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...."


  1. Wise observations, Michael, and far too true. I like that quote from Hamilton.

  2. PS BTW I'm Gill Kimber ;)

  3. I thought it was you. Lewis Hamilton's full Facebook quote read: "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.
    "What's important is how we rise as a team from these situations. We win and we lose together and, as a team, we will emerge stronger.
    "There is a deep foundation that still exists for me and Nico to work from, in spite of our difficult times and differences.
    "The fans want to see a clean fight until the end of the season and that's what we want to give them."
    Which except for the last paragraph would be quite a good text for the CofE trying to navigate its way through differences over women bishops and same-sex marriage! :-)

  4. There's so much here in your words and thoughts to think about Michael.
    It put me in mind a little of John Foley who was recently so brutally murdered.
    His fellow hostages have recounted how he unfailingly demonstrated his love for them . Hugging them and encouraging them. There was a most beautiful letter to his family which a fellow hostage had memorised and when he came home, wrote down for his parents. Such goodness in the face of evil is a wonderful example.
    St Augustine is quoted as saying this
    ", We must first of all be restored to ourselves, so that we can then become a “stepping stone” and transcend ourselves and rise to God. We can only love ourselves if we can accept ourselves as we are; if we can recognise and see our wholeness, and put the dark side into the picture and accept that dark side as part of it ."
    Blaming oneself, or accepting blame takes reserves of humility and courage.( Which I greatly lack)
    I have to say that I do think some of these people in the public eye, who are publicly rejecting any responsibility for events, are cowardly in the extreme.
    Great to read Lewis Hamilton's wise words quoted by you and from one so young.
    On a much more trivial and flippant note, can we blame Mr Cameron for the fact that very soon will not be able to purchase a decent hoover if we want one!!
    There must be SOMEONE I can blame!!

    1. I must say I agree with the importance of accepting blame, Ann, which does involve humility and courage. I admired Lord Carrington greatly when he took responsibility for the FCO failing to foresee the Falklands crisis. An honourable man. What I dislike is a hue and cry which seeks to stick the blame on others. More mea culpa, less "it's all his fault".

  5. "What has struck me in much of the news coverage and comment is how prevalent is the culture of seeking to attach blame"

    It saddens me how much finger pointing there has been at the anguished Parents of this very ill little boy.
    I feel certain that were be back in New Testament times they would have received loving compassion from Jesus and their much loved little boy may have been healed by him.
    How cruel is it to keep the parents away ,not only from their very sick, much loved child, but also from one another.

    1. I totally agree. I hope the Crown Prosecution Service reconsiders fast.

  6. I really do like the quote from Hamilton. I often react badly in situations where I feel an injustice is being done to me, and so I compound the situation and am therefore partly to blame.

    I do worry that you're letting the original perpetrator off the hook though especially with "Let's stop saying Gaza was Israel's fault." Would you continue by saying: 'Lets stop saying that WW2 was Hitlers fault'?

    1. I did wonder about going on to say that! I'm reminded of Pastor Niemöller's saying about Nazism:
      "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a Socialist.
      Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a Jew.
      Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
      In other words the blame is shared. Had people spoken up against the evil philosophy upon which Hitler built and stood against him from the start, then he would never have come to power. I'm not sufficient of a historian to be sure, but I have a feeling that if the allies had not demanded such swingeing reparations from Germany in 1918 that left it in economic ruin, then Nazism would never have had such traction. We didn't make the same mistake in 1945. etc etc. Of course I'm not saying Hitler should not carry blame for the atrocities of Nazism.
      As for modern Israel, the history of widespread antisemitism through the centuries in which we are complicit was the major reason for the foundation of the state, first via the Balfour declaration and then in response to the holocaust. Trying to trace back original fault is, I reckon, beyond human wisdom. Hence, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay," says the Lord. Neither Israel nor Hamas/Hezbollah is blameless, in my view, but neither is the UK.

    2. I agree with all you say, but...

      My point was that there are original perpetrators of a situation who do wrong for whatever reason or mental instability. But it is then the responsibility of the aggrieved to react in a good way. Something I'm trying to learn :)

      It is unusual to give an aggrieved religion/people someone else's land to live in. It would have been better if Jewish people had been given some land in America or Canada where there is plenty to go around and no one would mind! As you say, there are many faults there all compounded. But, in my very humble opinion, the State of Israel is the one at fault now.


    If you have never watched the film "Of God's and Men" I would urge you to get it, it's on DVD.
    It is a profoundly moving story of how the Monks of Tibherine lived and worked with Muslim's as their neighbours
    But is also highlights how Terrorists basically become possessed by evil and do terrible harm to one another.
    This film is inspirational, moving and a demonstration of real peace and love in action.
    Very relevant to what is happening today..

    1. You're right, Ann. Inspirational and true. We have it. If you've never seen it, reader, do get it and watch.