The British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to build a big society. Yet all his nation has seen is a big fire, as rioters set the cities alight. This exposes the Catch-22 of community-building policies.
The postwar expansion of government services wiped out much of civil society, particularly the self-governing mutual bodies which provided social and financial security at a local level. There is, therefore, a certain logic in winding back the welfare state as a way of rejuvenating community life. This is one of the goals of Cameron’s budget cuts and ‘big society’ rhetoric.
The problem with social capital, however, is that once lost it cannot be readily replaced. It is not a stock (like financial capital) that can be drawn on and replenished at will. If citizens do not use their trust in each other, if they do not practise mutuality in their daily lives, social capital dissolves. This is the unpleasant state of Western society. People know the minutiae of stockmarket fluctuations but not the names of their next-door neighbours.
In Australia we talk about a two-speed economy. This ignores the reality of a third economic grouping, an entrenched underclass which has lost touch with the social norms of work and study. In most countries (including ours) the easiest way for politicians to deal with these people is to ignore them. Welfare cheques have become an effective way of buying their silence.
By cutting entitlements in Britain, Cameron has awoken the sleeping tiger of underclass passivity. He has uncovered the inconvenient truth of a small, self-interested society. Having studied this problem at length, I believe it to be insoluble. Governments are skilled in taxing financial capital but useless in creating social capital.
My Q&A affliction continues to grow. This time I tuned in to watch our editor, Tom Switzer, take on dirty little Richo, the Labor insider/outsider. A feature of the show appears to be the demonisation of a resident right-winger. Thankfully, Tom danced away from this role, leaving it to the hapless Member for Higgins, Kelly O’Dwyer.
Two things jumped off the screen. The first is how ridiculous politicians look when they overcook their partisanship. Missy O’Dwyer seemed incapable of speaking without the strident urgency of a schoolma’am. She barely took a breath before turning every subject of discussion into a jihad against the Gillard government. Here’s an example of her hyperbole:
I asked the Prime Minister to come and attend a community forum (on the carbon tax) in my electorate … She wasn’t prepared to come, which means that this government has stopped listening to the Australian people.
This type of logic might work on Barnaby Joyce but for viewers with more than a double-digit IQ it sounded absurd. O’Dwyer issued the invitation expecting, indeed hoping, that Gillard would ignore it. It was a pollie stunt designed to manufacture an undergraduate debating point. Just because Julia hasn’t visited one electorate it doesn’t mean she is ignoring every electorate.
Did I say Julia? This was the other big beef on Q&A. The feminist lobby believes Gillard is being treated with disrespect because she is universally known as Julia. This is hardly a double standard, however. As I pointed out earlier this year, one of the most powerful men in the country, Arthur Sinodinos, is universally known as Arthur.
Given names and nicknames are part of the endearing informality of Australian politics. Bob Hawke was known as ‘Hawkie’, John Howard was known as ‘Little Johnnie’ and Kevin Rudd was known as … well, lots of things. It seems incongruous for Left-feminism to now require forelock-tugging to political figures of authority. Where’s the equality in that?
In any case, the Julia syndrome is a self-inflicted wound. Twenty years ago the femocrats resurrected the clunky honorific ‘Ms’ to even things out against all matters Mister. The Ms revolution, however, has fizzled out. Most people feel uncomfortable using it. So Ms Gillard doesn’t work. For obvious reasons, we can’t say Mrs Mathieson. And in turning 50 next month (Botox notwithstanding) she’s too old to be a Miss. So Julia Gulia it must be.
Anyone doubting the need for stronger privacy laws in Australia should read Gai Waterhouse’s blog. The First Lady of Racing is a neighbour of Madeleine Pulver, the unfortunate victim of a bomb hoax in the Sydney suburb of Clifton Gardens. On 5 August Gai recorded:
The disgraceful way the press has handled the young woman and her family’s trauma … I watch the poor family, unable to have a normal life now as the press is stuck permanently on their doorstep. I would love the boot to be on the other foot. What a rude shock it would be if the family member of someone in the press was put under the same torture.
What has happened to respect and human decency? Has it completely evaporated in the Australian media? When I was visited by the police today, it was interesting to hear how even they find it difficult to do their work because of the poor reporting by the major networks.
Privacy violations are like house break-ins. You don’t know how bad they are until they happen to you. The Pulvers, having had an animal tie a device around their daughter’s neck, then had to deal with other animals (media vultures) camped outside their home and at Madeleine’s school. One form of torture was followed by another. The first is punishable by law, the second should be.