In these dying days of New Labour, it seems likely that their most lasting legacy will be the triumph of form over content, spin over substance and the First Law of Blairism, Thou Shalt Be Seen To Be Doing Something.
For example, child protection. There’s been no real progress on the meaningful prevention of further "Baby P" type tragedies among the underclass. There are many kids being horribly abused in infancy and growing up into the little terrors who make life a daily misery for their decent and law-abiding neighbours, and the usual response from the social services is to shunt the problem around from agency to agency until a horrible tragedy occurs and the papers are filled with hand-wringing and calls for resignations. However, what we do have is the most ludicrous, draconian and intrusive legislation imaginable about to be enacted in the name of "child protection."
Brought in on the wave of public reaction to the admittedly horrible deaths of Holly and Jessica, two young girls who were murdered by a school caretaker who never should have been in post if the agencies responsible for keeping an eye on him had done their job properly, we are about to see a law brought into force that will mean anyone who so much as offers a lift to a football match or a girl guides meeting to a child not their own, more than once a month, will be expected to register at their own expense (of around £65) to be vetted by child protection agencies. Yes, nice middle-class mums and dads who help out with ferrying around their primary school football team or take it in turns to drive their daughter’s friends to camping trips, that means you. Pay to prove you aren’t a child molester, or you’re breaking the law.
Of course the effect this will have on the safety of our most vulnerable children is minimal. If anything, it could isolate them even more by driving away sincere volunteers from working with young people. How many students or small Brownie Packs can afford to spend £65.00 on vetting somebody who may only be around for a term?
But this culture of appearances goes deeper than that. For example, for complex reasons that may be expensive to solve, a school goes into special measures, as my daughter’s did a couple of years ago. A new team is brought in and almost invariably they tighten up on uniform rules. As a child of the liberal Sixties, where even to order a little girl to wear a skirt was considered to be an assault on her creativity and freedom, I’m continually amazed by the complexity and strictness of school uniform rules for even the smallest children these days (and remember, in England they can be starting compulsory education well before the age of four). Because school uniform is an easy target, a very obvious way to create the illusion of control.
Yesterday my daughter’s most intelligent, independent and capable friend – someone we hold up to her as a role model, spent the entire day sitting alone in silence outside the Headmaster’s office, missing an entire day’s lessons at the start of her GCSE year. She comes from a professional home, her mother works in a far more demanding, deprived school than my daughter’s, and because she refused to walk away from the class she was teaching in order to collect her child and voluntarily exclude her, this cruel and unusual punishment was inflicted – to the extent that the girl wasn’t even allowed to see her friends at lunchtime.
Her crime? She turned up in grey and white striped socks, instead of the regulation black.
Thus is Blairism pacified. Thou shalt be seen to be Doing Something, and in the interests of same, it is perfectly all right to pick an easy target and let the real trouble-makers go their merry way.
My son is offering to organise a mass rebellion, and have everyone turn up in grey socks and V masks on the appointed day. I am so very proud of him.