A Times poll has found that three-quarters of people surveyed believe British society is broken. Three in five voters say they hardly recognise the country they are living in. The task of the incoming government must be to change this.
Yet the terrible truth seems to be that the politicians have intuited what many of us in the public most fear: the assault on British society and the intensive culture of repudiation accompanying it has been embedded so deeply in our political and civic system that the task of reversing it, or accommodating it decently, may be beyond the ability of any political party, let alone any single leader.
What has been woven in so deeply cannot quickly be unpicked. Yet what we have been subjected to as a country may only now be coming to its full, rotten bloom. Take just one example of the systemic failure that has not simply occurred but been willed.
Last month, the Metropolitan Police commander Ali Dizaei was jailed for corruption and misconduct. Dizaei was well-known in the police force as a bully, a liar, a gangster and a crook. But he was also of Iranian origin (he had links to the Iranian embassy too, and spoke at a conference in Tehran organised by President Ahmedinejad). And he knew how to play modern Britain.
In 1999, in the wake of the brutal murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, the British police were famously castigated by the Macpherson Inquiry as "institutionally racist". That year, Dizaei moved to the Met from Thames Valley Police and made his crooked way up the ranks, rising to command of most of West London. He benefited from all the advantages and unearned promotions a torn-apart and demoralised police force could bestow on an ambitious man who happened to be dark-skinned. Dizaei found his colour his most useful asset. His second most useful asset was a system that positively encouraged people to abuse it.
With the full racist force of the "Black Police Association" (now the no less dubiously titled "National Black Police Association") behind him, Dizaei accused anyone who stood in his way of being "racist". When he faced serious accusations or charges, it was "racist". When he was finally imprisoned, it was "racist". The only thing that was truly racist all along was that someone — anyone — was given preferential treatment because of his skin colour. Yet in the post-Macpherson period that is exactly what was encouraged.
The point here is not that such a criminal chancer should exist. Dizaei simply took advantage of a situation that an arm of the state — under government pressure — deliberately created. No functioning part of society, let alone our law enforcement, should ever have been so eager to hand cudgels to people who wanted to beat them up. Yet that is exactly what the police in Britain did, or rather, were made to do.
For ten years, every time Dizaei's criminality came to light he and his Black Police Association friends played the race card. It trumped all others. Former Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Ian Blair was forced to apologise after an investigation into Dizaei's behaviour and made to praise his "integrity", as was Blair's predecessor, Sir John Stevens. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, thought it appropriate to exert ministerial pressure to allow Dizaei back into the Met after he had been the subject of the biggest corruption inquiry ever conducted into a serving officer.
Dizaei's barrister Michael Mansfield, the left-wing, anti-establishment QC, declared after his client's conviction that it was all very sad because Dizaei had played such an important part in "integrating a changing role of diversity". In that reaction and indeed in the whole case can be seen an almost medical cross-section of the sick British body politic: an institution of state brought low; the emergence of crooks and scoundrels seizing their chance; and the presence of opportunistic haters of Britain willing to hang on to their coat-tails.
A government willing to deal with the problems of modern Britain will have to accept that it will be called names. Among them will be terms like "racist" which have been very successful in recent years at ending debates and indeed careers. Racism is a terrible thing and should be condemned. But it should not be possible for flippant accusations of racism to be thrown around and for serious people to feel obliged take them seriously. If the next government even starts to deal with this problem it will have to be immune to such charges. Otherwise it will be left, as the Metropolitan Police were, trying to defend itself against accusations levelled by people who don't want Britain to survive in any recognisable form.
The agenda that has assaulted Britain was created deliberately. The job of the next government must be, equally deliberately, to take that rotten agenda apart. The saddest thing is that the party about to walk into power is the one most scared of the names it will certainly be called.