Friday, 7 September 2007

Hull, Hell and Happiness

You know what? I LOVE Fridays. I know it's a cliché and small talk for people now seems entirely to involve either trading questions about the weekend just gone or the one coming up. But indulge me for a moment – I'm stepping back and, to use another tired cliché, I'm smelling the roses.

The weather outlook is good, England face Israel in a Euro qualifier, Jay Jay has joined the Tigers and Rovers celebrate staying up by taking on Wigan (£5 if you walk up on the day.)

There is another reason, however, for my cheery demeanour. As part of my job, I'm compelled to read the newspapers and keep a very close eye on what's going on in the media. Sometimes it's easy to forget what you're taking on when you read The Daily Mail, then the Telegraph and then on to the Express. Between them they paint a very glib picture of the country we live in.

Today however, I've just read about the release of the Economist Pocket World in Figures book. It is a series of lists on societal habits and norms within countries all over the world. It has reminded me that – things aren't nearly as bad as the media and some alarmist politicians will have us believe.

For example, the UK is top among the most popular destinations for tourists from all over the world. We have the fifth biggest economy and Britons can expect to live longer than almost anyone else. The number of people getting divorced has fallen, male suicide rates have gone down and the murder rate per 100,000 people (the clearest method of comparison) is comparatively low for a wealthy nation.

And it doesn't stop there - the UK has the second highest number of Nobel Prize winners on the planet and the third-largest haul of Olympic medals.

So how is it that opposition politicians and newspapers can whip up a level of hysteria that leads many people to believe there's something terrible happening to the country when they see violence on the news or kids hanging out on street corners? Simple – it's their job. Violence sells newspapers and discontent is oxygen to politicians out of power.

Yes, of course, there are terrible stories out there and they need to be dealt with. The good news is that they are being dealt with - but that doesn't help an opposition politician who has been forced to go back to his "core values". Is it right that in order to attempt to curry favour from the British public, the opposition talk about 'Anarchy in the UK' and run this great country down?

Is it right that they do it in the face of contrary fact? Overall, crime has fallen since 1997. The number of people claiming asylum in the UK has drastically fallen in the same period and we're at the lowest divorce rate for over 20 years. For the party who believe their core issues to be law and order, immigration and the family –why can't they be happy?

Seems the Tories just like singing the blues.

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