How Broken Britain became a broken record

There’s nothing original in David Cameron’s phrase, which has been spouted for years by tabloids, celebs and politicians.

Michael P Fitzpatrick

Topics Politics

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UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron has turned the phrase ‘Broken Britain’ into something of a catchphrase, particularly in the aftermath of the recent Edlington case where two young brothers aged 10 and 11 brutally assaulted two other young boys.

Cameron presents a picture of a British society where children have the behavioural instincts of animals, and where teenage girls have children just so they can claim benefits. Far from being original or insightful, however, the phrase ‘Broken Britain’ has become a broken record that is played continuously by Tory spokespeople, by self-important celebs and by newspapers such as the Sun and the Daily Mail. And far from being a real reflection of today’s society, the idea of ‘Broken Britain’ is a stick that is used to beat certain sections of society and to blame all of Britain’s problems on Britain’s most powerless communities.

Nearly three years ago, in 2007, Cameron vowed to ‘fix Britain’s broken society’ and he emphasised the importance of marriage in family life. Now, Cameron has returned to his refrain about ‘Broken Britain’, suggesting that the Edlington case illustrates a problem of feral youth and arguing that New Labour’s policies have only intensified the breakdown of society. Cameron is not alone in using this phrase – it has also been dragged out by a stellar cast of luminaries, including Sir Alan Sugar, Leona Lewis and even Noel Edmonds.

In 2007 the term was attached to ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show, the Jerry Springer-style mid-morning programme where dysfunctional families air their problems in public and even undergo lie-detector tests to try to prove who is telling the truth. That same year, TV presenter Noel Edmonds created a programme called Noel’s HQ for Sky One. In the show, Edmonds rewards acts of kindness and names and shames people who have acted badly. He also has his annual Christmas special, Noel’s Christmas Presents, where he gives audacious gifts to British heroes (though by the end of the programme, it always seems to be Noel who is the hero). Edmonds doesn’t simply want to be nice to people – he claims his TV shows are a ‘tiny step’ towards ‘fixing Britain’. Quite how two programmes only available to those with a satellite dish and a Sky subscription could fix some of Britain’s worst social problems is never explained.

In May 2008, the entrepreneur and star of The Apprentice Sir Alan Sugar said that knife crime was just like the weather; you know it will happen and you only read about it to discover the details. He, too, claimed that ‘Britain is broken’. In August 2009, the aristocracy lent a hand to help fix society, with the Duchess of York declaring Britain well and truly broken after she spent five days – a veritable lifetime in royal years – on the Northern Moor housing estate in Manchester. She was later heavily criticised by the locals who accused her of exaggerating the level of deprivation and depravity there.

As we all know, celebrities are the real heroes of today’s society. Both Leona Lewis and Simon Cowell have used the term ‘Broken Britain’. And Cowell has even credited himself with doing his bit to fix it. In May 2008, he argued that Britain’s Got Talent was giving children a chance to make something of themselves and to escape poverty. In November 2008, Leona claimed that if Barack Obama were to be elected as president in the US, then that would somehow help to resolve the problem of ‘Broken Britain’… A year on, Obama doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent in American society, let alone in Britain. Maybe Leona should stick to singing. What all this demonstrates is that the notion of ‘Broken Britain’ has been overplayed like an X-Factor winner’s song, for the benefit of a wannabe prime minister and an out-of-control gang of puffed-up celebrities.

Last year, the Sun even titled a whole section of its paper ‘Broken Britain’, wherein its writers discussed the poverty levels of Yorkshire council estates. The highest-profile ‘Broken Britain’ story covered by the Sun was the shocking tale of how Alfie Patten, a 13-year-old from Hailsham in east Sussex, had become Britain’s youngest father in February 2009. The Sun claimed that this shocking event was a reflection of Britain’s Dickensian society, where children are having children and everyone heads towards a lifetime of unemployment. It helped enormously that young Alfie was just four feet tall, accentuating his youth. Conservative politician Iain Duncan Smith said the Alfie story represented the collapse of certain sectors of British society.

Unfortunately for the ‘Broken Britain’ brigade, the wheels came off this bandwagon three months later: Alfie was proven not to be the child’s father after all. The idea of a society degenerating before us is as illusory as Alfie’s paternity.

There is no doubt that there are many social and economic problems in Britain today, but there is little evidence to suggest that they are worse now than in the past. ‘Broken Britain’ is little more than a nice piece of alliteration. Those who love to trot out the phrase are less interested in solving social problems than they are in furthering their own agendas.

Michael P Fitzpatrick is an intern at spiked.

Previously on spiked

Nathalie Rothschild examined what the ‘politics of behaviour’ with a Tory twist would look like. Jennie Bristow looked at Britain’s problems in her review of the book Contemporary Social Evils. Tim Black reported on a London gym offering lessons in how to beat up chavs. Mick Hume offered a short history of hooligan panics. Or read more at spiked issue Anti-social behaviour.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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