Friday, 18 September 2009

A sledgehammer that misses the nut

IT’S been described as a humiliating climbdown. And even by the standards of this dithering government, four days between announcement and U-turn looks pretty quick.
Except that promising a review isn’t quite the same as a climbdown.
And in any case, there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind when you’ve made a bad decision.
What’s truly humiliating is that an appalling, half-baked idea ever made it into policy at all.
Sir Roger Singleton, the man charged with reviewing it, has already said the vetting scheme for those working with children is unlikely to be scrapped.
So not a U-turn, then. Just braking sharply as you pass the cameras before flooring the pedal again when you think you’re clear.
Children’s secretary Ed Balls has a good face and voice for TV, more plausible than many politicians. He almost had me convinced when he talked of the need to make sure children are safe. Almost.
It’s an easy fear to prey upon, isn’t it – the fear we all have for our children.
Because it’s the worst thing we can imagine, there is a natural tendency to exaggerate enormously the danger of our kids coming to harm.
That’s why we over-protect them.
Why we keep them cooped up at home when they should be out playing.
Why we insist on driving our young ones round the block (and round the bend) rather than letting them walk anywhere – which would certainly be healthier, and probably safer.
Why that almost mythical monster the Paedophile has become the bogeyman of our times.
There are, of course, genuine paedophiles out there. But very, very few. (Though I suspect their constant pillorying in the media has paradoxically caused their number to grow.)
It is probably appropriate that teachers should be should be checked for previous criminal convictions.
I had such a check myself before being allowed to assist with school visits to a Wildlife Trust farm. I didn’t mind, though it seemed over-fussy and unnecessary.
But to extend this to sports clubs, music and theatre groups, parents who drive each others’ kids to ballet classes?
There must be a real danger that tying them up in more red tape will lead clubs to close. Locking even more kids into an unhealthy regime of computers and TV.
Balls says: "I want to do nothing that makes it difficult for adults who are volunteering and working with children to continue to do so. No unnecessary checks, no bureaucracy."
Great. I only wish I believed him.
Because unnecessary checks and bureaucracy is surely what we’re going to get.
For this is another opportunity for a government obsessed with surveillance of its citizens to grow its Orwellian database.
The Paedophile, like that other monstrously exaggerated spectre, the Terrorist, is another convenient excuse to invade our privacy.
And frankly I object to being assumed to be a paedophile until proven innocent. It goes against every proper principle of law and society.
Not that having a clean record proves innocence anyway.
Predictably, Balls cites the Soham murders as a reason for the official paranoia.
Yet, despite the previous raising of doubts about him, Ian Huntley had no criminal record before he killed Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells.
No CRB check would have prevented him from getting any job or volunteering for anything.
The proposed scheme isn’t a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s a case of wielding the sledgehammer – and missing the nut.

1 comment:

Alan Baker said...

Aidan, as you'll know from my blog, I'm with you on this one. When you say "So not a U-turn, then. Just braking sharply as you pass the cameras before flooring the pedal again when you think you’re clear." I think that's dead right. It's long been a New Labour ploy to introduce an extreme measure, knowing that it will have to be watered down (though in this case, I think they really didn't expect such strong opposition).

And of course, Huntley not only didn't have a record, but didn't work at the same school as his victims.