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Wanted: A Charles or Charlotte Dickens for the 21st Century

Theodore Dalrymple has wrote a damning article in City Journal, a Manhattan urban affairs journal published by the Manhattan Institute. It is a response to a recent UNICEF report which claims that Britain is the worst country in the Western world in which to be a child. In his article Dalrymple uses the well publicised case of mother of nine Fiona MacKeown whose children were by five different fathers and who took eight of them to live in Goa with her new boyfriend. But her fifteen year old daughter, Scarlett, would be left in Goa alone with a man ten years her senior and would later be found dead, washed up on a beach after being raped and drowned. It is a tragic case, not least because she should have been at school, getting an education. Yet Dalrymple's article is taken up with his astonishment at the media's reaction to MacKeown's conduct as a mother and singles out The Guardian as being particularly guilty of failing to condemn MacKeown, preferring instead not only to take a non-judgemental approach, but also using it as an opportunity to highlight the double standards of how mothers who have children to more than one father are treated in comparison to men, who are usually treated more as studs and who are not held up as liable as the mothers. There's way more than one issue in Dalrymple's article. But the one that interests me here is the UNICEF report. Dalrymple claims that the two poles of contemporary British child rearing are neglect and over-indulgence. But then what would anyone expect in a Britain that has regressed back to Victorian levels of social mobility and with what is, basically, an educatonal division so wide as to constitute an educatonal apartheid?

The differences in educational achievement of children in the state and public school sectors are nothing short of scandalous. New Labour brought in the oxymoronically named 'academies' to try and fix the ailing state schools yet expects those same students to go into thousands of pounds worth of debt if they are 'lucky' enough to get the grades necessary (which requires some minimum level of home stability to achieve) to pursue a university education. And if they aren't lucky enough to get those necessary grades or even to pursue A-Levels then they are destined to enter a lifetime of menial minimum wage jobs because even those occupations that would once welcome eager apprentices and trainees and would train on the job, such as journalism and nursing, now require at least a degree. There are now degrees in everything to the point that they risk devaluation. There is something terribly wrong in Britain for too many children and young adults.

And yet on the other hand the media is obsessed with the brattish offspring of the famous who loaf around doing nothing except partying, doing drugs, sleeping with strings of others like them, and yet get paid thousands to endorse pointless products that are then touted to those who aspire to be just the same as them - those in the menial minimum wage jobs who dream of having those same inane, mentally bankrupt drugs/rehab/pseduo-lives!

These are the brattish off-spring who will then claim to be misunderstood and traumatised by media intrusion and who can then spend thousands of their own, or mummy and daddy's money to have someone understand them.

However, whilst the UK may have regressed to Victorian times they were lucky enough to have tendentious novelists such as Charles Dickens to try and portray their lives in at least one medium of a middle-class stronghold. We in twenty-first century Britain have no such figure. What we have instead is TV programmes such as The Secret Millionaire in which we see multi-millionaires - usually young enough to dispel the 'I've worked hard all my life for this obscene fortune' myth that they seem to want to prove, instead of the 'I've worked hard to exploit all the tax loopholes, paid my staff the minimum I could get away with and got them to do all the hard work, and relied mainly on canny marketing and PR to obtain obscene fortune that I will never need to live a very good several lifetimes' reality. Many of these people who want to make it known to the UK TV watching public their need to go undercover in some inner-city ghetto believe they are being kind-hearted. And many of them are, I'm sure, lovely people who are kind-hearted. But the fact is they are nothing more than the Victorian pseudo-social-reformers who would throw a few quid here and there and satisfy themselves that they had done their bit for the social good, but would then go back and make their money from the mills in which they employed ten year old children as scavengers and six year olds to clean their chimneys. One recent episode was one in which a thirty-something man went to Moss-Side to try and get down with 'da yoof, innit' and give something back because, guess what, he too was once a trouble yoof, d'ya get me? Despite having had a great education - a clear head start in life. And how had this man made his fortune? He had set up a 'finance company' (respectable term) yet was nothing more than a highly organised loan shark to those people who had managed to get themselves not such a great credit history. People like the parents of those teenagers he wanted to try and help in Moss-Side. These people cannot see. And it is these people whom society deems to be successful who then try and set themselves up as role models when in fact they have nothing to these 'troubled yoof'except buckets of self-righteousness and meaningless soundbites.

Do you see the picture here?

That's today's Britain - hypocritical and in denial to an alarming extent. And in my view one of the only occupations, or vocations, from which one can effectively portray this sorry state of affairs, is that of the writer, the best ones of which are necessarily on the kerb of what's happening - able to see and draw with sharp delineation the true reality of this state of affairs. We need a Charles or Charlotte Dickens for Our Times, Alarming Times, Very Hard Times.

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