Terence Blacker: So much for a nation of volunteers

Perhaps we should simply admit that the British are, by nature, slobbishly anti-social

Share
Related Topics

Evangelists of the Big Society would have been dismayed by the annual meeting of my local parish council last week. Once a year, a community of almost 1,500 people has the chance to comment on the running of two villages. This year there were important matters to discuss – plans for a major development nearby, priorities for new housing, changes to some common land used by parishioners.

There were 15 there on the night. Take away from that number serving councillors and those of us who were there to report on particular matters, and the public attendance could be counted on the fingers of one badly mangled hand.

At one point, the chairman reminded the meeting that there remained a vacancy on the council. There was much staring at the floor. I, and probably others in hall, thought of meetings about holes in the road, or the great litter crisis, and reflected on how those who volunteer tend to be regarded within the community – not with gratitude but with low-level suspicion. Busybodies, probably. Do-gooders. Or nimbies, out for themselves.

It is a general picture. In many parts of the country, the local council elections of 5 May will be rendered largely meaningless by a lack of candidates. Of the 550 parish and town wards in Norfolk and Waveney, for example, 90 will be decided on polling day. In some areas, not a single person volunteered to stand. There is a similar pattern in other parts of the country.

If a soundtrack for our times were released, it would surely have to be entitled Apathy in the UK. The same lack of interest in local elections has been evident in the bleary indifference to the question – rather important, one might think – of changing Britain's voting system. A reporter in Chesterfield had difficulty finding anyone with a view on the subject.

"The way they have explained AV, it's like solicitors' talk ," a bored non-voter eventually told him. "It's too complicated and looks as if they are hiding something. As for Clegg. Well, if he were on fire, I wouldn't chuck a bucket of water on him."

Even the pomp and silliness of a royal wedding, usually an excuse for a wallow in nostalgic sentimentality, has this year failed to get Britain off its bum. A few half-hearted street parties have been organised, but most people will spend the day slumped in front of the TV or (rather sensibly, in my view) ignoring the whole thing.

Of course, the blame for this national ennui and cynicism is always elsewhere: the MPs, the bankers, the recession, Nick Clegg. The Archbishop of Westminster has blamed the cuts. This array of tired excuses is wearing thin. It is a year since the electorate voted in a government which favoured volunteerism. Since then, levels of community involvement have, if anything, declined. Perhaps we should simply admit that the British are, by nature, slobbishly anti-social. Distrustful of authority, we prefer to maunder on pointlessly about the unfairness of life rather than do anything about it.

We will protest – we are rather good at being against things – but, as soon as there is any suggestion that the best way of improving a situation is to become involved, then we drift away, muttering excuses. The less we do ourselves, the more we moan about what is not being done by others.

Television reflects the same small-society priorities: how to make money from antiques, how to decorate our homes, what to stuff into our mouths at dinner time. We pride ourselves on our generosity but the giving is of an easy, showy kind – splashing the cash in a TV charity-fest.

It might just be argued that social apathy reflects a nation of proud individualists. If that is the case, we might at least have the grace to complain a little less about the society which we have helped to create.



terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Tax Solicitor

£40000 - £70000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Tax Solicitor An excel...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: This is an exce...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz