Remember in the 1990s when dogs were really dangerous? Every tabloid splashed across its frontpage photos of face-blurred chavs with bulldogs on taut leads straining to attack some dim child or slow pensioner. Growling and drooling.
Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells wrote letter after letter to MPs and Aunty Beeb. Oh, there was outrage alright. These insane mutts had suddenly been struck with an insatiable taste for human flesh. And all this because their slow-witted, tracksuit wearing, council estate owners were mistreating the fucked up hounds and training them to be vicious monsters, probably propping their eye lids open with matchsticks and forcing them to watch hours upon hours of fascist propaganda.
Oh gosh! The country was in fear. Terror.
As ever, government reacted in its usual pathetic way – more legislation. Who cares about personal responsibility, eh?
But of course, it was all complete bullshit. Dogs were not suddenly more dangerous. There was no massive increase in attacks. Folk were still raising their pets well. A tiny minority of incidents were blown out of all proportion and used by the vocal minority to, as always, force upon the entire nation pointless and unwanted new laws. And this is one of the characteristics of modern Britain: the government's response is always to legislate, to make more people in to criminals, to monitor, to control.
There has been a movement for quite some time now in Britain, a movement determined to remove any possible risk from life at all. To remove any notion that one should take responsibility for one's own actions. To make the nation numb. Passive. Apathetic.
Commentators from around the world have, with increasing regularity, been looking at the progress of Britain and seeing in it a slow, but purposeful, move towards fascism. Towards a totalitarian state. A police state.
And yet, talk to just about anyone in Britain itself and they will scoff at this suggestion. The population has become politically sedate.
I shiver when I read accounts of intelligent, rational men and women who could feel something taking hold in early 20th Century Germany, but who did not run. Did not try to change the political direction. And then realised it was too late.
Britain is now devoid of politics. The main parties appear to have gravitated to the middle, there is little real difference. Obsessed with spin and always trying to say what they think people want to hear, rather than what they actually believe or hold dear. But it is a deception, they are not in the middle. Both parties, and this thoroughly shames me as a Tory, have bought in to the easy option of jumping when the vocal minority shout. And why wouldn't they when the rest of the country is so silent?
And why are the vocal minority vocal? And why are they the worst possible people to influence law?
They are those who have suffered. They are those who are driven by intense emotion. So we have new laws, given the Christian names of lost children, to calm traffic because pressure groups of those who lost their dear, beautiful children scream at the top of their voice. And why wouldn't they? They should.
But law, law should not bend.
Since 1997, over 8000 new laws have been introduced. Each one of those laws represents the removal of a freedom from every single person living in Britain.
Someone is beaten to death by scum in one of our town centres on a Friday night, and the sinister, nameless authorities use these tragic events as an excuse to blanket the entire country in CCTV. And they will tell you, it is for your safety. Always for your safety. Yet, even the government's own data show that CCTV has zero impact on this sort of crime. None. Not a bit. (the only exception is theft from cars in well lit carparks)
A child is killed by a speeding car, and speed cameras are everywhere.
These measures all have the same effect, they remove the need to think. They remove the need to behave in a responsible way. They hand over one's conscience to the State.
Many of our liberties have been stolen away in the name of such tragic stories. And then 2001 happened. The attacks on New York signalled a new fervour for legislation and the removal of human rights in Britain. The 2003 Criminal Justice Act was Labour's ultimate strike at liberty, a complete upheaval of the law, which extended massively the powers of the police and removed many rights that people still to this day believe they have (such as an absolute right to trial by jury, the double jeopardy rule, the right of a prisoner to apply to the High Court regarding bail). All in the name of 'your safety'
As the passion and fury around 9/11 dimmed, a new threat was needed. A new way of introducing far reaching laws that would allow government to delve in to the private lives of each and every person in the land.
And they call it safeguarding.
Dogs, terrorists, murdered pensioners. All emotive stuff. But nothing compares to protecting children.
For years now, po-faced, flaccid nincompoops have sought to drain every last drop of happiness from daily school life. They fought to have camcorders barred from school nativity plays, they campaigned for children to be wrapped in cotton wool during PE, they harangued teachers with threats of legal action over every single aspect of school trips to the point where teachers just stopped bothering to run them, they shouted from the rooftops 'Health and Safety', they wanted each child to be free of any possibility of losing, they pressured schools to listen to the children through 'student voice', they wanted every child to be exactly the way they said they should be (and bugger their own parents), they relentlessly bombarded government with their awfulness because they knew they had allies in the shape of people like the horrid Harriet Harman.
None of this, none of it at all, has made the lives of children better. None of it helps them and none of it, especially, safeguards them. By putting children in bubbles, they are not stronger, they are not more able to deal with danger. They are overwhelmingly less able. They are not aware of risk and how to deal with it.
Just like many other teachers, I have experienced the despair at seeing a previously bubbly, bright young student turn, more or less overnight, in to a grey eyed, slate faced shadow of themselves. Child abuse is evil. It can break a child's soul. There is no excuse and the world would be a better place if such horror did not occur.
But even with that, even with the knowledge of what it can do to children, the case is not that liberty should be quashed.
I would rather be stabbed to death on a dark street than have my every movement watched by the State on CCTV.
There is no bogeyman, there is no long coated, thick spectacled pervert on the street corner or hanging around the playgrounds. These caricatures exist because the country does not want to admit that which is so unpalatable: almost without exception, child abuse is a home issue. Almost without exception, child abuse is a family issue.
Look, terrible things do happen. There are incredibly rare events when strangers harm children. They do happen. But they are so rare, they are so out of the ordinary that they are not the real problem. Yet it is these events that are driving child protection legislation and policy. Such a huge amount of time, resource and money is being directed in the wrong place. Instead of teaching children about how families operate and how sexual contact within the family is not something they should hide away, instead of teaching children about how to express their fears, about how to cope with family situations that are wrong, instead of spelling out to them what can happen in families and what they can do to make it end if it does, Britain is obsessed with the cover story. Not looking inward. Looking for the bogeymen. And relentlessly chasing innocent people. Demonising teachers or scout leaders, making it unacceptable to film normal family home movies that capture moments such as sports days and nativity plays, creating an atmosphere where busy bodies in chemists are reporting to the police normal mothers who arrive to collect photos of their children playing on a beach or laughing in the bath.
Child protection in the UK seems to be focussed on everything other than protecting children.
Schools that put blanket bans on youtube and social media sites are not, as they believe, helping to keep children safe. They are making children's lives more hazardous by burying their heads in the sand and not addressing the issue. If your school bans chunks of the internet, then they are idiots. Children don't have these controls when they leave the school gates and use the wifi in Starbucks on their iPad. They don't exist in this unreal world that some schools are trying to create. So by ignoring the world they do exist in, schools are not able to have the proper discussions about how to use the internet responsibly and how to take care of oneself. Don't block the internet, instead talk to children about the fact that much of what is on there is garbage. Talk to children about their online presence and the fact that there are idiots online pretending to be someone they are not. Teach them how to spot the signs and who to talk to if they are concerned.
It seems like it has been a long time since we were honest with children. In the 1960s and 70s when I was a child, you were simply told that some people need to be avoided. You were told about what can happen. And you were exposed to risk in your life so that you could learn to deal with it. From crossing a road, climbing a pylon or playing in a river, to getting in a car with a stranger. You were told: this happens and this is what the consequence could be. And then it is over to you, to use your judgement and common sense, to act responsibly.
There are no more incidences of child abuse now than there were in the 1950s. There are no more dangerous dogs. But Britain seems fixated on the issue at the moment and the tabloids, and the BBC in particular, seem to want to portray Britain as a nation of paedophiles. It isn't.
People are good. And that should be the default, not suspicion.
This fever that is gripping the nation at the moment is what is allowing a whole new swathe of legislation to be proposed. All of it removing rights from the ordinary citizens of this country. The Data Communication Bill, if passed into an Act of Parliament, will hand unprecedented access to personal information to numbskulls in local authorities. Your every email, internet search, phonecall, text message. All accessible to a range of people with absolutely no need to access it. And no right.
As the European Court of Human Rights, particularly following the case or R vs Marper, were right to assert, the UK state is already too invasive. This has led to the only great achievement of the current government: the Protection of Freedoms Act, which passed in to law last May. This Act seeks to undo much of the invasion in to personal privacy that had become so much the norm in the previous administration. It is what has quite rightly brought about the scrapping of the CRB and Safeguarding Authority, replacing them with the much more measured DBS.
And just this week, three High Court judges ruled that the CRB was unlawful in that the checks are a breach of human rights. When a woman in her 40s is denied a job as a carer because she walked out of Superdrug without paying for a packet of false nails a decade before, then surely even we all know that the grip of CRB had gone too far.
So thank goodness that common sense seems to be making a small comeback.
But it has not yet had enough of a resurgence.
Whenever I talk about this subject (and by the way, why is it so unacceptable to some that I do?), I am greeted with the same drowsy chant, 'if you have nothing to hide, what's the problem?"
Well here is the fucking problem: it is none of the State's business what I, or anyone else, chooses to do. So long as individuals are not breaking the law, then the State should keep its nose well and truly out. I am dumbstruck that anyone thinks it is acceptable to have the level of surveillance and intrusion that is now the case in Britain, let alone that which is being suggested.
And it seems that the cunning tactic of those who seek to create this sort of Britain is to brand anyone who questions it extreme. To try to use taboo to silence. To suggest that not wanting a police state is in some way equal to condoning child abuse.
Well it is not. And those who think so are, in my opinion, very sinister. Those who think that the individual is not allowed to question the State, are sinister. Those who think that they have the moral right to tell other people how to live their lives, are sinister.
Since the Jimmy Saville allegations came to light, the BBC has run on an almost daily basis some new paedophile story. And what strikes me about most of these stories is that they are cases that have not yet stood the test of law. Saville himself has never been tried by jury, so those allegations remain just that, allegations. Michael Gove was right to argue that teachers accused of abusing children in their care should be given anonymity until such point they are charged and tried. The Beeb, tabloids and local press seem to think nothing at all about dragging individuals through the mud as though they have been found guilty of a heinous crime. It is nothing short of a modern witch hunt.
It is time that the UK stopped and looked at itself in the mirror. Time to get back to a common sense level of legislation. Time to have child protection policy that actually protects children and faces the stark reality that they are most at risk not from some lurking monster, but from their own family. It is time to understand how incredibly rare such abuse is. It is time that checks and balances are put in place so that those, so tragically hurt, are not able to change the law by screaming the loudest.
And it is time that joy returned to our schools. Where parents and communities are not treated like monsters, where protecting children does not mean the loss of liberty from all, where it is ok to have freedom even though that may mean an occasional accident.
Those meely mouthed killjoys who, for their own screwed up reasons, think that failing to win the egg and spoon race scars a child for life need to be prevented from setting the agenda. People are good, but life is risky. We shouldn't pretend otherwise.