An important speech is being given about now. It’s being delivered as part of the Barnardo’s lectures by the children’s charity’s CEO Martin Narey in the Duke of Wellington hall in Westminster, and this is what he’s saying:
It saddens me that the probability is that had Baby P survived, given his own deprivation, he might have been unruly by the time he had reached the age of 13 or 14.
At which point he’d have become feral, a parasite, a yob, helping to infest our streets. The response to his criminal behavior would have been to lock him up – but we believe these children deserve better.
The point is, of course, to shock. And I hope it does. I hope (forlornly, I expect) that everyone who commented on the overloaded Lib Dem Voice thread last week gets to hear about this speech. Everyone was so sure, weren’t they. They always are in cases like Baby P. So sure they knew what the rights and wrongs of the case were. So sure the killers deserved to be tortured, executed or sterilised themselves. So completely sure that they, the outraged moral majority, were nothing like the killers that they dehumanised them into evil monsters – just to make the point. They’re not like us. It’s ok to kill them.
And these are, as a rule, the very same morally unshakeable types who talk about feral yobs, and what should be done to them – locking up, beating up, state-sponsored harrassment by the police encouraged by the Home Secretary. They’re just as sure about all that as they are about Baby P. Feral yobs are victimisers, Baby P was a victim. And never the twain shall meet. Will anyone who called for the sterilisation, torture, execution etc of Baby P’s killers be brought up even slightly short by this speech? Be made to actually think for a moment about cause and effect, about abuse and damage, the possible relationship between this feature of society and that feature of society? Or will they stay wrapped up in the cotton wool of moral righteousness and refuse to see a connection between victim and victimiser?
As it happens, the possibility that Baby P might well have grown up this way crossed my mind as soon as I saw his picture and read more about him, placed him in some kind of physical context. Tottenham, unstable family, Irish name. Anyone who has ever lived in North London can add all that together without trouble.
I have, of course, learnt not to say things like that out loud in the wrong place (LDV is rarely the wrong place for this sort of thing, but it was on that occasion). I remember, as a very small Head of State, watching some particularly harrowing news footage with my father of some children displaced by war – Sudan/Ethiopia, I imagine it would have been. My father was suitably stricken with horror when I said, “They’re just the soldiers of the future.” “How can you say that?” he said. Looking back now, I shudder at what a ghastly, unempathetic little child I must have been. How did I say that? I didn’t understand the relationship between victim and victimiser myself then, of course – what I presumably meant as some sort of judgement was actually just a statement of fact. But what’s more terrifying is, I was probably right. As a child, I could state what an adult couldn’t.
At the moment, the only concrete mass-movement outcome from the Baby P case that I’m aware of is a plan to release balloons in Downing Street on 3 December and demand “justice” for Baby P (I’ve seen odd mentions of this in internet forums but I can’t find anything official). I could have wept when I heard about it. “Something horrible has happened! YOU sort it out! Here are some balloons!” Oh hoo-bloody-ray. What in the name of arse, assuming even the limpest grasp of sub-logic, do the proponents of this plan think it’s going to achieve, apart from suffocating a few blameless small animals who will be caught in the wrong park at the wrong time? What problem is it meant to solve, what aspect of child abuse is it meant to explore? Why the hell do we tolerate this moronic morality of the emotions?
It’s rare for me, in my carefree republic, to advocate force for anything ever, particularly force of the mind. But on this occasion, I am angry, and I do think there are things people should be forced to consider – uncomfortable things that don’t involve releasing a single balloon. They need to be forced to confront the paradox of elevating Baby P to the status of the angels on the one hand, and society’s collective appetite for locking up so-called irredeemable children from similar backgrounds on the other. So well done, I say, to Martin Narey for being in a position to say the unsayable, and saying it in spite of the baying of moral certitude. A pity more politicians don’t do that.