David Cameron has rightly apologised after his “Tourette’s” comment about Ed Balls. As the Prime Minister he is expected to uphold the highest standards in public life. On this occasion he has failed miserably to so do and I believe his comment is symptomatic of a more concerning direction in our public life.
Tourette’s is not funny. Any illness, condition or disability experienced by anyone is not funny. Nor is it acceptable for anyone to suggest it is. Ricky Gervais recently attempted to justify his use on the word “mong” claiming that people would know he was using it as a generalisation and it was not to be seen as anything else. I am not sure that even he believed this, to make deliberate fun of someone by suggesting they are suffering from a condition such as Tourette’s or downs syndrome is never funny, never acceptable and can never be seen as anything other than unacceptable.
There is a continuing trend in the reality TV world to make documentaries that focus on marginalised societal groups. Such programmes claim to offer an insight into the lived experiences of groups of individuals and their lives. Yet such programmes also entertain and often the “entertainment” is captured by considering singular aspects of these societal groupings lifestyles without affording the viewing public the opportunity to appreciate the intricacies of the history, traditions and culture’s of those the programmes are about.
To fully understand any culture takes time, it takes research and reasoned debate. Three one hour episodes and a Christmas special do not a balanced understanding make.
So back to Mr. Cameron. His government continues to attempt to systematically dismantle public service in Great Britain. Local authorities and the NHS are seen as bloated and their employees as over protected and under exposed. The mechanisms for financing these services are cut and cut as the austerity culture dominates the professional space. In circumstances such as these the only services that can be guaranteed are the “core” services, the services that protect and keep people alive (even these I am sure will come in for some attention) Those cluster services, the early intervention services, the prevention, the diversion services are under attack like never before and we see them wither on the vine.
Services that focus on the person, on their capacity and their ability to engage as fully and as rewardingly as possible have been the benchmark of British public service. We have led the way in developing innovative and meaningful ways of supporting individuals, groups and communities who experience disadvantage and hardship. More importantly we have done so (and in some case continue to do so) with flair and aplomb. We are rightly proud of our NHS, of our Social Work and Social Care services. All of these services contain remarkable people, people who care deeply, who see their jobs as a vocation and not an occupation. Our emergency services demonstrate bravery and commitment above and beyond on a daily basis. These services, these people deserve to have proper pensions, they deserve recognition. Most importantly these services should always be state led. Privatising them only serves to reduce their integrity and in turn commodifies those who use them and need them most.
Despite Mr. Cameron’s apology the fact remains he used discriminatory and derogatory language. He is supported in doing so by a weakened public service, a public service he has weakened, and he and his party know it.
Without a strong public service the voices of the disadvantaged are fractured, in financially austere times the focus is shifted to maintaining a level of service that keeps people safe. In any “big society” this is not enough. Not even close to enough. The quality of our society should be judged on how easily the voices of the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged are heard, listened to and acted upon. Those in high public office fail themselves, and their office by using derogatory and discriminatory language. They demonstrate their own ignorance, their own lack of understanding and compassion. As an electorate we deserve more. We deserve better.