Thursday, 14 May 2009

What is it we want? Get me some truth ...

It was more than very sobering to be back in Britain during the current scandal about MP's expenses. Very unedifying and saddening.

When you have lived outside the country where you were brought up for a long time, things like this also serve to underline the huge changes in culture and attitudes that have ocurred over that time. You take with you a rather idealised idea of "home" as it was when you left and find that this is not the place you visit when you actually go back there. When values change it is not necessarily always for the worse of course.
But the current scandals make me wonder about the myths that any society makes about itself. Britain has underlying myths - many of which I don't particularly share and some of which came from the culture of the ruling privately educated class - about "stiff upper lips", "pluckiness", "fairplay", tolerance - not much of that showing through in the way MPs have behaved, nor in the way the media and public relish all of the sordid details of this completely unregulated anything goes expenses system. Neither the wonderful magna carta (another myth used to underpin the supposed brilliance of the British democratic system) nor the rules of the "mother of parliaments" seem to have ways of coping with this crisis, which is one of confidence in those who govern. Perhaps this is one of the places an unwritten constitution takes you ...
There are though also responsibilities with wider society and not just with indivduals for what is happening at the moment, the way British society and the media builds up and demolishes celebrities, and anyone in the public eye, makes me wonder about the something for nothing culture that has developed in recent decades.
Seamus Milne writing in today's Guardian has called the "expenses scandal a toxic boost for anti politics" and added that "the scams are a legacy of New Labour's get-rich, ideology-lite culture. The remoralisation must go far beyond the Commons."
In under a month Europe goes to the polls. Will the far right and other fringe parties get more votes in the UK as a result of this scandal? Will British democratic culture and practical politics recover?
As we flew out of John Lennon Airport today we walked past the quote on the photo above, we both just burst out laughing. As we went through the security checks which rather resembled a cattle pen approach to the management of human beings our laughter soon faded. The stark "you will conform to the measures we have put in place" message was a reminder of participation in the war that put the travelling public at higher risk or terrorist attack.
We come home to news that Ryan air will charge customers a compulsory £5 for checking in online ... compulsory because there is no other other way to check in! What a rip off. The British public has no choice but to put up with these ruses of capitalism to get them to pay more money. Meanwhile, many of those who are supposed to be representing the interests of ordinary people are protrayed as lining their own pockets. The message loud and clear is that there's not much point in getting involved in trying to change things, everyone's just out for themselves.
I still try to hold on to the ideal that this is not the case but then I ask what is it we all want? To get rich quick and easy, to bank the cash on shares in our demutualised building societies, to make easy money at any cost so long as it is for ourselves, to see our children long to become cash rich celebrities?
Building the societies we all really want to live in will take deeper values than that. Truth, honesty and integrity will be good places to start.


Simon Barrow said...

I quite agree, Jane. Oh, and on Ryan Air: they are also planning to charge people a pound for a pee. Well, if you use their toilets, anyway...

Jane said...

Time to take your potty on board perhaps!