And then, all of a sudden, Britain Broke while I was on holiday and it seemed a bit odd to carry on rambling on about Americans and dog poo while ignoring all this anarchy. Even if the only thing I had to say about Britain Breaking was – ‘Lordy, I’m really quite bewildered about Britain Breaking.’ Sometimes, bewilderment is the appropriate response. Most of things in life are pretty bewildering, if you think about it.
And now, seven days later, I am still a bit bewildered. I am not sure I am all that qualified to throw any light on Britain Breaking, but the BBC have Michael-flipping-Winner on to comment on the riots this morning, so that’s what I call a green light for me to say what I think.
So, here’s what I think.
Britain isn’t really broken. A little bit chipped, a bit flaking, in need of some repair – yes. Broken – no. I’m not suggesting that what happened this week wasn’t horrible, disturbing and serious. I’m just saying, it’s good to get it into perspective. Britain is pretty much the same place it was seven days ago. Despite what Britain’s Favourite Twonk Peter Hitchens said yesterday on Any Questions, Family Life hasn’t Come To An End.* This morning, fathers got up and took their kids to the park and played football with them. This afternoon, mothers will play Guess Who with their children, even though it’s an incredibly boring game. Tomorrow, fathers and mothers will go work, even though they are tired and don’t feel like it, to earn money for their families. To put food on the table, like parents always have and always will.
Because people are actually pretty predictable. The vast majority of people love their children and try to do their best for them. But – equally predictably – some people, especially men, especially young men, have always liked a ruck. Those people out enjoying a ruck this week were behaving in ways that are, basically, human. Sometimes we call this behaviour WAR, and sometimes it suits us to encourage it.
When I was a kid, we called this FOOTBALL HOOLIGANISM or BEING A CASUAL. Phil Lynott sang, ‘If the boys wanna fight you better let em.’ Elton John, of all people, even sang a song about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to control and limit the effects of this kind of behaviour – of course we should, and we must, to protect those who don’t much like a ruck – but we should maybe stop acting so surprised about it.
And, here’s another thing, about two thousand people were arrested for rioting. That’s bad, isn’t it? Yes, it’s pretty bad. But, you know, there are in fact about 2000 people in the village I live in. If you saw the headline ‘Entire population of small Oxfordshire village arrested for chucking stuff and setting fire to things’ you’d think, Oh that’s a bit surprising. And not very nice. But your world wouldn’t be rocked. Think about that great picture of the Broom Army. Think about how many more people are sweeping up the streets, trying to help. Think of how many more people mowed their lawn this weekend. Washed their car. 1000 times more? 10,000 times more? I think that’s a comforting thought. Mowing the lawn ten thousand times more popular than nicking trainers from JD Sports. That’s what I call a headline.
But that isn’t the headline. These are the headlines:
BROKEN BRITAIN! (er, not really. Britain’s mostly quite fixed actually. It’s mostly a nice place to live, with politicians who are just a bit incompetent and not actually corrupt.),
ANARCHY! (er, not really. The vast majority of people are behaving perfectly well, the vast majority of the time.)
And IT’S ALL THE FAULT OF <insert your favourite target here> The teachers, the mothers (esp the SINGLE MOTHERS, the evil man-hating witches), Thatcher, Blair, Jedward.
This stuff is tempting but it’s dangerous, because it encourages us all to think that the world is a straightforward place, subject to simple explanations and solutions. Which we all know is bull, really. But if we can blame someone, or something else then we don’t have to do anything about it ourselves. We can all just watch the telly instead.
And here’s the last thing I want to say – Let the dust settle a bit. Help those who need helping right now. Don’t rush to judgement. We have to stop SHOUTING and POINTING and start listening. Listening to other people’s ideas and views, and see if we agree with them. And then see what we can do, all of us, to make Britain better. Maybe stop shouting about yobs and chavs and hoodies and start thinking and making changes.
What I would really like, what would make me feel like we had learned something from this last seven days, would be a politician (or even Michael Winner) coming on the telly and saying, ‘I don’t know really. It’s all a bit bewildering. I am going to have a bit more of a think about it, maybe talk to a few people. It’s all very complicated, isn’t it? What do YOU think, Jeremy?’
That would make me proud to be British. Even prouder than I am, every time I look at that photo, at the top of this blog. This is a great country. It was seven days ago, and it is today.
* I swear this is what he said. Still, this is the man who used to be in the Socialist Worker’s Party and is now a Tory, so I think we can safely say that anything he says can be ignored. Tomorrow he’ll probably be telling us that we should all go to the PlanetWob before it’s too late. The twonk.