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

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Isis in Iraq: Even if Iraqi troops take back Saddam’s city of Tikrit they will face bombs and booby traps

Patrick Cockburn
The Royal Mint Engraver Jody Clark with his new coinage portrait, alongside the four previous incarnations  

Queen's new coin portrait: Second-rate sculpture makes her look characterless

Michael Glover
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003