Letter: Institutions of authority must earn our respect

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The Independent Online
Sir: I don't know whether the effect was intended, but hearing Michael Howard speaking about law or order on television last night has set me thinking about respect for authority in our society.

Whoever or whatever is responsible, it seems abundantly clear that no institution or class of people is likely to receive respect as its rightful due any more. Not the monarchy, not the judiciary, not the legal profession, not the police and certainly not the Government. Monarchs, judges and the others may regret this fact, but it is fact. Respect is no longer freely given, it has to be earned. It has, if you like, to be 'performance-related'.

Perhaps there was a time when failure to produce results, general incompetence or corruption made not a jot of difference to an institution's standing. No doubt it was before the 1960s. It was not necessarily a better time. In any case we cannot turn the clock back to it.

But the problem is a serious and urgent one. I feel very sad and ashamed and angry that our institutions are so discredited. I expect most people do. I don't want to talk about British justice, for example, with cocksure arrogance, but I would like to be able to use the term without a sense of irony.

When the sense of irony becomes too strong, people and societies begin to stop believing in themselves altogether.

One characteristic of the pre-1960s seems to have been that British people had a solid pride in themselves and some sense of national identity and purpose. The Thatcher era is supposed to have given us back something of that. It didn't. Its vision was far too narrow and materialistic.

The message to people in authority is quite simply 'do better'. And if they can give us a vision of a humane and dynamic Britain appropriate to the end of the 20th century, it would certainly help us to believe more strongly in ourselves - and in them.

Yours faithfully,

S. J. CURTIS

Bath

7 October

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