Litter Britain: rubbish strewn across parks shows once and for all that we simply can’t be trusted

The images of discarded rubbish covering the nation’s green spaces and beaches is a sign of a lost sense of common decency, argues James Mitchinson

Endcliffe Park in Sheffield after huge crowds gathered there in the sun yesterday (Photo: Ellen Beardmore)

Incredulous at the sheer weight of rubbish strewn across British parks and beauty spots, I asked my 43,800 Twitter followers: Even in the circumstances, in fact ... especially in the circumstances, this is disgusting behaviour. What has happened to our sense of pride and common decency?

“The had-it-all [baby] boomers refused to share,” explained one person. He went on: “This is how a disaffected society shows its disapproval about having the door slammed in its face.”

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I beg your pardon?

I fired back: “So, let me try to understand your point: you think the people who helped rebuild Britain - our parents and grandparents - following the horrors of the Second World War are to blame for the litter strewn across British beauty spots and parks this morning?”

That is, in my view, a disrespectful explanation at best. Lazy, moreover.

There were other people to blame, too, apparently: “This is what happens when those at the top don't care for the idea of decency and social responsibility, and foster a climate of ‘someone else will clear up my mess.’ It trickles down instead of the promised wealth,” offered another.

Really? The ins and outs of Westminster politics drives us to turn some of the most enjoyable places to spend time - in our own communities - into squalid cesspits? These are places for us, not them - whomever you perceive ‘them’ to be. I have to admit, I am struggling to even come close to making sense of this explanation.

“These people are the Festival Generation,” offered another. “Used to attending large, organised events where people are employed to pick up after them.”

So there you have it. Everyone, from the post-war Baby Boom generation to the youth of today. They were, according to a variety of commentators, to blame for the thousands of tons of litter left behind overnight.

But who is right? How do you begin to explain the abject lack of civic pride? The selfish conviction that someone else, who probably doesn’t live too far away from you, whose children will likely attend the same schools as yours, will be made to come along and tidy up your festering mess? The audacity; the arrogance; the ignorance are all astounding.

Those on the right cry: this is liberal Britain at its worst. People who think personal freedoms extend to having the right to violate public spaces, because you can.

Those on the left cry: this is what happens when you put a bunch of egotistical Tories in charge. Years of austerity leads to too few bins and not enough litter-pickers to go around.

Whatever your political persuasion, neither perspective comes close to validating trashing your own back yard. As ever, this isn’t about right and left; it is about right and wrong and seemingly too few have any grasp of the latter.

Let’s be honest, the real reason is: we can’t be trusted. We cannot be trusted to do the right thing, anymore. A heady concoction of entitlement and privilege emanating out of the ever-dissolving premise of common decency is behind this mess - literally and figuratively. That’s why, after all, enforced lockdowns have been required during the pandemic. Why police have been placed in the most invidious of positions, having to deal with people who think rules do not apply to them.

The question I have for you is: how do we navigate ourselves back? Precisely, how do we restore our collective sense of pride and common decency, or is it now forever lost to landfill?

James Mitchinson is the editor of our sister title, The Yorkshire Post