As we trickle into a new year, there seems to be a few home truths being banded about that 2012 was rather quiet in terms of big society.
The angsty, revolutionary air that brought 2011’s London riots, student protests and public outcry against the MP expenses and phone-hacking scandals were passed over lazily last year with altogether more wholesome scenes of flags waving in little children’s hands, sitting atop shoulders in never-ending crowds.
The public’s hearts, minds, and sense of dissatisfaction were perhaps captured and constricted by the double-whammy of the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. Yet this has occurred almost implausibly so, in a year when the misdemeanours of the most fundamental British institutions have seemingly passed from reality into a realm of seedy, corrupt fiction. The coalition began to look increasingly like an ironic comedy sketch taken from Spitting Image, with George Osbourne at our very own Olympics Opening Ceremony being booed for the entire world to witness. The giants of our banking industry continued to be caught up in Libor-rigging scandals, and the work of a certain UBS trader further compounded the British distrust in the quasi-magical world of financial markets. Meanwhile, racial slurs became all too common in football, culminating in the conviction of John Terry and the stripping of his captaincy for the national team. This all withered in comparison to the discovery that our country’s supposed national treasure, Jimmy Savile, was also a paedophile.
…anger crept into the mainstream consciousness…
Ranging from politicians to bankers to policemen, journalists, sportsmen and TV personalities, the cornerstones of British society seem to have fallen into disrepair. This in turn focussed attention on the wider structural problems inherent within our institutions, thereby instigating some reform. The Leveson Inquiry was published in 2012 calling for self-regulation in the press, while the resurfacing of the Vickers’ Report brought forward further ring-fencing for the banking industry. The truths regarding the Hillsborough disaster were also made public, outlining the incompetent and damaging role of both the police and subsequent media reports on the event. The BBC received little sympathy following those Newsnight reports and signalled a classic case of overcorrection-gone-wrong when Lord McAlpine was wrongly implicated, eventually condemning George Entwhistle to the shortest-ever stint as Director-General of the BBC with a total of 54 days in office.
So why hasn’t more been done at grassroots level, why has so little anger crept into the mainstream consciousness, why were the British public so accepting of these self-inflicted wounds on the establishment? Perhaps in a time of economic recession and financial struggle, people are forced to look inwardly on their own lives rather than the struggle of their society and institutions. It was enough to simply celebrate our Great British-ness this year with street parties, televised concerts, and innumerate flags, which demanded at least a few weeks in summer of peace. Since that time, however, ever-worsening revelations have come to light that are demanding action.
…bringing about real change…
It may also be the case that the seemingly ongoing moral bankruptcy of our institutions has simply worn us out. The public has become so used to the eruption of yet another scandal that our attitude towards it is blasé and uninterested. Or perhaps those that are most affected by these events are perpetually marginalised in society and so are unable to make any impact on populist movements. In any case, there has been a definite lull this past year and perhaps 2013 will be the time for new public discourse to enter the fray, bringing about real change propelled by the power of the Great British society.