I was struck by something as I walked my dog recently. Not five minute's walk from me is a very large green open space, it must be at least the size of five football pitches and is used constantly by dog walkers, joggers and students and kids playing football, frisbee, softball etc. In the lovely weather the other day it was heartwarming to see a bunch of twenty or so young teenagers playing football, they'd even gone to the trouble of making sure that each team were wearing matching shirts. It must have been a relief for these kids to be doing this rather than setting fire to old ladies and driving the local convenience store around the estate at breakneck speed.
What chilled me to the bone was the phrase I heard uttered by a passing pedestrian, an individual I recongnised as one of the local councillors; 'We'll have to put a stop to this,' he said to a colleague/crony as he pointed to the football match in progress, 'if one of them breaks a leg, they'll sue us for everything we've got.'
What a tragic viewpoint, and the saddest thing is, it's not the being sued that is the problem, it's the fear of being sued. One would hope that if one of the young lads broke a leg, and if he and his parents and their ambulance chaser sued, that the judge would sit there and declare that breaking a leg was an implied risk in this situation and that they should get out of his courtroom and stop wasting his time.
This fear now permeates every level of life. I work in a public sector organisation where tried and tested legislation is overruled by policy just in case anyone should complain. Never mind that any complaint would be overturned as it is covered by legislation, the fear of a complaint is such that all pretence of being fair and firm goes out of the window. There was an article on the news this morning about parents refusing to allow their progeny to walk down to the shops because it 'isn't safe'. What are the police doing? Everybody knows that the bushes at the end of the road are teeming with paedophiles, so why don't they go and nick them? I'm not going to bang on about that statistical difference between 'stranger danger' and family members and friends because we've all seen it hundreds of times before.
The danger is no greater now than it has ever been, it just seems greater because it makes good copy for the newspapers who have to print something, anything to shift papers as electronic media means any actual news they print is out of date by the time it hits the shelves.
Of course the people who make most profit out of this feeling of fear is the government. Fear of ecological catastrophe? We'll look after you by taxing you more to 'off-set' the damage. Fear of terrorists? We'll make sure we can lock people up on a whim for weeks on end. Fear of crime? We'll put up CCTV cameras so we can keep an eye on you, all of you, all day, or how about a national DNA database? Don't worry we can be trusted to look after your most personal information, that you'll have to give us, even though there's no suggestion you've actually done anything wrong. We'll also make you carry this little card, it'll help solve crime, prevent terrorism, stop benefit fraud, be more secure. How? Errrm, well, look, it just will OK? Honestly, it's not your place to question us, we tell you what to do, you don't tell us. Now just shut up and put that cross in that little box next to your Labour candidate. Labour - because we know what's best for you.
Ben Franklin said 'Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.' He's right we've neither. H&S and Security - the totalitarian mantra. I'm off to re-read 1984, I've got the feeling that Orwell is actually the re-incarnation of Nostradamus, surely he couldn't have just guessed what the future would look like?