End the ‘don’t give a damn’ culture

End the ‘don’t give a damn’ culture


Written by: Lord Herman Ouseley

Lord Ouseley* addresses IRR’s fiftieth birthday celebration conference on the connection between the lacks in political leadership and public morality and the crisis of youth out of control.

‘The event today is a reflection of past struggle and continued struggle. And I think it’s very important to acknowledge that just to be here today after fifty years has been a struggle for the Institute. It needs to be understood what people have gone through for the Institute still to be here today: the fact that it has relied on volunteers, and staff working for a pittance, and working long hours and sacrificing personal life as part of the struggle. IRR has been there when you needed it to provide support. It’s been collaborating for fifty years with activists on the ground here, in this country, and across the world; recording and preserving information about the struggles for justice and making that accessible to those who need it and who want it for educational and organisational purposes; producing unique and expert analysis on race and class issues and global oppression.

The issue of racism is one that we must never lose sight of. The media in this country have, along with their friends and foes in political leadership and government, driven race off of the agendas – political, economic, institutional and corporate. It’s off those agendas because this government wants it off the agenda. It’s off the agenda because this government has created arrangements such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission to soften and dampen down overt activities against racism. It’s off the agenda because public institutions in this country believe that, following the 2000 Race Relations Amendment Act and the struggles we went through to reform and improve the Race Relations Act following the Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, everyone had done what they had to do by writing their race equality schemes, and that was about it. It’s off the agenda because of light touch regulation. It’s off the agenda because the British media, and in particular their newspapers, are very powerful in setting what they call the anti-‘political correctness’ agenda. One of their modern heroes declared this week that the only positive action needed in a race equality context is for poor Whites.

What we’ve had over the last fifty years have been the responses to issues by way of moral panics. And they’ve not been underpinned by any morality – they’ve just been driven by media responses. The media sets the agenda. Have a look at the issue around Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand this week. Hardly anyone had heard about it – apparently only two complaints of a programme made late at night were received about the content of the programme which was clearly offensive. But nevertheless, the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday decided that this would be a big issue. “There’s a guy we want to get rid of – he earns too much money and it comes out of our pockets and it’s payback time.”

Whenever I have challenged such unacceptable, abusive and offensive behaviour in either TV or radio or newspaper coverage, I have always been told that the freedom of expression and free speech, notwithstanding standards of taste and decency, are overriding, non-negotiable rights. Twenty-one days after New Labour came in, on 21 May 1997, I had a meeting with the then new home secretary, Jack Straw, when I told him the big issue he had to confront was the British news media’s hateful coverage of immigration and asylum issues. The front pages were promoting prejudice and hatred in the minds of British people. The reaction I got from him was that we have freedom of expression, we have freedom of speech in this country and that was unchallengeable. That was even more effectively demonstrated later on in his term of office when he made very disparaging remarks about Travellers and Gypsies and was rewarded handsomely with fulsome editorial praise in virtually every national newspaper.

The financial banking crisis has brought to the fore a lot of the hypocrisy associated with free expression that I think is important to contextualise today. What it has done is firstly take guns and knives and gangs off the front pages. There are still stabbings, there are still killings but there have been bigger fish to fry. All of a sudden, we’re all going down! Money is more important than lives!

What it’s confirmed is the follies of the free market and its trickle-down theories which we’ve had driven from the days of Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher through to John Major, Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown. It’s exposed the fantasy economics. It’s confirmed that the whole leading coteries of New Labour have lacked ethical and moral leadership.

What we’ve seen since 1997 is a sucking up to celebrities, a worshipping of the bankers, a bedazzlement by wealth, a drooling over the oligarchs and their yachts. What we’ve created during the last few decades is a “Don’t give a damn” culture in our society. “I don’t give a damn.”

We’ve had no apologies over the last eleven years for the obscene wealth being acquired by the super-rich. In fact, back in 1997, Peter Mandelson said New Labour is very relaxed about people getting stinking rich in the UK. Today we’ve got one in three children who are living in poverty. They come from all backgrounds – one in three children living in poverty. And since 1997, there are 900,000 more people who are living in severe poverty. The government statistics like to say the gap between the rich and the poor has narrowed and social mobility has improved life chances of deprived communities. Try telling that to those people, in this, the fourth largest economy in the world, who are absolutely poor.

We’ve had crocodile tears. We heard in September 2008 in Manchester at the Labour Party conference Gordon Brown say he was so hurt to think that people would think that he’s not on the side of the poor and the deprived and the excluded. For eleven years, no leading politician has apologised for their lies, their distortion and the “don’t give a damn” culture that they’ve created. Not once did you hear them apologise for those who were getting obscenely rich. In fact, they continued to praise those who were getting massive, unearned bonuses, especially for failure!

Light touch regulation is not just in the world of finance. In the world of equalities, we’ve had strengthened legislation but weaker enforcement. When the government introduced its white paper on the Equality Bill, there was a white paper that preceded it that said: there will be light touch enforcement with the private sector. And it couldn’t get any lighter. It is so light, it does not touch anyone. And that’s why people continue to discriminate, albeit more subtly. They know there are laws, but they know if you break them, you won’t get caught. So what do you do, you continue to discriminate. So yes, it’s tough on those who want to enforce in the world of equality.

There’s supposed to be a fairness agenda, but not in the world of finance. It’s tough on young people in particular who are seen as anti-social and we’re building so-called “Titan prisons” – mega-prisons to house all these young people we’ve got to lock away. You never hear about “Titan prisons” for bankers and embezzlers and fraudsters, who also destroy lives of families.

When have we had apologies for the lies about weapons of mass destruction, or resignations from public office when responsibility should be accepted for major mistakes and failings? Who accepts personal responsibility and how can our leaders ask others to do the right thing when they don’t?

The “I don’t give a damn” culture in our society has created the crisis (now pushed off the front pages) of young people killing each other. And I am not just talking of ‘Black on Black’ crime, although that is of itself a phenomenon the police and the Home Office have identified. Only three per cent of young people carry knives and that is three per cent too many. Most of them say they carry knives for their own protection, but that is unacceptable.

There is, undoubtedly, a small cohort of young people who are deeply disturbed, are out of control, and “don’t give a damn”. They’ve not heard any leading politician get on television and say “I am sorry”. This minority of young people are traumatised, have been emotionally vulnerable from their earliest years in their domestic lives and throughout their existence. They have had inadequate social intervention and support through their whole lives to help avert the inevitable disastrous consequences.

At the IRR we’ve had good links over the years with active organisations, with youth organisations, and we’ve seen the way that this has evolved with cuts in youth services, with removal of facilities, large-scale selling off of playing fields and not enough activity provided for young people, especially those who are particularly disturbed.

Many of them are now in mental institutions and many occupy the prisons, even young people. The traumas have worked their way through to this small deeply disturbed cohort. They “don’t give a damn” and that’s why they’re behaving this way, resorting to what appears to be mindless violence. We need to know more about the interventions that are necessary to help them through their earliest years and to support them through adolescence to adulthood. We need to connect with those youth leaders and local communities who are able to provide some assistance, some guidance, some support and we need, as an Institute, to re-connect more with the activists on the ground, notwithstanding the fact that they’re not receiving the support that they need from local authorities and government.

It is critical as we look for the leadership to guide us through the present crises, not just the economic and financial ones, but the social ones too, that we maintain our links, our empathy with the poor and with the powerless. And we’ve got to look for the exemplary leadership within our communities. We’re looking to you and others that you are in touch with; to help us to become clearer about the way we can support those who are in the struggle, who are able to exert influence on those who make decisions locally. There is a deep crisis among some of our young people and we have a responsibility at the Institute, while continuing with our work of providing analysis of those who are fighting oppression and fighting for justice, to ensure that we stay connected with the most dispossessed and the most vulnerable within our society. We have a responsibility, because we care, to help end the “don’t give a damn” culture that has pervaded our society. We are what we do!’

Related links

Read an IRR News Story: Catching History on the Wing by A. Sivanandan

* Lord Herman Ouseley is a former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, the current chair of KICK IT OUT, the national campaign to kick racism out of football, and a Council Member of the Institute of Race Relations.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

8 thoughts on “End the ‘don’t give a damn’ culture


  2. This man must have been brainwashed by someone.I myself a srilankan tamil, I believe there was discrimination to tamils, but not what this guy is talking about. We all got free education in that country. I lived in Wellawatta, together with sinhalese people. You may be able to brainwash the ignorant west, but please dont spread this hatred among srilankans.

  3. Mr Sivanandan, Please stay in England, and spread the lies, pay your subs to the LTTE collector, and dream of an Eelam. We Sri Lankans, ie Sinhala, Muslim, Maley, Burgers and the non separatist Tamils (If any) will live in peace and harmony in our beautiful Island paradise. Tamils have lost many things that the Sri Lankan society extended to them like, trust, respect, brotherhood, not because of fighting but because of the lies they utter to orientate the international community. Be happy in England, leave Sri Lanka to Sri Lankans.

  4. Sivanandan is a lier. Never mind your lengthy analysis of politics the way you like, your claims/lies that Tamils have been in Sri Lanka from “time immemorial” and that ln 1956 Tamils were 20% of the population proves what you are. The % highest Tamils have ever been was in 1983/84 that is before they started leaving as refugees was 12%. You probably participated in writing the history of Sri Lanka (the version developed by Tamils to justify their claims) and taught to their children during LTTE time to brainwash them to end up as suicide bombers. Luckily for Sri Lanka we have a documented history (backed by south Asian writing) that informs the Sri Lankans who we are. Please dont “fear” for the us the Sri Lankans we are ok. We just got rid of the vermin Tamil terrorists, there are no more suicide bombing, INGOs don’t rule the country any more, We do. journalist are finding it difficult to write for $s, £s,Euros and visas. We have friends and good neighbors who comes to our aid when we are in trouble. We are not dependent on the approval and blessings of old colonists. Please teach your children the art of speaking grammatically wrong English which you have mastered(to impress that you are innocent)when talking western journalists, how to scream Genocide and how to lie, It is respectable to do it evn Tamil doctors do it these days.

  5. Structural violence, Is Humanity failed in Sri Lanka? I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people… now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion… the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhalese people will be here… Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhalese people will be happy. J.R.Jayawardene, Former President of Sri Lanka – London Daily Telegraph, 11th July 1983 It is a systematic genocide going in Sri lanka, we cannot tolerate it or we cannot be a silence spectator. Indra Gandhi Former Prime Minister of India in July 1983. Injustice to Tamils have been done systematically since independence to this day. When they tried reconciliation pacts with the party in power the opposition always opposed. When they tried peaceful means they were crushed and militarisation of Northeast began in the 60s. The message was: Tamils, you can’t agitate for justice. When the youth began armed violence: draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act was enacted and arrests and disappearances have been going on to this day. No genuine investigations except a few ‘eyewash’ investigations go on for so long that many Tamils don’t even bother to file cases and in cases ”tried” none will be prosecuted: In 1956 Sinhala was made the sole official language of the island placing it on a position of superiority. This act of injustice was compounded in 1972 when Buddhism was made official religion of Sri Lanka – meaning Buddhists were superior to Tamils, Muslims, Christians and Hindus. “Discrimination on the basis of religion and language was further intensified by the burning of the great Tamil’s cultural center in 1981 when the Sri Lankan armed securities in an act of petty and vicious vindictiveness put to flame the great repository of Tamil culture and two years later, there was a program against Tamils in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, orchestrated and directed by ruling politicians. This culture of impunity is the severe ill of the Govt. The Law of the country was miserably failed to protect the vulnerable Tamils.UN and Amnesty International archives will prove it. Violence of LTTE is wrong. But the structural violence of successive governments is worse (systematic and slow genocide). There must be a mechanism whereby when states ill-treat their ethnic minorities, it can be arrested in early stages,and help to avoid them become failed state. In the last three years the whole of the heavily militarised Northeast has been nefariously cut off from the rest of the country and abduction-murders have run into thousands and no investigations!! Journalist after journalist was killed whenever they tried to question the government. Only military sponsored, embedded excursions are allowed in Northeast. This is an island and there has been no mass exodus into neighbouring countries which would have attracted more attention much earlier – Unfortunate oppressed and fortunate oppressor. The dictatorship masquerading democracy (Nazi Govt) is reborn in Sri lanka and robing the Tamils civilians and their children’s life, education inhumanly in the notorious illegal concentration camps now . Their is a difference between a war ended by an agreement and a war ended by death and destruction. After many cruel and inhuman wars against Tamils in the Norteast, the final post war behavior of the Govt in Northeast is going on full gear for Lebensraum. Who will come forward to resolve this most vicious Sri Lankan intrastate crisis? A military defeat of LTTE’s armed struggle cannot ,erase the justification of Tamil’s self determination and liberation struggle, which has its justification under International law.

  6. One with an intimate knowledge of history of post independent Ceylon/Sri Lanka cannot disagree with most of the facts set out scholarly by Sivanandan.A few points are worth mention: 1.The late SWRDB did not enact Buddhism as state religion. It was his wife Sirimavo who spearheaded it under the 1972 unilateral constitution, authored by the late Colvin R.de Silva of the LSSP which ditched their principles on race and religion for power by joining her government, except the heroic NLSSP who stand steadfast by principles even today. 2. Sivanandan has fallen into the same “trap” that Sinhala politicians and their fellow travellers mouthed in pre-1956 elections that Tamils were outnumbered in the government services up to that time. In fact statistics taken out of the Census and Statistics Department for that period will bear that out. What was obvious was that Tamils were disproportionately represented in respct of their race to total number of government servants. However the fanning of race politics by even more irresponsible politicians, then, as now, would would not succumb to the cool of reason nor facts. In like vein it is surprising that the Author yet ‘peddles’ the theory of “favouritism” by the British when surely he must know that entry to the government services then was by competitive examinations for all aspiring entrants in english which was a second language to ALL Ceylonese citizens alike. Blaming the Tamils is a non sequitur. 3. The Author interestingly seems to view the monstrous phenomenon of “ethnic cleansing” as a subset of “genocide”. Or is it the other way round as we witness it in reverse these past few months with respect to the Tamil people of the Wanni? Regardless, both forms are inhuman, especially in the 21st century and inescapbly worthy only of very debased minds and form of sadistic governance. Great pity for people and country.

  7. i am thankful to sarvan for mentioning that there is a left movemnt in the south that is fighting for tamil liberation. facism can come only over our dead bodies. there is stil more time . let us fight togrether. sign the petition for freedom.

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