Friday, 29 August 2014

British Blame Culture

A lot of awful things have been in the news since I last blogged, so much so that I have, unusually, resorted to turning off the news from time to time. There's been Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and close to home Rotherham. In different ways they are all horrific.

What has struck me in much of the news coverage and comment is how prevalent is the culture of seeking to attach blame. This morning yet again John Humphrys of the Today Programme was belabouring his interviewee (a representative of local authorities) about the sexual abuse of under-age girls in Rotherham. "There must be someone to blame" was his repeated point. He wanted his interviewee to agree that local council officers (like police officers and like Shaun Wright, the councillor responsible for children's services) should be "punished". Humphrys seemed to want a few scapegoats, a few heads to roll. However as history tells us, scapegoats may make people feel better, but they don't ever solve the problem.

He clearly had failed to hear Kier Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, yesterday, who pointed out that what was wrong in Rotherham, and no doubt, in many other communities across the UK was a matter of culture, but in this case a culture of disbelief of certain sorts of youngsters, and of young people in general. A culture is a shared responsibility, a communal one. An exceptional individual may stand against the prevailing tide, but unless the community, across the generations, in all sectors, stands with them the tide will not change. In the meantime we simply avoid the issue and evade our own complicity by blaming a few (or many) individuals. The fault also lies in ourselves. 

I confess I'm not immune from the blame-game myself. On an entirely trivial level I found myself fulminating against the "unfairness" of the eviction of Iain Watters from the Great British Bake Off, after his gloriously original baked alaska had been removed from the freezer by another of the bakers and thus ruined. He binned it! Actually one learns now that there was a certain amount of manipulation in the editing to elicit just such a response. It makes, of course, for "better" TV and higher viewer ratings.

With the unethical exclusive stake-out by the BBC when South Yorkshire Police raided Cliff Richard's Berkshire apartment, and the publishing of his name before charge, one wonders whether the BBC has lost sight of its ideals in the pursuit of populist appeal. Has it become the British Blame Corporation? 

Might it not be a good idea to stop the blame game? Let's stop saying Gaza was Israel's fault, Ukraine was Putin's fault, Iraq is ISIS's fault, that the state of education was Michael Gove's (or teachers') fault and the NHS Michael Lansley's (or nurses') fault. As Lewis Hamilton has wisely written on his Facebook page, following the incident when Nico Rosberg took him out at the Belgian Grand Prix: "Nico and I accept that we have both made mistakes and I feel it would be wrong to point fingers and say which one is worse than the other...."