Bloggers: here is my latest.
Safety phobia isn’t funny – it can be fatal
You should have seen the way we all laughed yesterday at the conker story.
You know the conker thing: the way some head teacher, probably a Lib Dem, decided to forbid his pupils from playing conkers without first fortifying themselves with safety goggles. Goggles for conkers! Ha ha ha. Ho ho ho.
Everyone in the Bournemouth amphitheatre threw back their chins and howled.
What will they think of next, eh? It’s political correctness gawn mad, I tell yer; and then everyone wiped their eyes, and sobered up, and prepared for the next question – a serious question, we assumed.
And that, I thought, is the problem. We have become so used to this kind of thing, the health and safety fetish, that we kind of bleep it out. Children not allowed to take eggboxes to handicraft classes in school for fear of salmonella.
Ha ha ha. Risk assessments to be carried out before every school trip. Tee hee hee.
Of course, it is mad that a teacher has to go to the proposed destination (the Science Museum), scout it out for paedophiles, highly polished floors and other hazards, and then file a report on these dangers and keep it on the school premises.
Of course, we know that such madnesses are reduplicating at a terrifying rate; and yet somehow they are so numerous, and so mad, that the wells of our indignation are running dry. We treat it as a joke, when the modern obsession of risk is sometimes very far from a joke.
Not only does this obsession add enormously to the burdens facing businesses and the taxpayer. There are times when our growing national paranoia is not funny, but fatal.
I have already written on this page about the shootings at Highmoor Cross, near Henley, and I only do so again because the independent police report has just come out, and the lessons need to be drawn.
It is just incredible that no officer was sent to the scene of a multiple shooting, where three people were bleeding profusely, for 64 minutes.
It is stunning that no paramedics were allowed into the scene – in obedience to police warnings – until 87 minutes had elapsed since the 999 call.
But what makes one fear for one’s grip on sanity is that the first decision taken by the police, on being told that there was an armed man on the loose, was that no police officer should be sent anywhere near the place.
Today’s report paints a fascinating picture of a frightened public wandering freely around the scene of the shootings, talking on their mobiles, wondering what was going on, going to the aid of the injured, trying to find the killer – while the police, the police who are paid to protect them, were waiting four miles away for the coast to be completely clear.
On the one hand we have the neighbours, Roy and Georgina Gibson, showing enormous bravery in going immediately next door to see what they could do, and cradling the dying in their arms. On the other hand we have the emergency services continually assuring them over the telephone that help was on its way, when it was not.
What on earth went wrong? No one is blaming the individual policemen or paramedics. They are brave people; they put their lives in danger; they see terrible things every week. But it is clear that they were wrestling with procedures so rigid and so determined to stamp out risk that they left no room for individual initiative or even for common sense.
As soon as the call came through that a killer was on the loose, the cops didn’t leap into their armoured cars, with their Kevlar vests and their carbines.
Oh no, they acted in accordance with the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Manual of Guidance on the Police Use of Firearms, taken in conjunction with the Thames Valley firearms policy, and for 35 minutes, they stuck with their immediate decision – in spite of ever more insistent assurances that the coast was clear, and that the shooter had fled – that no policeman, no matter how formidably accoutred, should go in person.
It may be that the two women would have died anyway; it may be that they were beyond medical help, though any emergency services person will tell you that in all such situations, the possibility of recovery is very often determined by the speed at which the victim’s condition can be stabilised.
We will never be entirely sure. But no one is in any doubt that the rules of police deployment – designed to extinguish any possible risk to human life – were themselves putting life at greater risk.
There are two broad approaches to life, and to government. One is associated with the Left, the Labour Party and the hysterically bossy Liberal Democrats; and I might as well tell you, since I am sitting here in this increasingly optimistic Tory conference, that one is associated with Conservatives.
Lefties tend to believe above all in the role of the state in ironing out human imperfection. That is why it appeals to them to ban hunting, smoking, smacking, snacking, and to swaddle everyone in the public and private sector with a great choking duvet of risk assessments.
Conservatives tend to think that of the crooked timber of humanity was no straight thing ever made, and that it is no business of the state to be endlessly sawing and sandpapering us all into shape. If you try to exterminate all risk, you impose rules that squeeze out individual responsibility, and deprive everyone in the public services of the flexibility they need to deliver the results they want.
It is a sign of the decline of any great civilisation that its people begin to worship strange gods: one thinks of the late Roman interest in Egyptian man-jackals. Now we have a new divinity that commands the adoration of the governing classes, as nannying and multiple-bosomed as Diana of Ephesus. Her name is Phobia, and sacrifices are being made at her altar.
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