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Lord Balfour of Inchrye: My Lords, it is my belief that in the past few years our country has been gripped by a malaise. The outward signs--the sleaze, the greed, the envy, the resentment and the discontent--represent
There was no reference in the gracious Speech to the issues which are of particular concern to me, nor indeed did I expect that there would be. However, I have at least gained some encouragement from one or two recent ministerial utterances.
A few months ago the Prime Minister referred to what he called the "yob culture"--the crime, the decline in civility and manners and in fundamental decency and kindness which George Orwell believed was part of our national character. But as Mary Kenny, that perceptive columnist in the Sunday Telegraph, wrote, behind the yob culture it is the rise of the trash culture which confronts us everywhere. Like her, I long for the sublime and beautiful but feel more and more surrounded by the culture of trash: trashy values, trashy commodities, aspirations to trashy standards, people whose heads are filled with trashy books, trashy music and trashy art.
The culture of trash is illuminated today by the kind of celebrities we are expected to admire. Recent examples are a night club owner, an anorexic girl who married an ageing rock star, an American woman who has written a smutty book and, perhaps above all, the pop vocalist Madonna.
What dismays me today is the manner in which trashy culture has percolated upwards to infect everything. It is reflected in much of the media. In an outstanding address delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, last June--surely a most suitable venue to have chosen since the United States is the leading exponent of trashy values in the world--a much respected headmaster said:
Broadcasting has also gone down-market, both Radio 3 and Radio 4 being pale shadows of what they once were. According to some of the newer BBC mandarins, the corporation is too posh and ought to be trying to reach a younger, less middle class audience and to be more "accessible". However, as everyone knows, any attempt to attract a wider audience results in lower quality and eventual absorption into the international mass rubbish culture of our time.
To be fair, The Times is not alone in lowering its sights: other so-called "quality" or "serious" newspapers now seem increasingly to fill their pages with trivia about sex, showbiz and the media. In passing, I remind your Lordships that there are sinister signs of how one newspaper group appears to be bent on destroying not only the high culture of our nation but also the fabric of its constitution.
A moment or two ago I drew attention to the current obsession of some BBC executives with everything being made more accessible. I consider that the reason so many programmes, requiring merely a modicum of intelligence to be understood, are thought to be inaccessible is principally the shortcomings of our educational system. People are not taught to think today, merely to seek instant gratification.
I have not been involved directly in the UK educational world, but I have witnessed at first hand some of its results and how few people in everyday life seem to be able to do the simplest mathematical calculations. Everywhere the calculator rules, not the head. In business I have observed how few people can write properly. Both secretaries and executives are often unable to spell correctly or punctuate and possess only a rudimentary knowledge of grammar. As an indictment of our recent educational policies, it has been estimated that the poor standards of literacy and communication skills cost British industry and business £5 billion a year. Unfortunately, I have more than a suspicion that too many of our unemployed are unemployable. I submit that a large part of the blame for this unsatisfactory state of affairs must be laid at the door of those so-called educational experts.
I turn now to what I believe to be another major cause of the debasement of standards in the areas I have been discussing. The original idea of political correctness may have been a reasonable one in that one should not consider persons of other races to be inferior. Unfortunately, that has been hijacked by fanatics, with the result that it has spread like an insidious poison into much of our existence today.
How I agree with my noble friend! I suspect that many present supporters of this ghastly creed are individuals who were reluctant to raise a glass or dance in the streets at the news of the collapse of communism and remain likely apologists for or sympathisers with that most evil of political systems. Thwarted on that occasion, they now see another means of destroying the great western cultural heritage which they deride as simply a tool of repression wielded against racial minorities and a ruse designed to enforce racial oppression, class privilege and so forth. These people believe that there is no such thing as an objective intellectual standard, that nothing is better than anything else. They sneer at the peaks of western culture as being the work of what they term "dead white European males"--a description which, according to the jargon of political correctness, manages to be racist, ageist and sexist all at the same time.
Underlying the doctrine of the politically correct lies an obsession with multiculturalism. To say, as they do, that in Great Britain we live in a multicultural society is simply to tell a white lie. The ethnic population of this country is about 4.7 per cent. At what point do we say that we live in a multicultural society? Surely not when more than 95 per cent. of the population is non-ethnic. To suit the needs of that 4.7 per cent. the politically correct propose to jettison all previous 20th century literature, as deemed unworthy of study or to be examined solely for the purpose of condemnation. In its place so-called "cultural studies" have emerged, a mishmash of "isms"--structuralism, post-structuralism, modernism, post-modernism, Marxism, Freudianism, semiotics--all overlaid with political correctness which is anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-bourgeois, anti-authoritarian and, above all, anti-patriotic. As a consequence, it is now possible for undergraduates reading English to obtain their degrees without having been required to read a line of Chaucer, Shakespeare or Milton.
Nowadays, in the minds of our educational specialists that would count as unacceptable government indoctrination. They would be far more likely to empathise with the Canadian Indian under the yoke of British imperialism than to refer to 1759 as the "Year of Victories". Our past history must be passed over with embarrassment, if not with shame, and the younger generation taught about the evils of colonialism.
I do not treat political correctness lightly but consider it to be a major cause of the lowering of educational and cultural standards. Already in America it reaches far beyond the campus and the classroom. It is effectively reshaping the ethos of American life, causing social divisions that amount almost to a spiritual civil war. There is no area of American cultural life that has not been made to feel the impact of that radical political juggernaut --and what happens on the other side of the Atlantic very often occurs here. We have been warned.
There used to be a time when education and culture in Britain were underlined by the Christian faith. However, despite, if I may say so, the most human and moving speech of the most reverend Primate, I do not always feel that that is the case today. A few weeks ago it was reported that the amount of time devoted to the teaching of Christianity in our schools had been drastically reduced, if not abandoned altogether. I may be wrong--and if I am I stand corrected --but I do not recollect much of an outcry from our Church leaders, who are often quick to pronounce on secular matters. Why on earth should my eight year-old granddaughter be obliged to study Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and so on? I have no objection to children learning about other religions, but only when they know something about their own first. I suppose that that represents another concession to the myth of multiculturalism.
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