Mark Easton’s report for the Today programme (reproduced on his blog) about a study into civility by “social science think-tank” The Young Foundation is a classic of the Easton genre. He opens the piece with some Tory bashing, in this case reproducing a 2007 David Cameron quote which he then dismisses as “dangerously counter-productive bunkum”. He explains:
“Generalisations about declining standards of civility are inaccurate and problematic”, say the researchers….
I can almost hear a nation harrumphing at this idea. Where on earth did these “researchers” do their “research”?
The answer is partly in one of the poorest and most diverse neighbourhoods in London’s East End; Queen’s market in Newham to be precise.
“We observed how shoppers of a range of ethnicities queued patiently and stepped out of the way of prams and elderly shoppers”, they noted.
They also travelled to relatively prosperous communities in Wiltshire – Salisbury, Trowbridge and Frome – and recorded how “high levels of superficial civility… often hid deeper, covert incivilities” such as domestic violence, racism and prejudice against younger residents.
Poor ethnically diverse Newham is a paragon of civility because the people queue and step out of the way of prams. However, more prosperous (and – clearly implied – more white) communities display only “superficial civility” (queuing and avoiding prams is not superficial, evidently). These prosperous white areas are rife with racist wife-beaters, unlike the joyous melting pot of ethnic communities who all treat their women so well. (One wonders why the government is being forced to contemplate a law against forced marriage, then.)
The Young Foundation’s ideologically-driven conclusion would have been the same whatever the results of their study. If the noble people of Newham had not been good at queuing it would have been a sign that they’re all relaxed in each other’s company and happy to let others go ahead of them, unlike the stuck-up whities in Frome where queuing is just another blood-pressure raising inconvenience that contributes to domestic violence. And Mark Easton would have lapped it up just the same.
Incidentally, I heard the guy from the Young Foundation interviewed on R5L. What is it with the increasing number of spokespeople starting nearly every sentence with “So”? Is it a media training device to prevent “ums” and “ers” or something? It’s very irritating and unnatural.
(Be as civil as you like in the comments. UPDATE. Check out the opening comment by Umbongo for some background on The Young Foundation.)