Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Respectable Britain!

It seems evident to me, as foreigner in Britain, that there are two conflicting stories often repeated by the British news media. One can fit under the heading of "The UK is Best Country in the World", and the other under "British Society is Breaking Down".

I suspect that these two types of narrative are present in all western countries, but in the UK they seem to dominate much of the public discourse. The first narrative makes Britain very hostile to anything foreign (especially anything continental European). The second makes the government (whether Conservative or Labour) introduce ever more legislation that restricts individual freedom and increases police powers. The significant examples of this are the Public Order Act 1986, Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, Crime and Disorder Act 1998, Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003.

The latest initiative by the government to address the perceived social problems is the "respect agenda" being launched today. Included in this package is 'on the spot fines', which Tony Blair accepts reverses the burden of proof onto the accused (see news.bbc.co.uk). Another measure is the creation of powers to evict people from homes (owned or rented) for up to 3 months for "persistent and serious nuisance" (see guardian.co.uk).

What is going on in Britain? The country already has more surveillance cameras and a larger prison population than any other country in Europe. Does it really need further extension of police powers?

I wish politicians and journalists would construct a more realistic narrative of Britain, than the ones that pander to the prejudices of its audience.


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