You can tell when a government is in terminal decline, can’t you – they start playing to the tabloid gallery. This government is no different to Blair’s in that regard, as if we really thought they would be. First up is ‘Sarah’s Law’.
The murder of Sarah Payne was truly awful, but unfortunately a typical disaster for our so-called ‘protection agencies’, staffed largely with incompetents, who never learn the lessons reported back after each successive enquiry. But instead of wondering why it is that our police, social services, probation and court services seem totally unable to manage simple, effective, appropriate and case-by-case monitoring, no matter how many serious child protection cases come to light, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith follows in her headline-grabbing, authoritarian predecessors’ footsteps instead. It’s typical NuLabour politics of distraction – why focus on the fact that in every recent child protection failure which went public, the culprits were the parents or close relatives who either had no convictions or were off the radar or, most often, were parents or close relatives who were already known to social services but dismissed through incompetence.
But instead of learning lessons and demanding competence, this scheme demands the opposite, whilst essentially privatising this government’s fetish for surveillance and control – why get the incompetent ‘protection agencies’ to spot dangers to children, when they can farm the responsibility out to the public instead! Set up a system to look for problem people by people with limited information, but no professionalism or experience, and you’re guaranteed to create them, regardless of whether they’re already there. I am certainly not advocating not keeping track of people who are a proven danger to the community. But not everyone convicted of sexual offences is (can we ask the deeper question why police won’t be allowed to disclose prior records in fraud, theft, GBH or murder now please?) The probation, police, social and courts services need deep reforms and better management, not a policy like this which will only have people already looking the other way – the wrong way – the next time these agencies screw up.