Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nanny State, Or Big Brother ?

"Hiya brother, I'm running late at work, do you think you can pick up Joseph and his friend and drop them off at scouts ?"


"No ?"

"No, because I did that 3 weeks ago as well, and under the draconian new laws that Nu-Labour have brought in, taking children to organised events on a regular basis (defined as more than once a month) means that I have to get a Criminal Records check done before I can take them."

Somehow, slowly, bit by bit, our longstanding and reasonable legal system of innocent until proven guilty is being usurped by a media led drip feed of paranoia and misinformation that almost daily allows an ever more centralist and power hungry government to erode our civil liberties, change our way of life and damage the social cohesion of our society.

In the near future, I will not be allowed to take my friend's children for a day's hiking without having a piece of paper from the government which decrees that I am not a pervert. We are moving into an era where everyone is assumed to be a danger to children unless proven otherwise. People, is this future of fear really the society you want your children to grow up in ? A society where children are taught that all adults are dangerous, where mistrust is the default mindset, where the unknown is to be feared and shunned rather than explored and engaged with ?

Modern British society is treading a dangerous line between Brave New World and 1984. Large parts of the British public are too apathetic to vote, but are dulled and pacified by cheap booze and nightclubs, X-Factor and Big Brother and a dozen celebrity gossip magazines, the antics of multi-millionaire footballers and 24 hundred channel television. We openly accept, and even demand, more and more official control and snooping into our lives, CCTV proliferates, we don't complain when the government plans to spy on our phone calls and e-mails.

Parts of the (mostly) right wing media constantly use highly emotive issues, in particular the threat of Islamic terrorism and the vastly over inflated (but copy selling) possibility of paedophiles on every street corner.

Everyone wants children to be safe, I want my niece and nephew to be safe, I want the children of my friends to be safe, I want all children to kept free from harm, but to achieve this I do not think we need to sacrifice all trust in society.

As media consumers we each need to think carefully about the newspapers we buy and the issues we react to. Most of the tabloid press use salacious banner headlines to sell copies. Criminal sex stories, and especially underage criminal sex/murder stories sell newspapers, and they sell newspapers because on some level the public get some level of enjoyment out of them. Reading about, or watching a television documentary on, for example, a child killer, gives us some sort of dark visceral thrill. Of course we are horrified and appalled by these reports, but at the same time we are fascinated by these events and drawn to to discovering more and more about them. At a level probably below conscious decision, we are excited and stimulated.

Newspapers know what sort of headlines will shift more units. "Girl kept in dungeon for 13 years" sells more copies than "UK VAT rate to change", despite the fact that the latter story is more important and will will impact upon the lives of all UK citizens whilst the former will only affect a tiny handful of people.

So, paedophile headlines sells copies, newspapers want to increase sales so we get more stories about paedophiles and we come gradually come to believe that the threat to our children from sexual predators is ever present because we are always reading about it. This mindset makes the passing of draconian laws both more likely and easier for the government. More likely because any government, and especially a failing government with a general election looming, would like to pass and enact legislation that has broad popular support. Easier for the government because with people and the media using emotive flashpoint issues such as Soham/Ian Huntley as rallying calls in debate it becomes harder to structure a considered counter argument without someone accusing you of assisting paedophiles in their aims.

Where are we going to allow our society and legislature to drift to ? CRB checks on every adult ? Similar checks on all teenage children before they become parents ? CCTV on every street, a government allowed and encouraged to listen in on our phone calls and read our e-mails and its agents granted permission to hold suspects in shadowy quasi-legal confinement in other countries, to torture people or collude in the same ?

Society is held together by threads that are unseen, but which can still be damaged by a paranoid ruling class. Every week, all over the country, millions of people volunteer to take children to sporting events and clubs, to look a friend's children for a day, to organise a Saturday afternoon kick about in the park or to drive up the Dales and get up on the hills, this is a part of how society functions without interference, how it had always functioned. Now though, unless I have an official document, I am not to be regarded as a a friend willing to help out, but as a potential pervert and sex offender.

One of the regularly dragged out arguments about CRB checks is the old chestnut of "If you havn't done anything wrong, what have you got to worry about ?". One thing I worry about is that over 2,700 people last year were wrongly given negative CRB results, innocent people were the victims of human error or computer mistakes and were temporarily branded as sex offenders, they were all innocent, but the person handling the CRB results at their football club or Guides group would have thought they had a pervert working for them. When the scheme expands you would assume that the amount of errors will also increase.

There is a natural relationship between adults and children, a duty of care for children that does not need to be taught or ratified. I worry that are walking into a society where I would not wish to help, for example, a frightened and crying child in a shopping centre who has obviously lost her parents, for fear of being branded a paedophile if I held the child's hand. The overwhelming majority of adults are not only safe for your children, they would be helpful and protective when a situation demanded it.

The new CRB system will damage many voluntary organisations and private events, many people will be unwilling to pay the £64 fee in order to continue doing a favour (of driving the neighbours' children to rugby practice along with their own for example) that they have always done previously for free and without suspicion. We should not have to prove our innocence to the state before we engage in simple social interaction, we do not wish to take risks with vulnerable children, but this system will do little or nothing to further protect children whilst damaging the invisible cohesion that holds our society together.


  1. The Lurker9:53 am

    Spot on mate.

    Did you know that everytime a teacher registers with a supply teaching agency (and most teachers will be registered with 5 or 6 agencies if they want regular work) then the agency needs to pay £36 for a new CRB to be done, EVEN IF that teacher's CRB is only a week old. Absolute madness! Therefore the lovely old CRB (owned incidentally by Capita of London congestion charge infamy) make nearly £200 quid per teacher for a document that continually comes back as clear. An average agency will register close to 400 new teachers per year giving Capita huge amouts of revenue.

    Incidentally, Capita has grown from an organisation of fewer than 30 people to a huge national business employing thousands after a 'chance' meeting of old school friends at lunch 12 years ago beween one T Blair and the MD of Capita (allegedly) hmmmmm... make you wonder doesn't it!?

    Things will only get worse and before long, football, cricket, scout clubs etc will cease to exist and then we most certianly will have problems.

  2. I think it's really fear of litigation that drives this stupidity more than genuinely increased levels of hysteria (although I entirely agree about the media's part in fuelling misperception - I think this provides this government with the useful excuse that these moves are 'what the public wants', when they aren't at all). It's all just an extension of the current governments obsession with 'seeing off all threats - or perceived threats' (to them, not us!).

  3. thought provoking. I was sitting on the fence about this thing until I read this. Firstly on the point of eroded civil liberties and secondly I hadn't realised that people would be required to pay for this (and also about the CRB for supply agencies!)
    Thanks YS.

  4. Squirt2:44 pm

    won't ask next time bruv! :(

  5. Ask any time you need Liz, the only permission I'll ever need to spend time with my Godchildren is yours and Kevins.

  6. The other annoying bit about it is that whilst treating the general public as perverts until proved otherwise, the government has bent backwards to protect paedophiles when introduced back into society. So the innocent are guilty and the guilty are helped.

    The Scouting association have been running appeals for helpers recently as without them they can't reduce the waiting list for boys wanting to join the Scouts. This act should have scuppered that hope and now the boys can hang around on street corners. Well done Labour, you have no idea do you.

  7. Anonymous9:49 pm

    The thing that is really stupid is that it won't actually prove if someone is a pervert - only that they have never been caught...