Call For Crackdowns

Here in Britain, Tony Blair's Government is in a lot of trouble at the moment.

It appears there are people with past records as sex offenders who are nonetheless still teaching in our schools. And to make matters worse, when the story broke, ministers did not seem to know how those people got approval to work there, nor even how many of them there were.

The fear of the parents, of course, is that pedophiles are getting close to their children, and some of our newspapers have done their best to ensure this fear becomes rampant hysteria.

Now I am happy to acknowledge I can think of no more vile a crime than sexually assaulting a child, and my instant reaction like yours is to say that anyone with those inclinations has no place in a school.

But ministers are not there to make snap judgments, they are there to make calm measured decisions based on hard facts. I suspect they have tried to do that, and this has resulted in a small group of people with records of sex offences, working in our schools.

Ministers have been advised by various top experts that some of them did not pose a threat ... and as far as I know, there is no evidence that anyone has been harmed as a result of their presence in school.

But that is not a message to win headlines or indeed votes, and it is not a message in tune with our times.

The public mood in this country at the moment is one of fear, in particular, fear of the unknown terror such as the pedophile. These days children are judged to be at risk the moment they leave the house ... at risk from pedophiles, or cars, or even bullies.

In the late 1950s, 60 percent of us believed other people could be trusted .... now that figure is down to just 29 per cent. Fear governs us all.

Britain is actually a pretty safe country to live in, but we are terrified of crime. Most of the public think crime is rising even when it is falling.

Perception is what counts. And so the desperate plea is for security.

Ministers know the only way to win the approval of the headline writers and the voters is to promise strong action - the crackdown - how many times as a political correspondent have I reported on government crackdowns?

And as crackdowns fail to achieve that impossible warm blanket of security, so the headline writers demand even more crackdowns.

So guess what? Yesterday our Government ordered a crackdown on sex offenders in our schools.

Whether this crackdown will do any good is, of course, a matter for tomorrow's politicians.
by Peter Allen