First published in the Northern Echo
One of the first pages I turn to in the Northern Echo is the letters page: Hear All Sides. It’s compulsive reading; even more so than in most other papers I read. People’s views are always interesting but one would assume it’s generally those who feel very strongly about something who write to the editor. And by the evidence in HAS, it’s quite apparant that there’s a handful of people, predominantly men, who feel very strongly about lots of things.
And one of the most common topics is that of blame. It’s usually the government’s fault, or maybe the labour party, or the sell-out lib dems who’ve ruined everything, or someone else who’s making our lives so miserable. At least we can sleep well in our beds knowing it’s not us to blame.
Blame’s a powerful thing and its use can really cloud an argument. Just listen to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 and you’ll hear Jeremy encouraging little but polarised argument. It’s either one thing or the other but rarely some sensible, yet rather complicated and more sophisticated, combination of many factors somewhere in the middle ground.
In truth, when it comes to blame, the government of the day has little influence over our lives. Sure they can tinker at the edges and, in the process, make a lot of noise so as to justify their existence. But there’s a well-educated body of opinion that suggests that governments, unless extreem, are largely powerless and the major influencers on our wellbeing come from wider external factors – the larger world around us – and it’s how we, as individuals, adapt to those infuences that effects our quality of life.
So yes, the nasty men in Westminster mess things up for us. But so do those in County Hall along with those in the corporate headquarters, and the catering industry and various beaurocrats and quango officials as well as the neighbours.
But wait a minute, we’re all neighbours so that means that we’re to blame too for any mess we perceive ourselves to be in. After all, we voted the government in or didn’t bother to vote in council elections or bought the big company’s products. That’s why I’ve argued that we, as consumers, must take a significant part of the blame for the horse meat scandal. We’ve happily bought ever-cheaper food without for a moment wondering how anybody in the supply chain can still make a profit if the contents have any quality whatsoever; never wondering about the quality of life that the source animal had in order to feed us; never giving any thought to the life-enhancing properties of the cheap lasagna we’re shovelling down our throats.
So it’s not just the government’s fault. We’re all to blame: the meat suppliers, food manufacturers, retailers and us, the consumers. It’s why I’ve happily taken issue with Mr Malcolm Walker, the chief executive of Iceland. He recently said that supermarkets shouldn’t blamed for horse meat in food; that if we’re to blame somebody, let’s start with local authorities.
So on that basis, if we, at Oldfields, start to serve our customers dodgy meat, we can blame . . . . who? Maybe we don’t need to check where our meat comes from because we can leave that to our suppliers. If we find some exceptionally cheap meat, we should assume it’s top notch quality because the guy who came to the back door to sell it to us said it was. Or we could always blame the local authority.
Or maybe we should take some responsibility. And that means all of us including you and I and that nice Mr Iceland.