Snow is not the end of the world, Britain is reminded

By staff writers
6 Feb 2009

Anxious politicians and commentators fulminating about Britain's failure to defy the recent blizzards afflicting the country were yesterday invited to lighten up and learn from their children's sense of fun.

In an animated exchange on BBC TV's 'Question Time' programme, civil rights campaigner and barrister Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, and singer Will Young, a past winner of 'Pop Idol', said that while the disruption brought about by the bad weather was a serious challenge, indulging in endless blame and ignoring the benefit to families of time together was the sign of an over-stressed society.

Mr Young, who is also a politics graduate, said that he despaired of the country turning into a "blame-ocracy", and sympathised with public authorities who could not be expected to be as well-equipped as those in countries like Russia, where such conditions were routine.

He added that the fun and enjoyment of children playing in the snow was something adults should be able to benefit from, rather than immediately reverting to a "Dickensian" sense of doom.

Ms Chakrabarti, better known for her vigorous human rights campaigns, most recently on issues of rendition and torture, said: "I confess I have enjoyed making a snowman with my six year old, something he has done for the first time in his life."

She said that while trying to keep schools open was important, she could not resent these moments of sheer enjoyment when for the rest of the time children are being "prodded", "monitored" and "tested to within an inch of their lives" in the education system.

Educationists, teachers and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams are among those who have also questioned the social, cultural and spiritual effect of a "test-obsessed society".

The Church of England Children's Society 'Good Childhood' report, published in book form yesterday, recommends that school league tables and SATs should be abolished. Testing prior to GCSEs should continue within schools but purely as a guide to the progress of every individual child, it says.

Will Young said that in spite of difficulties and frustrations brought on by the weather, we needed to face up to the fact that "there are some things, like snow, that we cannot control", and that it was good that people were being brought together by helping one another "rather than by fear."

The government has been under fire for not maintaining sufficient gritting machines and snow ploughs to cope with the blizzards, which are due to set in again this weekend after a brief respite.

But ministers say that these conditions are too rare to invest in equipment which would need to be replaced before it was used.

Meanwhile the British media has had a field-day with dramatic stories about a country "grinding to a halt", with up to £3 billion lost in productivity.

But a project being run by the New Economics Foundation argues that we need a wider sense of purpose, achievement and well-being.

NEF declares: "Well-being is one of our most important ends, as individuals and as societies. But despite unprecedented economic prosperity we do not necessarily feel better individually or as communities. For example data shows that whilst economic output in the UK has nearly doubled in the last 30 years, happiness levels have remained flat."

As Will Young said of snow-bound Britain, "It's not the end of the world".

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* De-stress by adopting a snow leopard through Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/lifestyle/animal_adoption/adopt_a_leopard

* New Economics Foundation (NEF) Centre for Well-Being: http://www.neweconomics.org/gen/well_being_top.aspx

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