Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Paranoia Rules?

The trend in government – certainly in the UK – is to try to legislate for every eventuality. In recent years we have seen a plethora of legislation regulating aspects of our lives that a generation ago were considered matters of “common sense”. I’m not referring here to the rafts of “Health and Safety” legislation but to such things as the legality of driving and eating, or drinking water while driving, ownership or possession of “offensive weapons”, “rights” and let us not forget the avalanche of legislation governing any work with children. Then there are “vulnerable adults” whom we used to be allowed to say were below average intelligence, or suffered some disability, mental or otherwise, which precluded their being able to fend for themselves. Added top all that, there are or any number of things deemed “offensive” to minorities, Muslims or atheists, but, notably, nothing to protect Christians from offense by any of those groups.

Under this tendency, the usual safeguards of the law – that you were presumed innocent until proven guilty – have gone out of the window. It is now sufficient to be accused of one of a raft of offences related to children for you to be deemed guilty even if the state can’t prove it or you prove conclusively your innocence. “Registers” of offenders – particularly sexual – are now the norm and they have no expiry date. This affects even your children and their children since, being the child of someone on such a register means the authorities immediately assume that you are “at risk” of being a sexual offender yourself. Even if you are cleared of the offence and removed from the "register" - you go on another "register" that says you were on the first. The whole thing is driven by the paranoia whipped up and sustained by the Press and other media. Certainly there are some terrible people out there, but they are not the entire population which is what is now assumed in legislation.

This paranoia is blighting lives, communities and everyone associated with it is equally paranoid. I realised this after being “Criminal Records Bureau Checked” for the umpteenth time even though I had no regular contact with young people or “vulnerable adults”. I had to go through this performance simply because “I might have contact with these groups”. It made me realise that I was now vulnerable to the possibility of having my entire life, my reputation and my career destroyed by a single misinterpreted gesture. That, in turn, made me very wary of undertaking certain tasks and duties and I am relieved that I no longer have that threat hanging over me as I have now withdrawn from that ministry and work altogether. Years ago I was a Sea Scout and then a Scoutmaster, we had none of these legal constraints – in fact, aged 22, I was looking after seventy boys on my own for the most part – and had a huge amount of fun and never a single problem.

Recently I was approached to do this work again. One look at the “rules” and I decided there was no way I would place myself in such a position. Yes, you could say that I have become paranoid, and you would be right. But with reason, I have seen too many teachers – some of them friends – destroyed by false accusations made by malicious and undisciplined brats. Even when these have been proven false, the whispers and rumours – and the Education Authorities “rules” – have precluded a resumption of a career on too many occasions.

This is but one aspect of the problem. Health and Safety has become the major reason for curtailing activity, preventing change or even preventing progress. The threat of being sued terrifies managers, so they hide behind “policy” and “procedures” many of which, if followed, would mean the job could not be done. Again, the paranoia of the employer is driven by the paranoia of the politicians and their paymasters the Unions who are, for the most part, work-dodgers (At least in my profession!) who demand ever tighter restrictions on 'safety' grounds for any activity you care to name. In some Fire Services, the Officer (Sorry! Manager!) in charge must complete a WRITTEN “Dynamic” Risk Assessment of the event before committing his (or her) Firefighters. First of all, a written assessment is not dynamic. To be dynamic it needs to be under constant review – but having it on paper means that when things go wrong you can say “But my risk assessment covered that, and the men didn’t …”

Likewise, Chief Fire Officers now issue Standing Orders for fire crews insisting that they must wait until all despatched appliances are in attendance before committing anyone to any action other than writing your risk assessment. That tells me that these new managers are so lacking in experience that they do not understand the mood of the crowd who want to see action, not people standing around watching while things burn down. It also tells me that they do not understand the first principle of effective fire fighting, summed up neatly by William Shakespeare –

“A little fire may be quickly trodden out, which, being suffered, rivers cannot quench.”

All too often small fires involving one room are engulfing the entire property now by the time the first arriving crews have complied with all the ’elf an’ safey procedures, meaning all that is required by Health and Safety Regulations. As a fire fighter in the bad old days, I can recall that we had a total of three people killed in my region in twenty years service. Two were stabbed by bystanders – put that in your risk assessment – and one (NOT in my Brigade) was crushed when huge rolls of paper broke loose during a fire in a warehouse. In the UK, where the average deaths in service was one per year, you might have thought that this was pretty good and needed to be addressed through further training or perhaps a thorough going review of what was actually to blame here. Instead, Blair, 'expertly' advised by civil servants with no qualifications in fire fighting, and the Union with their 'Anti-militarism' ideology, decided that the system of training which had, up to then, served us very well, needed to be replaced by a “clone the clones” system. This makes use of photocopiers, assessment centres which measure little or nothing about the actual work and focus entirely on such really important things as “racial attitudes”, “gender orientation”, “equality” and that blanket catch-all 'fairness'.

At the same time, of course, with reducing the practical experience of everyone in the service and allowing completely unqualified “managers” to parachute in at all levels, the quality of service and the death rates have climbed steeply. Deaths in service are no longer rare. Where is the paranoia about this?

It manifests in a number of different ways, such as managers employing legal advisers to vet, review and reword standing orders and procedures so that the victim can be blamed for his/her death. This manifests itself in many different ways in a range of other fields as well. Taking photographs of your children and allowing a “photolab” to process them has become a high risk strategy and one with the potential to get a visit from the police or the social worker (or both!) just in case the photos are potentially 1) for use by a child porn ring, 2.) child exploitation, or 3.) have other children in them, not your own, who may not have given their (or their parents) consent to be in the photograph.

The “Food Police” are another manifestation, with “inspectors” rushing about checking fridge temperatures in busy restaurants and hotels and then trying to prosecute the chef because his fridge, during rush hour, is one or two degrees above the “Code of Practice” temperature. Warning labels on food is another case in point. I fully accept that there are people who need to know what is in certain pre-prepared foods. Nut allergies, sensitivity to certain colourants and allergies to gluten are perhaps not so obvious, or as frequent as the media make out, and they are serious. But why do the major supermarkets then have to stick a label on a packet of nuts “May contain nuts”? For heaven’s sake, who, with a nut allergy, is going to pick one up and ask, “Does this contain nuts?” Frankly, if they were that stupid, they deserve what happens if they eat the damned things.

The same goes for “Best Before” dates on packages. I know people who get into a right old twist if they find a package in their cupboard two or even three days past the “best before” label. Anyone would think the Black Death had arrived for another round the way they carry on. Simple diseases which we all used to carry some immunity for are now labelled “killer” and panic and paranoia ensue. I am amused to see that in Germany all the milk I buy is homogenised. It stays fresh longer and it tastes as good on day one as it does on day five. Yet, in Britain, mention Homogenised and the Food Police go into mass cardiac arrest. According to them, homogenising allows the manufacturer to pass on out of date milk, or milk that might not be “pure” or “safe”. But the same idiot will happily drink “Long Life” sterilised milk, not realising that this is how the dairies use up the diseased and really out of date milk!

Food that has been frozen on the day it was bought does not need to be used by the “Best Before” date – the damned stuff will keep for as long as you like as long as it stays frozen solid. “Best Before” is a device for the shop manager to allow rotation of stock and the canny among us always root around at the back of the display for the really fresh stock! Watch Mrs Islington Coffee Circuit though, she will carefully examine and note every “Best Before” date in her basket and then make sure she uses it before the date. She’s also the one who will go to a restaurant and ask the waiter or the maitre d’hotel endless questions about the ingredients for everything on the menu before ordering. Utter paranoia, usually she doesn’t have a thing wrong with her, but is terrified that she might have.

This paranoia is fostered by the chattering classes that infest Islington and inner London, by the media who can sell more news this way by scaring the living daylights out of people who haven’t the brains to wonder how their forebears survived before all the super hygiene nutters got on the bandwagon and turned common sense into an industry. It’s really about control. If I can make you afraid of your own shadow, I can control how you think, what you eat and where you go. That is the bottom line.

I love the German butchers, bakers and grocers. They display their wares openly, handle them carefully and are always spotless – yet I can hear the UK Food Police screaming in horror every time I visit my local Schlachter for some Sulzer, Wurst, Schweinfleisch and the rest. I watch with pleasurable anticipation as the great slabs of meat are lifted from the display, carefully cut and wrapped and not a plastic glove in sight! The same at the baker and the grocer has his produce so “Frisch” it’s still wet and has earth attached. No one gets e-coli from it and no one suffers from listeria or any of the other “killer” bugs that the media and the Food Police tell us lurks in every mouthful. Of course these diseases are present and they occur, but not in anything like the numbers the media reports suggest.

Britain is a paranoid society and, sadly, I think its terminal.


  1. Whilst the old totalitarian Labour Government certainly contributed heartily to this problem, the Gorse Fox holds lawyers and the human rights act equally to blame. An "ambulance chasing" culture of sueing for anything has grown and people have to protect their finances from these trivial and vexatious lowlife... this is what builds the paranoia. You should not be able to sue someone or some organisation as a result of problems arising from your own stupidity or lack of common sense.

  2. I totally agree, stupidity and a lack of due care on your own part should be an automatic rejection of any such suit. But note that our Totalitarian Old Labour forced the Human Rights Act through parliament and Mrs Blair has done very well out of her legal practice based on that and on the compensation cases her husband's government fostered so carefully.

    We should not forget that the Human Rights Act on its own replaced a large number of our ancient rights and prvileges as loyal subjects of the Crown, with a very small number and removed our right to self-defence by conferring upon criminals the full protection of their right to carry out their "trade" safely.

  3. Coming soon: homogenisation of inheritance tax laws across Europe. You don't want testamentary freedom, do you? I'm sure you'd much rather have an EU civil law code dividing your estate up in percentages dictated by the state. It saves so much time for you poor people who can't be bothered to make a will - and ensures the state gets the correct amount of tax out of you!