“Something must be done about it”
Fingers must be pointed. A culprit must be “exposed”, preferably a new and different one daily, until the cause célèbre fades from the 200-point headlines.
So, roll out the tumbrils, sharpen the blade, grease up the guillotine. The Fourth Estate’s self-appointed Committee of Public Safety, led by Citizen Dacre of the Daily Mail, has spoken.
Bloggerdom will follow the curve. And so we have those, usually quite sensible types, like Nich Starling (of Norfolk Blogger) waxing delirious:
David Cameron asked some serious and purposeful questions about the handling of the latest sorry case of child murder in Haringey (and am I the only one concerned that these child murderers seem to be able to remain anonymous ?).
Gordon Brown, could not answer a simple question on the subject and instead levelled accusations of making it a “party political issue” at Mr Cameron. Actually, I didn’t see it that way, and the only person who chose to make it a party political issue was Gordon Brown.
If politicians are not allowed to ask serious meaningful questions of the Prime Minister in PMQs, what is the point of PMQs at all, then again, we might ask what is the point of Gordon Brown.
Starling is no frothing Guido Fawkes, though often tending to the sensational and emotional, but here is a typical mouthpiece of the Appalled-of-Attleborough and Dismayed-of-Diss school of internet hyperbole. His ill-liberal offering appears under the hardly-impartial heading “Beneath contempt”.
And yet …
There are two not-wholly-related issues here:
- the problem of what Haringey Social Services did or did not do;
- the Parliamentary furore that ensued on Wednesday.
So Malcolm considered.
First, nothing like the whole nasty story (and, no, Malcolm does not know it either) is yet generally available. It appears that further legal actions are under way, and there will be even more salacious revelations. Since the dogs will have barked themselves to a croak, the caravan moved on to pastures new, these findings will be relegated to page 16, below the fold.
Second, given the alternative of a billet in a less-demanding and better-heeled locality, one would have to be truly dedicated or a charlatan to work in Haringey’s Social Services. The Wards in the east of the Borough are not just among the most-deprived in the country, they lead the pack. The Borough reviews a dozen section 47 child-protection cases each and every working week. None of that assures us that the system is working perfectly: it is, however, working.
Curious, isn’t it, that those who winge about the “nanny State” and government interference, are those demanding that the State take over the local Social Services Department, and that it be micro-managed from the Minister’s desk?
Now for the shot-and-shell of the Parliamentary front-line.
Unlike most other instant pundits, Malcolm listened carefully to what was being said at Wednesday’s PMQs. He then refreshed his hearing by referring to the Hansard transcript. The following is the full version of the moment-of-ignition between Cameron and Brown:
Mr. Cameron: I tell you what is shameful, and that is trying to shout down someone who is asking reasonable questions about something that has gone wrong. Let us be honest: this is a story about a 17-year-old girl who had no idea how to bring up a child. It is about a boyfriend who could not read but who could beat a child, and it is about a social services department that gets £100 million a year and cannot look after children. That is what this is about.
In the case of failing schools, we take them over. In this department in Haringey, one in four positions for social workers is completely vacant. It does nothing to help struggling local schools that are failing, and another child has been beaten to death. I do not expect an answer now, because we never get one, but will the Prime Minister at least consider whether the time has come to take over this failing department and put someone in charge who can run it properly for our children?
The Prime Minister: I think that we are both agreed that this is a tragic and serious loss of life that has got to be investigated properly so that all the lessons can be learned. I think that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that appointing Lord Laming to go around the country and look at what is happening in each area so that we are assured about what is happening is the right thing to do. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has to accept that the executive summary, which has already been published, from the inquiry done in Haringey shows that weaknesses exist. There is an admission of weaknesses that have to be addressed. We have received the full report this morning, and we will act on it quickly. We will do it in the right way so that we come to the judgments that are necessary to protect children in the future. I regret making a party political issue of this matter— [ Interruption. ] I do regret that, because I think— [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister is in order.
The Prime Minister: I think that the whole country shares the outrage, wants to see action and will support the action that is taken both nationally and in relation to Haringey.
Mr. Cameron: I think that what the Prime Minister said just now was, frankly, cheap. I am not making— [Interruption.] I asked some perfectly reasonable questions about a process that is wrong, and I would ask the Prime Minister to withdraw the attack that that was about party politics.
One has to notice how cavalier Cameron is with the most basic facts (“a 17-year-old girl”). Then there is his low blow about “a social services department that gets £100 million a year and cannot look after children”: the sum of money, surely, is a marker of assessed need, not of public extravagance.
More disgraceful is what the commentators did with Brown’s reply. Here, for example, in Thursday’s Guardian, is Simon Hoggart:
Mr Brown returned. He would do things “in the right way”. Meanwhile, he said, fatally, “I do regret [him] making a party political issue of it.”
At this, the Tories erupted themselves. “Cheap! Disgraceful! Withdraw!” they bellowed, baying and booming, a ferocious blend of genuine and mock outrage. Mr Cameron demanded that the prime minister withdraw.
Compare that with Hansard above, and notice the interpolated “[him]”. A casual reader might think this is Hoggard interpretion “you” or “the Rt Hon gentleman” for the sake of clarity or grammar. No: it is a clear interpolation. It changes the whole meaning. Brown made a general point: this is not a suitable matter for party politics. The Speaker heard just that: “The Prime Minister is in order.”
Cameron either misheard or chose to hear Brown making a personal attack.
Hoggard chose then, more sinister still, to tell us not what was said, but, as unvarnished truth, what Cameron wanted to hear.
Thank goodness, then, that the Guardian has a cooler, more honest, head in Michael White: his blog piece today, Where does the buck stop in Baby P case?, is excellent and balanced.