The full beauty and refinement of contemporary British culture were evident in a short item in the Guardian this week:
Four people died at the weekend following attacks during New Year’s Eve parties in Luton, Sheffield, London, and Toft Monk in Norfolk. A teenage girl and boy were arrested in Bedfordshire after a 42-year-old man was found stabbed outside his partner’s house in Luton, and a man in his 20s is in custody in north London after a 22-year-old man died of shotgun wounds in Clerkenwell. In Sheffield, a man died following a confrontation at the Stars and Mayfair Party suites, and in Norfolk two men aged 38 and 45 are in custody after a man in his 20s died outside a pub in the village of Toft Monk.
Four murders in a population of more than 60 million is not very many. Yet this is to miss their emblematic quality. The undertow of aggression and violence in what passes for social life in Britain (a country that not so long ago was remarkable for its low level of public disorder) is so obvious that only those with their eyes shut could miss it. Nowadays, wherever the British gather socially, you get the feeling that things could get nasty at any moment. The young British get drunk en masse, they scream and shout en masse, they make fools of themselves en masse, and they become aggressive and paranoid en masse.
Indeed, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the sound of young British people enjoying themselves and the sound of young British people committing murder in the street. I do not exaggerate. Twice in recent years I have heard the “normal” sound of drunken revelry outside in the early hours of the morning, only to discover later that it was the sound of someone being stabbed or beaten.
The citizenry either joins in the menacing revelry itself or retires behind closed doors like the Transylvanian peasantry avoiding Dracula after dark. Our supine leaders do nothing, afraid of appearing old-fashioned and stuffy and perhaps of offending the alcohol industry, which actively promotes mass drunkenness. Their paralysis in the face of so simple a problem to solve does not augur well for their ability to confront the much more serious and complex problems confronting the country.