The reason I ask is that I’ve just been reading the Conservatives’ latest report – Reversing The Rise Of The Surveillance State. It makes all sorts of splendid and thoroughly worthwhile proposals such as scrapping the National Identity Register and restricting council access to personal communications data.
But what I don’t see is any mention of the most unpopular and intrusive surveillance legislation so far introduced by our Stasi state: the Government’s vetting organisation – the Independent Safeguarding Authority – which seems to imagine that all adults who work with children must perforce be paedophiles, unless they have been able to prove otherwise by filling out lots of tedious forms, waiting a very long time to work their way through the bureaucratic process and forking out £64 quid for the privilege.
As Professor Frank Furedi and children’s author Philip Pullman have argued, this barmy legislation – the Government’s knee jerk response to the killing of two schoolgirls by a caretaker (from another school: so not even someone known to them) in Soham – serves to “poison” the relationship between the generations. Not only does it put off adults from volunteering to work with organisations like the Scouts and render routine activities – like ferrying other people’s kids to sporting events – needlessly complicated, but it sends out the message that any adult who lays a finger on a child for whatever reason (if they’ve fallen over and cut their knee in the park, say) is most likely an evil kiddie-fiddler.
Launching his document Dominic Grieve, the Tory Shadow Justice Minister, acknowledged some of this when he said:
We cannot eliminate the need for human judgment calls on risk, whether to children, or from criminal and terrorist threats. And we can never eliminate all risk, it is part and parcel of ordinary life.
Exactly. All commonsense, soundly libertarian stuff.
He goes on to propose a Conservative response based on five central principles:
Fewer mammoth databases, that are better run.
Fewer personal details held by the state, stored accurately and on a need-to-know basis.
Greater checks and personal control over the sharing of our data by government.
And stronger duties on government to keep our private information safe.
Again, all fine. But then just towards the end, he slips in a weasellish phrase which calls into question everything he has promised before:
“We are not looking to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But we do want to re-calibrate the relationship between the citizen and the state.”
It’s precisely this kind of temporising which we natural Conservatives find so utterly maddening about Dave Cameron’s pretend ones. They seem to want to have everything both ways: on the one hand we’re going to do this, on the other hand we’re not going to do it in so drastic a way that anyone who might potentially disagree with the change will find anything to which they can object.
The Independent Safeguard Authority and its vetting procedures – which require fully one quarter of the adult population to be snooped on before they can work with children – are a barn door sized target.
Will the Tories promise to do something about it – or do they too share New Labour’s view that every adult is a likely paedo?