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Why does Britain lack the lockdown discipline of France?

Arguably no other country in the last half a century has undergone such a wholescale transformation of its national character than the British

March 25, 2020

1:01 PM

25 March 2020

1:01 PM

There was a touch of schadenfreude as I heard that Britain has followed France, Italy and several other European countries in locking down. In the last week or so there have been a number of articles about how Britain would never impose on its people the draconian measures taken by Emmanuel Macron and others because their countries, unlike ours, have a history of authoritarian government.

Boris Johnson was admirable in his wish to avoid locking down the country but the indiscipline of millions of his people left him no choice. Boris can’t be blamed for the packed pubs last week, the teeming parks at the weekend or the street barbecues this week. Nor can he take the rap for the stripping of supermarket shelves up and down the country, a phenomenon which in Europe is unique to Britain. It may be connected with the fact that a WHO report in 2018 stated that we Brits are the third most obese nation in Europe (after Malta and Turkey) and the ‘world champions’ for alcohol consumption. These are two factors, incidentally, which won’t stand us in good stead in the battle against coronavirus.

No one better symbolizes the obstreperous British than Joanne Rust, whose antics have gone viral after she was filmed being dragged out of a Tenerife pool having refused to obey the hotel’s lockdown. You wouldn’t expect such irresponsible behavior from a 13-year-old, let alone a 53-year-old Labour councillor.

There are cases in France of youths — mainly those on estates controlled by drug gangs or Islamists — flagrantly breaching the country’s strict lockdown laws. But overall, people are doing as instructed with good cheer and an impressive esprit de corps. Each evening at 8 p.m. across France, millions stand at their windows clapping and cheering in a show of support for medical workers.

Meanwhile in Britain, youths have slashed the tires of ambulances, stolen oxygen canisters and reportedly even spat at police officers attending an accident. One day into Britain’s lockdown and already police chiefs are warning that such a crisis is likely to bring out ‘the worst in humanity and there will be individuals who seek to exploit the pandemic’.

British youth have a well-deserved reputation for being among the rowdiest in Europe, whether it’s gangs of feral teens running riot in town centers or legions of school leavers fighting, vomiting and copulating their way across the Greek and Balearic islands each summer.

But it’s not the kids’ fault, so much as the parents. As I’ve written before in The Spectator, specifically about the reason why British children are generally fatter than their French counterparts, millions of British mums and dads haven’t the first clue about child-rearing. To them, being a good parent is about being a ‘good mate’ to their offspring.

In 2008, the Association of School and College Leaders first brought attention to a generation of ill-mannered and indisciplined children who had been failed by their parents. As a result, schools were obliged to teach not just reading, writing and arithmetic but also ‘basic social skills’. The warning went unheeded, however, and a 2016 report by a schools support service made for alarming reading. One dismayed school leader was quoted asking ‘why, in the 21st century are children still arriving in school nurseries aged three or above without being toilet trained?’

The French — and most European countries — are better at parenting than the British because they’re more, well, grown-up about the whole business.

Arguably no other country in the last half a century has undergone such a wholescale transformation of its national character than the British. As Rod Liddle wrote in his 2014 book, Selfish Whining Monkeys, a people once admired around the world for their stiff upper lip now ‘suffer from a reversal of the sort of stoicism manifested in the previous generation’. Witness the panic-buying of toilet paper, when, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, never in the field of human conflict was so much bought by so many.

It’s reported that the police have been instructed to use persuasion rather than punishment to enforce the lockdown, but such a noble policy is unlikely to work on the nation that has become the slack man of Europe.

This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.

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