Saturday, December 10, 2011
The day I realised I'm not a lonely outsider in my own country
By Tom Utley
Do you ever feel, in your gloomier moments, that you don’t really belong in modern Britain? Are there times when you worry that your attitudes and instincts have fallen far behind the times, leaving you out of kilter with the great mass of your fellow countrymen? I’ve felt like that at least ten times a week.
I’ve felt it as I’ve driven through a ravishing part of the countryside, when suddenly a vast, menacing wind-farm has loomed over the brow of the next hill. There’s one dominating the skyline above Stirling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned, which fair breaks my heart.
Was this desecration of one of the noblest views in these democratic islands really a response to the will of the people? So the authorities would have us believe.
I’ve felt it when I’ve heard MPs of every party, even some of the richest, boasting that they always use the NHS and would never dream of going private. Would their constituents honestly think the worse of them if they took out private health insurance instead of adding to the strains on the NHS?
Clearly, this is what most politicians calculate. But, if so, what a blow to my once firmly-held belief in the fundamental common sense and good nature of the British people.
This same feeling of being the odd man out struck me again yesterday, when Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour was droning on in the background with a report on an architecture prize for a new school in South London.
Some woman was telling us what a great shame it was that the Coalition had cut back Ed Balls’s school building programme, claiming that education standards would suffer because it was impossible for children to learn properly in temporary buildings.
There were stacks of statistics and other evidence to prove it, she said, without actually quoting any.
I thought this a highly questionable theory (although the BBC presented it more as a point of information), believing that good teachers mattered far more to a child’s education than modern buildings.
Perhaps I was the only one shouting at the radio that the more money this Government could save, the better for everyone — and that cancelling fancy new construction projects was as good a place as any to start.
But now, joy of joys, I discover that I’m not nearly such an eccentric stranger in my own land and times as I was beginning to fear. On the contrary, my views about almost every subject under the sun are slap, bang in the mainstream of popular opinion. And far from slipping out of fashion, they’re becoming more generally accepted with every passing year. Reader, I belong!
I’m indebted for this revelation to the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, the Government’s massive annual focus-group, whose findings for 2010 are published this week.
This wonderfully cheering document has fully restored my faith in my fellow countrymen’s deep-down intelligence and common sense, and their refusal to be bamboozled by cant.
The picture it paints of the real Britain is about as far removed as it’s possible to imagine from the fantasy version accepted by every mainstream political party and promoted tirelessly by the BBC and the Left-wing media.
Take climate change. For David Cameron, it was an article of faith from the start that the Conservatives’ chances of election would be greatly improved if they adopted the radical policies espoused by the environmentalist lobby. In his view, this was an essential part of his party’s make-over, vital to his popular appeal.
Hence the windmill on his roof and his jetting off to a Norwegian glacier to be photographed hugging a husky. Hence, too, the slogan that gave him so much pride and pleasure: ‘Vote blue, go green.’
Labour and the Lib-Dems were the same, fiercely competing with each other to be seen as greener-than-thou, in the apparent belief that this would play a treat with the electorate.
Turn to the BSA, however, and you’ll see what the voters were really thinking during election year. It shows that while the political parties were turning ever greener, the people they were fighting to represent were growing increasingly sceptical of the claims of the man-made climate change lobby.
In the year 2000, only 24 per cent believed environmental threats were being exaggerated. Just ten years on, the figure is up to 37 per cent. Yes, we sceptics are still in the minority, but the wind is blowing our way.
Incidentally, the non-metaphorical wind was blowing so hard yesterday that wind turbines all over Scotland and the North had to be switched off.
Truly, the more we see alternative energy working in practice (or, rather, not working), the more fatuous and wasteful it seems. Doesn’t this go at least a little way towards explaining the public’s growing disenchantment?
Where green taxes are concerned, the shift in public opinion is just as pronounced. A decade ago, 31 per cent backed them to combat climate change. Last year, that minority had shrunk to a mere 22 per cent. Yet this doesn’t seem to stop my old schoolmate, that prize ass Chris Huhne, from piling them on. But then when have the Lib Dems, wrapped up in their self-righteous certainties, ever cared a hoot about what the rest of us may think?
It’s the same story with health policy. Over the years, I’ve heard it said a million times that the British people are unshakeably attached to current funding model of the NHS. So often, indeed, that I myself had almost come to believe that most of the public had a visceral horror of the idea of turning to anyone but the state for their medical needs.
Mr Cameron clearly thought much the same, when he made it a central plank of his election manifesto that the Tories would ring-fence spending on the NHS and fight to their last breath to defend it from the taint of privatisation.
But look at the survey findings. Only 24 per cent say that paying for private healthcare is wrong — down from 38 per cent in 1999. This is a huge drop in just a decade, representing a revolutionary shift from faith in the power of the state to self-reliance.
That shift is even more marked in the numbers who believe taxes should rise to pay for health and education. As recently as 2002, 63 per cent said they should. By last year, the figure had more than halved to 31 per cent.
Many put this down to the recession. But can’t it equally be attributed to the experience of the boom years, when Labour poured untold billions of our money into hospitals and schools, to almost negligible effect? Indeed, when it comes to education, the popular perception — as opposed to the fantasy peddled by the fiddled exam grades — is that standards have fallen, not risen.
On social problems, too, the BSA shows attitudes wildly at variance with the official line plugged so remorselessly by the political Establishment.
Apparently, most of us don’t believe that ‘society is to blame’ for child poverty. A whacking 75 per cent put it down to parents’ drug and alcohol problems, with more than half also blaming family breakdown — and a remarkable 63 per cent attributing it to parents’ unwillingness to work.
Meanwhile, 54 per cent think unemployment benefits are too high — up from just 35 per cent in 1983. Yet only last week, George Osborne surrendered to the Lib Dems’ demand that Jobseekers’ Allowance should increase by 5.2 per cent — more than five times as much as a front-line soldiers’ pay.
As he studies this portrait of the real Britain, shouldn’t Mr Cameron reflect that if only he’d presented a truly conservative manifesto to the country, he might have won an overall majority?
Mind you, there’s one BSA finding that doesn’t surprise me in the least: in 1997, 73 per cent of Britons aged 18-35 turned out to vote in the general election. Last year, the figure was down to 47 per cent. But then who can blame those who didn’t bother, when there’s not a single party in the land that speaks for the real Britain?
Brits want the State to stay out of their lives
The faltering economy is making millions of Britons more self- reliant, a study claims today. The survey of social attitudes has found we are becoming more conservative and see government as a less important factor in our lives. Fewer of us want the state to intervene to redistribute wealth to help reduce the inequality gap between rich and poor.
And support for increased taxes to pay for health, education and tackling climate change has slumped, according to the annual British Social Attitudes report.
At the same time, the public has become more willing to accept people educating their children privately and paying for private health insurance.
In another sign that the country has taken a shift to the right, there has been a hardening of attitudes towards the unemployed. More voters believe benefits are too generous and discourage people from going to work; while an increasing number blame child poverty on lazy parents rather than a failure in society.
Penny Young, of the National Centre for Social Research, which carried out the study, said: ‘In a time of economic austerity and social unrest, the big question coming out of this year’s report is whether we are really in it together, or just in it for ourselves?
‘An emerging sense of self-reliance may take the Government some way toward its vision of a more responsible society, but an emphasis on individualism, not Big Society collectivism, may present as much of a challenge as it does an opportunity.’
The 2010 poll of 3,297 people, details of which were released yesterday, found that while 75 per cent agree the income gap between rich and poor is too large, only around a third believe government should redistribute more to solve the problem.
More than half (54 per cent) believe jobseekers’ allowance is too high – up from 35 per cent in 1983.
And while people see child poverty as an issue that government must tackle, 63 per cent believe that parents who ‘don’t want to work’ are a reason why some children live in poverty. Others blame family breakdown or drug and alcohol abuse – rather than the state.
After hitting a peak of 63 per cent just nine years ago, support for tax increases to spend more on public services such as health and education has dropped to 31 per cent.
Britons are increasingly at ease with the idea of higher earners buying private healthcare. While 38 per cent thought this was ‘wrong’ in 1999, the figure has dropped to 24 per cent. There was a similar trend for private education.
Despite acknowledgement of housing shortages, 45 per cent oppose new development in their area. Opposition is highest where shortages are acute, such as the 58 per cent in outer London.
The survey also shows that since 2000, the number prepared to pay higher green taxes has slumped from 31 to 22 per cent.
Australians want harsher penalties from courts
Similar gap between the people and the system to that seen in the British survey above
VICTORIANS have called for the courts to dish out sentences for serious crimes two to three times longer than they do now. The State Government's controversial sentencing survey found a wide gap between the demands of the public and the legal profession.
Attorney-General Robert Clark said the findings had steeled the Government's hardline approach on tougher sentences.
Many of the 18,000 respondents called for the toughest penalties for murder, drug trafficking and arson causing death. They want judges to consider the impact on victims, and premeditation by the offender, as reasons for heavier punishment.
The heavier penalties demanded are already on the books, which means harsher punishment remains in the hands of the courts.
But the survey results will now be considered by the State Government as it shapes new minimum "baseline" sentences for serious crimes. The survey also found:
* OPPOSITION to parole for those convicted of murder and manslaughter.
* RESPONDENTS who said they were lawyers were generally more likely to call for sentence discounts, while police were the least likely.
* A LACK of criminal record, co-operation with police and a guilty plea were reasons to impose a lighter sentence.
Mr Clark said he was pleased with the response. "While public commentary about sentencing issues is often dominated by experts and interest groups, this survey provided all Victorians with an opportunity to have their say," Mr Clark said. "These results add to the Government's determination to introduce the sentencing reforms we have committed to."
Victorian Bar chairman Melanie Sloss, SC, said the survey should be treated with caution. She said the Sentencing Advisory Council was better placed to inform the Government. "They have already undertaken and made available some very good and reliable scientific research and analysis that is better suited for this purpose."
Law Institute of Victoria president Caroline Counsel said she was not surprised by the call for harsher sentences. "That's in accordance with what we thought people would say," she said. The survey questions did not allow respondents to consider the subtleties of cases that judges took into account when forming a sentence, she said.
Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara said his criticisms of sentencing had been vindicated. "It sends a clear message to the judges: you've got it wrong," Mr McNamara said. "I think the public has done a great job. A lot of people (who took part) weren't victims of crime, and they've got it right."
Most respondents said the penalty for murder should be life imprisonment, already the current maximum. During the five years to 2010, 133 people were sentenced for murder, and 11 were given life terms, according to Sentencing Advisory Council statistics. For the rest, the median principal sentence was 20 years, with a non-parole period of 15 years and three months.
Asked about commercial drug trafficking, most called for a sentence between 21 and 25 years, compared with an existing median principal sentence of 6.5 years. For culpable driving, most wanted 16 to 20 years, but the existing median is 5.5.
British children's playground stripped bare by safety fanatics
The most serious accident any parent can remember at the Allergate playground is the odd grazed knee. Yet the swings, roundabout, see-saw and slide have all been taken away after falling foul of Eurocrats in Brussels and their over-zealous safety regulations.
Parents have described the decision as 'health and safety gone mad'. Sarah Loach said: 'People are always talking about kids getting more exercise and then the council takes the play equipment away.'
Ruth Pierce said: 'My son keeps asking when the slide is coming back. We used to come down here quite regularly. Now I have to drive my boys to another park.'
Ruth Chambers said: 'The playground's been used for ten to 15 years plus. It seems crazy that they have suddenly decided it is not suitable.'
The operation to remove all the equipment began two weeks ago after an annual safety audit by Durham County Council ruled it constituted a safety risk. It was deemed to have contravened the European Union safety standard EN 1176 which governs playground equipment. This weighty document lays down complex rules for everything from the maximum speed of a roundabout to the approved angle of a slide.
Nigel Dodds, the council's sport and leisure manager, said the equipment was removed because it was unsuitable for upgrading. He said most of it was manufactured before 1998, when European safety standards replaced British measures. The council has not ruled out installing new equipment at Allergate, but Mr Dodds said that would depend on the outcome of a countywide play strategy, which is still being drawn up.
David Yearley, from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: 'Generally speaking, it is important to recognise that compliance with the standards is not mandatory. 'In cases where equipment does not comply, it is crucial that you assess the risks to users. The equipment might then be made acceptable for use with just a few minor modifications.'
A report by the National Playing Fields Association in 2005 said attempts to eliminate all risks from play areas were making them boring. It added that councils which fear being sued in the event of an accident sometimes interpret safety guidelines, which are only advisory, too harshly.
Court: NYC Can Ban Churches From School Buildings
The Supreme Court has rejected an evangelical church’s plea to overturn New York City’s ban on renting public schools for religious worship services. That means the city now has a green light to begin evicting congregations who pay rent to use public school buildings for church services.
“The Department was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice,” said Jane Gordon, senior counsel for the New York City Law Dept. “”The Court of Appeals correctly upheld the Department of Education’s policy not to allow the City’s public schools to be used as houses of worship. This case has been litigated for 16 years, and we’re gratified that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear it. We view this as a victory for the City’s school children and their families.”
The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the city’s policy.
The court case involved the Bronx Household of Faith – a church that paid weekly rent to hold worship services at a public school since 2002. The church, along with five dozen other congregations, was allowed to continue worshipping at public schools pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
It’s a sad day for religious liberty,” said Jordan Lorence, the church’s attorney and senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. “Churches and religious other groups should be allowed to meet in public buildings on the same terms as other community groups and they’re being denied that in New York City.”
Churches will have to vacate public schools on Feb. 12, 2012.
“What’s odd about this is that of the top 50 school districts in the nation, New York City is the only school district that has a policy banning worship services,” he told Fox News & Commentary. “It does not show respect for religious liberty.”
The immediate impact means dozens of Christian churches will have to find a new place to hold services. “A lot of churches are going to be homeless,” said George Russ, executive director of the New York Metropolitan Baptist Association. He said about seven of the 220 Southern Baptist churches in the city will be impacted by the decision.
Russ said churches will be scrambling to rent hotel space, banquet halls and movie theatres. “It’s going to be a lot more money,” he said.
“The odd thing is these guys have blessed the schools they’ve been in,” Russ said. “They all have good relationships with the schools they’ve been in. They’ve purchased furniture for the teacher’s lounge they’ve given video equipment to the schools. They’ve done so many thank-you kinds of projects.”
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that allowing churches to use schools resulted in an “unintended bias in favor of Christian religions” – since most Christian churches worship on Sunday.
“Jews and Muslims generally cannot use school facilities for their services because the facilities are often unavailable on the days that their religions principally prescribe for services,” Judge Pierre Leval declared. “At least one request(ed) to hold Jewish services (in a school building used for Christian services on Sundays) was denied because the building was unavailable on Saturdays. This contributes to a perception of public schools as Christian churches, but not synagogues or mosques.”
Judge Leval also took issue with the evangelical church’s membership. “Bronx Household acknowledges that it excludes persons not baptized, as well as persons who have been excommunicated or who advocate the Islamic religion, from full participation in its services.” Leval wrote.
But it all boiled down to a key point, the judges decided. “In the end, we think the board could have reasonably concluded that what the public would see, were the Board not to exclude religious worship services, is public schools, which serve on Sundays as state-sponsored Christian churches,” Leval wrote.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.