THE SURVEILLANCE SUPER STATE 14 September 2009

Big Brother under New Labour just got worse – much worse. From next month, all those who come into regular contact with children or the elderly, either through work or through volunteering, will have to undergo a rigorous check up by the Independent Safeguarding Authority. They will need to be vetted for past criminal convictions, disciplinary actions or unsuitable behaviour in order to maintain contact with children – or face a hefty fine. And many will have to pay up to £100 for the privilege.

In effect, this monstrously intrusive legislation makes the assumption that a quarter of us are potential paedophiles until we choose to prove otherwise. If we don’t sign up to this new database, we will be unable to work with children or vulnerable adults and they in turn will feel unable to trust us. In addition, it will become the biggest database of its kind in the world holding sensitive details for over 11 million people. In view of recent scandals involving data loss, can we really trust such a behemoth and those who administer it?

The ISA says on its website that the scheme is designed to ‘help prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults.’ They have in mind the Soham case where Ian Huntley was able to work as a school caretaker, despite previous allegations of sexual misconduct. Certainly the case of the Soham girls was a tragedy which shocked the nation. But this scheme is the proverbial sledgehammer cracking a nut. In any case, vulnerable children are far more likely to suffer abuse in their own homes at the hands of unsuitable parents and step-parents, none of whom will be subject to these checks.

While there should be some investigative checks for those working full time with children, it is absurd that this should apply to part time volunteers, governors or school ‘visitors.’ Among those in the latter category are authors, such as Philip Pullman. He has already pledged to stop giving readings in schools in protest at the scheme, one which he rightly describes as 'corrosive to healthy social interaction.' There is little doubt that he will be followed by others who are equally incensed by the relentless march of loony officialdom. The net result will be fewer volunteers and youth workers reaching out to younger people at a time when this is so vital.

In sum, this is yet another monstrous intrusion from New Labour’s Big Brother state. George Orwell would be turning in his grave.

NO TO ILLEGAL AMNESTY 24 June 2009

It’s hard not to like Boris Johnson. He is a colourful, vigourous and unpredictable maverick, the sort of freethinking politician who stands out from the grey suits at Westminster.
Read his columns in the Daily Telegraph and you hear the voice of someone profoundly in love with liberty; a hardened campaigner against the bureaucracy and political correctness disfiguring our nation. But his recent proposal to offer an amnesty to London’s illegal immigrants is both misguided and naïve.

It is wrong in principle because it directly contravenes the rule of law, the bedrock of any civilized society. This principle is just too important to be discarded for the sake of convenience. It is one of the things that make us different from Zimbabwe and other despotic regimes that repress their people for fun. The law is the law, as they say.

The mayor claims that an amnesty makes financial sense as we would gain £1 billion in extra taxes. But what he fails to point out is that the British taxpayer would be coughing up a vast sum in extra welfare payments, including working tax credits, child benefit and council tax subsidies for many of the new low skilled workers and their families. Good financial sense? More like Alice in Wonderland economics.

But an amnesty is also unworkable because it would encourage more illegal workers to enter the UK where they would then be vulnerable to exploitation. Here the Mayor should learn from the experience of other European countries.

Spain offered an amnesty to illegal workers in 1991 but has since had to offer 4 further amnesties to more than a million illegal workers. Amnesties also failed to depress illegal migration in France, Italy, Holland and a host of other countries. If implemented, Boris’ proposal would offer a field day to people traffickers everywhere.

So how do we deal with this problem? One answer is deportation but as this is both time consuming and expensive, it can only be done selectively. A more effective remedy would be to prosecute any firm that was willing to employ illegal workers.

With jobs cut, the incentive to remain would vanish and people would start to leave. More to the point, it would surely discourage other foreign nationals from entering the UK illegally.The immigration of skilled people, when sensibly managed, can be an immense boon to this country. To that end, the Mayor should discard his amnesty proposal with immediate effect.

BIGOTS USE GAZA AS AN EXCUSE 22 January 2009

The war in Gaza has proved to be incredibly controversial in the capital, with sharply divided opinions among our communities. But it is the domestic repercussions that are truly worrying. Over the past month, attacks on Jews and Jewish businesses have skyrocketed alarmingly. According to the Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-semitism in London, incidents are at a 25 year high with nearly 150 reported since the start of the Gaza offensive. Many of these have occurred in London.

Jews have been assaulted, a synagogue has been set on fire and there have been numerous incidents of racist daubing and graffiti. At some recent pro Palestinian rallies in the capital, people were marching with flags showing a Jewish Star of David overlaid by a swastika. This goes far beyond the bounds of civilized debate.

Quite simply, the events in Gaza have been used as a pretext for racism against Jews, with the attacks coming from far right and Islamist groups. This is both obscene and intolerable. Londoners, after all, would never hold the Russian community responsible for the plight of Chechnya, or the capital’s Chinese for the fate of Tibet. Indeed the mere suggestion of linkage would be greeted (quite rightly) with the strongest protestation. Every citizen of this diverse and tolerant city should feel equally secure, regardless of the foreign conflicts raging around the globe.

This point applies equally to Islamist extremists who wish to bring the UK to its knees. The MP Shahid Malik recently said that some British Muslims had a feeling of ‘helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness’ over the Gaza crisis which was ‘profoundly unhealthy’. He may have implied that the conflict, with its terrible images of civilian casualties, was fuelling dangerous radicalization among younger Muslims.

Of course, the Muslim community is pained by the suffering of their co-religionists. But they must confine their anger to democratic and legitimate protest, rather than contemplate violence against their countrymen. Islamic radicalization, whether it occurs in London, Manchester or Glasgow, should be tackled vigorously and with the full force of the law. Muslim leaders need to channel the community’s anger into more constructive activities and, where necessary, alert the authorities.

Those who plan attacks on other Londoners are consumed by the vilest bigotry and prejudice, and use external issues as an excuse for their actions. They must not be allowed to upset the good community relations we enjoy in London.

DON'T BAN THE BNP TEACHERS 21 January 2009

Londoners pride themselves on being a pretty cosmopolitan and tolerant lot. In a city as culturally diverse as ours, you can hardly get along with others by clinging to outdated and irrational prejudices that belong to a forgotten age.

So it may be tempting to feel a touch of schaudenfreude at the BNP’s current plight. Who really cares about the release of their ‘private’ membership list, you may think. Surely it is right to ‘out’ those no good teachers, doctors, and vicars who have joined such a militant, far right group?

Some have gone further and argued that the public sector is no place for BNP members. Chris Keates, General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women teachers, declared yesterday: "Those who declare their affiliation to the BNP should not be allowed to work in the teaching profession or in public services."

Like many others, I find the BNP’s views repellent in the extreme. But as a teacher myself, I think it would be a profound mistake to follow Keates’ lead here. Living in a free and democratic society entitles people to join legal political parties, however extreme their views are.

If we start barring people from public service employment purely because of their political affiliation, we risk turning them into second class citizens. Indeed they may simply join the more productive private sector instead, an unintended consequence of such a witch hunt.

Secondly, let’s have the courage to recognize that not everyone joins the BNP for purely racist reasons. Not every signatory on this notorious list will be a reactionary, bone headed Little Englander desperate to shut Britannia’s gates to ‘Johnny foreigner’.

They may find the BNP attractive because they are disillusioned with mainstream political parties that have too often silenced debate on the core issues of immigration, crime and Islamic extremism. None of this excuses the BNP’s hard line take on these matters, nor does it deny that a hard core of activists is incorrigibly racist. But it is a wake up call to the Westminster elite not to leave debate in the hands of the BNP.

Of course teachers, like other public sector professionals, have to adhere to the values of their profession, including outlawing irrational discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and ethnicity. But the place for this is a classroom inspection, not a McCarthyite witch-hunt.