It's important to know what you are fighting for

Cultural ignorance and intolerance, along with drunkenness, are the most defining of our character traits

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The Independent Online

What a huge reaction, especially on social media, to last week’s column on “changes” to Charing Cross Hospital and its wider implications - possibly the largest I’ve ever had. Thanks to all who engaged with me - including those who disagreed.

That people care is not a revelation, more a confirmation of what I suspect. But the over-reliance of heart over head on both sides of the argument is alarming. One person’s conviction is another’s dogma; one citizen’s “right” another’s “entitlement”.

It’s symptomatic of the disconnect between the public’s expectations of public services and our inability to look within to see that unless we, the British people, change then those public services will always be controversially unsatisfactory.

What do I mean? Take A&E, the threat to which I wrote about last week. Have you been to A&E recently? Especially on a weekend night? It’s a hellish cross between William Hogarth’s Gin Lane and Hieronymous Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”. Drunkenness is everywhere, placing huge strain on both NHS staff and the police. Strain equals cost.

And yet, whenever I dare question the unalienable British right to get “mortal” every weekend, some of you accuse me of being “anti-working class”. Because it’s not patronizing at all, is it, to equate binge-drinking as a hallowed right of Basildon man?

It’s the same with education. Many bemoan the supposed lack of good local state schools, query the annual increase in public exam grade averages in the face of what we nevertheless see as declining standards and all of us demand ever more of our teachers. Plus, we read endlessly that our graduates do not meet the needs of British industry and commerce.

But, we also display a dismaying lack of respect for teaching as a profession and teachers as individuals; choose our schools via insidious league tables rather than campaign against them; fight instead to take our children out of school during term time and sign up blindly to the notion that ever more students going to university is a good thing. Well, perhaps -  if they were studying subjects we desperately need them to: engineering, physics, chemistry, maths, languages.

Ah, languages. Too many are proud of a lack of fluency in other languages; defiant about a lack of understanding of other cultures. Yet, it doesn’t stop us all plunging in regardless to offer views on everything from Ukraine to Gaza, Iraq to the burka and halal meat.

This cultural ignorance and intolerance, along with drunkenness, are the most defining of our character traits (alongside politeness), according to last month’s “As Others See Us” survey of 5,000 people from other countries. More importantly, they are partly why our aspirations for our public services are unrealistic. We also simply can’t afford them the way we idealise them. Ignorance equals cost.

As a nation we rely too much on the post-problem fix, rather than prevention through education. Yes, we should fight for what we believe in – be that the NHS, education access and standards, or the rights of oppressed civilians overseas. But, we must also look within and ask ourselves, whether campaigning against Israel or for a local A&E service, if we really know on what grounds we are fighting? Oh, and thank you for reading.

Stefano Hatfield is editor in chief of High50 @stefanohat