Page last updated at 18:27 GMT, Monday, 9 January 2006

Views on respect: Deborah Orr

Deborah Orr
Deborah Orr writes a regular column in the Independent newspaper
She is married to novelist Will Self

The government characterises its 'respect agenda' as the civilised response to a bottom-up problem, caused by an underclass of 'chavs' and 'yobs' (such labels themselves not terribly respectful).

My own contention is that this is a symptom rather than the root of the problem, which is a top-down one.

That's why we're annoyed when Cherie cashes in on her husband's job, or when Tony hangs out with dodgy geezers like Berlusconi.

Even David Cameron already has form, having disrespectfully abused his position as an MP to write to his son's school.

Outside a supervised playground at dusk recently, I watched as council workers, probably on very low wages, attempted to tell middle-class families that the playground had closed for the evening.

One by one the family groups demanded that an exception be made for them because they were special.


When dispensation was not forthcoming, two sets of pashmina-clad Kensington parents became angry and abusive in front of the children they claimed to be championing.

Likewise, the wealthy demand to be allowed to flaunt their wealth without guilt.

They behave as though pointing out that children in this country, let alone abroad, are still having their life chances crushed by poverty, is a social solecism that would only be committed by the most naive of crashing bores.

Sticking by your principles is characterised as being stuck-up and pompous, berating trash culture marks you out as a "snob" and putting others before yourself is despised as nothing less than eccentric and suspicious behaviour.

That's where the respect has gone.

Those who ought to know better, don't - to the awful extent that they're never happier than when blaming others for their own failings.

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