for about fifteen years and i’m sorry but jesus was not divine, most statements in the gospels are predictions, and allegories, not historical fact. Scratch the surface of christianity and you soon realised it’s completely manufactured, unfounded in fact. Rediscover our christian past ? I hope to god we don’t, we don’t need more crusades, inquisitions.

    [Reply]

    chris Reply:

    Hmmmm

    Hmmm interesting a few inquisitions into how the elite ruling class behave may not be a bad thing ! However I am a budhist I must be broken in the context of your argument.
    If you look further into the past this country was not Christian at all and whilst history is patchy it seems that in general society in some form prospered. All major modern religions have some similaraties in fact the three major ones originating from the Middle East are very similar almost copies of each other and seem to the outsider to share many stories.
    I am also guessing that most of the ideas of Christianity where written by men to suport male dominated ideas of a distant past.

    [Reply]

    Paul Matthews Reply:

    I don’t think your’re broken, but I just find it hard to believe that western culture is built on this premise that is highly questionable. Any faith that teaches people to be good people is good, but for something that should unite humanity, it divides it. You’re right the gospels were written at a time when women were second class citizens, that is why the catholic church had such an anti feminine stance for a long time. All built on the assumption that jesus was single and celebate.

    [Reply]

    Grant Downs Reply:

    The last sentence in Paul’s reply reminds me of several things – firstly a lesson I remember from an Introduction to Sociology class in University / to make an assumption you have to “assume” certain information and to ASSUME anything will make an ASS out of U and ME.

    When religion is brought in as a “solution” to the ills of a society you need to examine the history of said religion. Like the historical evidence that the Rabbi Jesus did not become divine until declared so some 300 years after his death at the conference in Nicaea. Follow that with the evidence that women were the leaders (priests) of many local churches until the Roman Govt under Constantine hijacked the “Church”.

    There is more: like the folk that claim the BIBLE is the only “true” word of god – most that make this claim fail to recognize that the book they hold is the “King James Version” of the “Bible”.

    I like the teachings of the Rabbi Jesus – I just hate what folk have done with them.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    And this would pose the toughest challenge for social science of all. How to “measure” the costs and benefits of something as huge as religion so any debates like this could move beyond “I think”, “well _I_ think”. For sure religion has caused a lot of harm _and_ a lot of good in the world. But where do we go from there? (And I very much agree that if we tried to pass a law or anything like it to get people back to church it would be a disaster. Just like anything else, declining church membership is a real fact about the world. Churches needs to figure out how to make their message real today.)

  20. Harry Lloyd
    Posted 03/03/2011 at 20:13 | Permalink

    Britain IS broken and unlikely to be fixed in the foeseeable future because people can choose a lifestyle where they do not work or contribute anything to society but expect society to contribute to them. They have high expectations – big TV, holidays, lots of children (often without fathers),free housing and a mobile phone. Our politicians do not lead from the front by example, people see them as doing the best for themselves NOT the country and ignoring the wishes of the majority; (eg EU referendum, revising the ECHR and limiting overseas aid). The population is generally dishonst and think it’s fine to cheat on tax, insurance and would be delighted if their cash-point paid out too much money. The UK has been in moral decline for the last 40 years and it’s not getting better!

    [Reply]

    chris Reply:

    Yes society does seem to encourage a lifestyle which is neither sustainable in ecconomic or environmental terms.
    This country no longer values hard work and does not help those who try to help themselves. From my own experience I have worked since age 16 and now at 46 found myself suffering serious spinal injuries Result life at work contributing = nothing back, as I worked ‘I was lucky enough to have some savings’ Quote by a benefits employee. ‘Some people have not been so lucky to have saved money’ Further quote. My experience therefore suggests that working hard does not help in this country when you need help back. Perhapse been on bennefits would have helped me as was the experience of many around me in hospital whoi seemed to get everything provided by the state.
    You are correct our politicians do not lead by example in most cases and it seems petty officials as well organise things for their own or their particular political advantage.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    I get a bit nervous about this kind of talk. I don’t think the data on social attitudes supports the view that people think it is now OK to cheat on tax. (But I think bad examples in authority don’t help.) But what we mean by “fair” contribution surely depends so much on how we think society works. For example, a women on maternity leave is contributing something vital to society (a new member of the population) but we often talk about this as some sort of nuisance. The whole point of the welfare state was supposed to be not necessarily “showing a profit” on each member of society but agreeing that a basic standard would be offered to all and financed collectively. The question is not whether some people cheat (and surely they do and the Sun is delighted to dig up isolated cases to try and prove a general point) but whether, even so, we would rather live in a world with benefits rather than “work or starve”. I think the economic “bottom line” has infected so much of how we now think even about things which are not market based that it is very hard even to _have_ these discussions properly.

    [Reply]

  21. Chris J
    Posted 28/02/2011 at 15:58 | Permalink

    It’s good to see some young people engaging here. For too long they’ve been the scapegoat for a Britain that some would have is “broken”. Meanwhile the babyboom generation enjoy house prices locking out most young people from the market and gold plated pensions today’s youngsters can only dream of.

    I also think it’s inequitable that the EMA has been cut whilst we’ve reatined free bus passes for the over-60s regardless of income.

    Interesting article in the Guardian on this topic: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/feb/28/baby-boomers-secret-millionaires

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    A very good point. Just as our politicians often say “I’m alright” so do the “grown ups”. I was fortunate enough to go to college when, if I was careful (and I was), I could leave without debt. No chance now!

    [Reply]

  22. Jimbob
    Posted 28/02/2011 at 12:21 | Permalink

    I dont think our society is broken in comparison to other countries, however what is actually is seen is different to what is actually happening.
    The different approaches that goverments decide to take to try to ‘fix’ these problems just bring about different consequences, as its people react in different ways.
    For inmstance if youlook at some countries where police perhaps have more power and able to override the law in what is seen as appropiate situations, could also possible bring about more corrupt goverment despite people rrspect and will listen to the police through fear.
    Britains not broken but people need to stop allowing people have exscuses to act in ways that is innapropiate that cause these problems.
    For example is binge drinking a problem or the fact that alcohol is available so readily for all who want it?
    Is the issue really the issue or the fact people allow it to get to that stage.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Binge drinking is a nice example. When I go round campus I see signs saying “Four shots for £4 before 7pm” and then people wonder why students drink a lot very quickly!

    You are certainly right I think that a “moral” dimension is important but it is also very controversial and hard to “teach”. Who do we trust as a good moral example to say it is wrong to fiddle? MPs who are caught doing things on expenses?

    The point about “trade offs” is also important and one reason why I hate “slogan policy”. Some additional local decision making power might be good (or not) but nobody ever seems to talk about the justification. It is the “four legs good two legs bad” from Animal Farm.

    [Reply]

  23. Tommy Engel
    Posted 28/02/2011 at 12:19 | Permalink

    hey im Tommy, I believe that society is not broken i believe that if you compare our society to others around the world we are simply not the worse just look at all the social problems in the USA where they withdraw benefits after a certain period of time and they do not have free health care unlike in our society. i am not saying our society if free from problems and we do need clear improvements made however we are not broken, as time is developing and progressing societies expectations are changing and i feel that this could be why people believe society is broken because of our high expectations our capitalistic society have instilled in us

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Certainly comparison across countries is a good scientific way to proceed but we have to watch out for not just valuing what we are used to. Even though I support free healthcare, I also wish we could improve the efficiency of the NHS (but I am almost sure this will not be achieved by adding ever more managers or pretending it is a “market” when it clearly isn’t.)

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  24. Jess Chamberlain
    Posted 28/02/2011 at 12:19 | Permalink

    Coming from an AS student, I feel society is being too restricted. This ‘Big Society’ idea does not give people the choice, choice is needed for a healthy society. Rules, regulations and all these restrictions give off a negative vibe.
    I feel Britain is beyond repair. Too much debt, untrust is around. Traditional ways, norms and values should be encorporated as I feel ideas such as the ‘Big Society’ are shrugged off as people are not used to new ides, feeling anxious and weary. Traditional ideas give us a clear vew of whether something has worked or not, and if things have worked people like to know this but if these ideas are not enforced people do not want to know.

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    A.G.Sarov Reply:

    I think you’re quite right in your observations that the British public do have an inherent (cultural) mistrust of new ideas and an innate cynicism toward authority. This has served the nation well in protecting it, by and large, from the sweeping and powerful (and often extreme) ideologies of the 20th century. Indeed, this was a time where Britain and Canada were the only true remaining bastions of democratic policy – (having an elected government and accepting votes from both women and ethnically diverse groups.)

    Do you think that the social inflexibility that Britain has shown historically, could potentially be holding back new ideas that could, in the information age, now be more progressive?

    From your own observations, how would you propose to change the current situation and what sort of alternative to ‘big society’ do you think would appeal to people?

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    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    I think inflexibility is very hard to measure because it implies a standard against which things “ought” to have happened. Looking back, for example, it might have been good if the Thatcher government had not been so keen on monetarism but I doubt anyone could have got listened to saying that then.

    Personally (and this _is_ personal), I think the problem is not good motivation or a lack of good ideas but a kind of need to have huge “slogans” to get behind which often seem to defeat common sense and an eye for detail. We seem to find it very hard to elect a government that will just use its discretion to fix social problems in the most sensible way. It has to be “New Labour” or “Big Society” or some such. I think we could actually get a lot more done if instead of focusing on targets and programmes we just said “OK, how can we reduce homelessness? Let’s go and listen to the people who run hostels and people who have been homeless and see whether some of the things they raise can be fixed cheaply.” If the solution needs something huge then obviously it will have to be set against other social goals but we don’t know until we look. (But it might equally be that a whole bunch of little fixes could do a lot of good.)

    Certainly, my experience in university is that I could actually do a lot more good if I spent less time on targets and mission statements and used the time for more meetings with students and making my teaching a little better each year. It is a cliche that the bureaucracy gets in the way of the actual job but not a false one sadly!

    If I had to put this as a philosophy it would be: “If we all saved ourselves and two or three others – rather than trying and failing to save the whole world – what a paradise this would be”.

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  25. lou
    Posted 28/02/2011 at 12:19 | Permalink

    Is Britain Broken??I dont believe britain is broken because our government creates systems and rules for societys benefit for example , the NHS , unemployment benefits and restrictions on the age you can legally drink.However no society is perfect theres always room for improvement , Britain isnt beyond repair in some peoples opinion it just needs to make changes for example not increasing university fee’s because it is putting people off further education which could lead to a more broken Britain.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    But what happens if the government does not or will not sort these things out? Or if the “fixes” do not seem to be working (as with ASBOs?) To me “broken” suggests something that will not necessarily get sorted out “in the normal way of things”. I just came across an interesting example: Regulatory Surrender by Tombs and Whyte (http://www.ier.org.uk/node/491). Here, the argument is that although health and safety regulations are still law, the government is ignoring them (and injury rates are shifting) by simply starving enforcement of funds. This saves money in a nice quiet way (because nobody can really see it happening in public) but is still a real (and I suspect unpopular) reduction in quality of life.

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  26. Posted 27/02/2011 at 16:38 | Permalink

    ‘“fairness” being an end not a means’

    Regardless of its age (another time, it seems now), IMHO there is still much to consider valuable in John Rawls notion of justice as fairness, in which fairness can be conceived as a means as well as an end.

    [Reply]

    Dave Postles Reply:

    add an apostrophe after Rawls

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Yes, I think that’s an example of means and ends not being totally separate. (On the other hand, something being able to a means _and_ and end has less effect on my argument than the distinction not meaning anything.)

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    able to be a means I meant!

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  27. Tony Porter
    Posted 25/02/2011 at 18:19 | Permalink

    Does anyone know whether propensity to deny the concept of social class differs by social class? Taking Edmund’s point in the video, if people from lower social classes are more likely to die young, that’s an important difference between classes. And therefore the propensity to subjectively deny social class would be a major issue of public health.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Not off the top of my head but you are right, that would be an interesting statistic and right down the line Marxism “false consciousness”. Karl keeps bouncing back from intellectual and political fashion!

    [Reply]

    A.G.Sarov Reply:

    A very interesting research proposition: You might want to begin by looking at the issue of ‘underclass.’ It is worth visiting the debate: “A taste of imprisonment may punish but it does not reform.”

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Although the identity of the underclass raises its own problems. Even from a Marxist perspective it is not clear that this is a group with a distinctive identity let alone the kind of “morally disliked catch all” definition of the UC that Murray seems to be arguing for.

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  28. Parthian Shot
    Posted 18/02/2011 at 14:03 | Permalink

    I take your points, Edmund, that evidence should drive decisions and that social science can’t tell people what to want but aren’t you therefore suggesting that Britain become more like Plato’s Kallipolis?

    In a democracy the popular view doesn’t necessarily align with the perceived research-based wisdom on a subject. Neither is there any certainty that even if such wisdom could be conveyed to the voting population that it would alter their perception of the world. In the case of the social sciences this is further hindered by perceived failures such as Economics in relation to the collapse of the financial sector; trust is lacking.

    If we expect people to choose “the obvious truth” as a default we fall into the classic tension experienced by middle class socialists; if only the working class would wake from their torpor a new world could emerge and yet they stubbornly refuse to comply. I’m reminded of my old A level Politics teacher who whilst being firmly aligned to democratic principles was never really confortable with the idea that his vote had the same weight as someone who read the News of the World.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    I don’t know for sure if we can clearly maintain the distinction between means and ends but I think we have to try.

    Part of the problem is that I’m not sure there is agreement on what kind of thing governing a country is. If I am sick, I certainly don’t want a diagnosis from a randomly selected group of punters, I want to hear from a doctor. On the other hand, when it comes to choosing from a box of Quality Street, there is no “expert” who can better tell me what I want. So what bits of political process should be treated as a suitable domain for “experts” and which bits are so unclear or so “value laden” that they ought to be like choosing chocolates with every view equal? Getting it wrong in either direction could be a disaster. A further complication is that a doctor as an expert has some reasonable “scientific” claims to support their expert status: If they tell you you will get better and you do. By contrast I don’t recall _ever_ hearing a politician make a claim or prediction you could actually check and I do recall huge amounts of reinterpretation after the fact and moving the goal posts. So I’m not saying flat out that it isn’t possible to be an “expert politician” (who knows more about getting the people what I want than I do) but I _can_ say I’m not seeing much evidence of that expertise that convinces me. (And when it comes to social science, which I do know about, I can see exactly where it is being misused or ignored.) Economists face the same problem. If they could really make predictions they would be listened to by common sense not persuasion. But how much sympathy can you have for someone who rams a view down your throat and then screws up spectacularly?

    I certainly don’t believe that if we can just hold up “the truth” everyone will believe it, but I do believe that unless they can argue against it on some grounds (not just that they find it unappealing) then I’m entitled to disallow their view as uninformed as long as I trust my own arguments (and that’s what social science is supposed to help me do). However, I really believe that when it comes to matters of value not fact (i. e. if someone says it is wrong for bankers to be paid so much more than nurses however much they may contribute to GDP) then everyone’s opinion is equally important (precisely because such claims are meaningful but outside the realm of social science: “fairness” being an end not a means).

    I’m steering well clear of any debate on what the working class “ought” to do as I think (although many social scientists have been Marxists) that social science isn’t qualified on this matter. One thing social scientists ought to do is not confuse their qualifications to comment on society based on research with some privileged status for their political views particularly if they get media time. I think peddling political Marxism as if it were objective social science is one of the things that gave sociology a bad name. (And I think Marx was a very important social scientist.) At the ballot box, despite studying the social world, I am no smarter or stupider than the next person.

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  29. ACL
    Posted 15/02/2011 at 19:03 | Permalink

    I think Edmund makes some valid points but overall is a bit unfair on politicians

    “governments tend to use social science like a drunk uses a lamp post (more for support than illumination) but they seem to take every opportunity to undermine its value”

    Politicians have to make decisions. Sometimes the evidence is clear. Sometimes patchy. But unlike academics, who can delay publication, some decisions can’t wait.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    _Politicians_ tell us they “have” to make decisions. Would you take a doctor seriously if they said “I haven’t got time for a diagnosis, I’ll just start operating”. Can you give me an example of an “everyday” policy (not counting things like declaring war) that won’t sensibly wait until an overview of the evidence has been made?

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  30. Alan Turner
    Posted 10/02/2011 at 17:13 | Permalink

    I don’t want to sound like an old Marxist (which I’m not incidentally) but the idea that class is subjective is patent nonsense and an attempt to deny the very real impact social class still has on our lives today.

    [Reply]

    Edmund Chattoe-Brown Reply:

    Hear hear!

    [Reply]

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  1. […] He has also written for Leicester Exchanges on ‘Is Britain Broken?’: It’s not broken but the instructions are missing […]

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