Comments from the Party Conference

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.

Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004. Terms & Conditions of reading.

21 thoughts on “Comments from the Party Conference”

  1. This phobia is the result of the increasing number of american-sized settlements on lawsuits brought about from health and safety issues. Lack of commen sense when most of these accidents happen does not seem to matter when seeking financial retribution. Overprotectionism is killing the age old theory that sometimes the best way to learn what is dangerous is to get hit in the eye with a conker….

  2. Awww…I was so chuffed to see a new “comments from the conference post” in my RSS reader…I clicked excitedly to BorisBlog, only to discover it was the same article I’d already read in this morning’s Telegraph. 🙁

    Nevertheless, good to have access to Boris’ columns from more than one source. Thanks. But I expect I am not alone in hoping that we’ll see more of the man himself, spontaneous, and exclusive to the blog! Dunno where he’ll get the time what with his already amazing list of achievements, but I live in hope.

    Hey Boris, when’s your Dad gonna start blogging?

  3. Interesting to see the children’s reactions on the news. Suprisingly, they were very happy to wear them and could see the logic in protecting their eyes, just as they do when doing experiments and CDT.

  4. In the letters page of the Telegraph there was an interesting letter telling us; not only is touching of a sexual nature illegal under the age of 16, ie. snogging at the school disco, but am I right in remembering that sexual intent is illegal? I think the phrase used was ‘mutual assault’, however it seems that just thinking about it can get you in trouble. Mum was right then!
    Good job you went to a boys school Boris, you would have needed a government health warning. Or am I descriminating now? The worlds gone mad!

  5. In the same copy of the Telegraph – a news item on the banning of conkers lest they cause nut allergies in children.

  6. One of the most hilarious cases of PC I’ve come across is being told not to use the term ‘brain storming’ because it will cause offence to epileptics.
    I am epileptic. I can’t remember when I have laughed harder.

  7. Boris, it appears you have again succeeded in rambling on for an entire article about absolutely nothing, and being paid for it! You are that COOL! Keep up the good work.

  8. What on earth do safety goggles and over protectiveness in schools have to do with Political Correctness? Yes, they seem pointless and stupid, but so do may of the things that are done in school. Isn’t it much more stupid to have the childern pray every morning so that their so their souls can be safe? Is that political correctness gone mad?
    I went to school before the term PC was ever invented and we were subject to some of the most stupid rules imaginable. We weren’t allowed to talk during lunch, until we were done with the meal and out in the schoolyard. Is that any less crazy than playing conkers with safety glasses? Who are we going to harm by having a conversation? As I went to school in America, not only did we have to pray, but we had to say the pledge of allegiance every morning. So the fact that our schools were frantic with worry that we were either going to become traitors or go to hell, makes the idea that they worry we would poke an eye out seem slightly less hysterical.

    The bottom line is that this has nothing to do with political correctness and more to do with the fact that the parents at these schools are such hysterics that teachers are worried they’ll be arrested for attempted murder if a kid loses his eye during a game of conkers. And it’s not just the politically correct parents who complain, in fact it’s usually the so-called conservatives complaining the loudest if it’s their kid.

  9. The part about the Tories believing that, “it is no business of the state to be endlessly sawing and sandpapering us all into shape”, is a joke right? They’re desperate to stop us stop us taking drugs or having sex and want us to get married and stay that way. They also try to saw and sandpaper out natural characteristics, such as homosexuality, and insist on the assimilation of foreigners (for which read anyone who isn’t white and protestant).

    If the Tories really were the ‘getting the government of your back’ party I might even vote for them.

  10. “stu” – you could not be more wrong. The examples Boris gave are perfect examples of the current PC spree we are caught up in. You speak of your experiences, but to be honest, they’re not really all that uncommon, and, in the case of the pledge, are no more than weird traditions.
    The points Boris raises, such as the goggles, are recent ‘ideas’, and are completely ridiculous and hilariously pointless.
    Next time, please at least compare like with like.

  11. Aaron, you are truly an imbecile and you are the one comparing apples with oranges. Political correctness has nothing to do with safety or over-protection, you are the one who lumos them together because you are so simple minded that you think ‘ummm, these are both things I don’t like so they must be similar.’ Having to pretend you espouse a philosophy (mindless patriotism or worshipful Christianity) is much more an example of ‘political correctness.’ Is it political correctness when I put on my bicycyle helmet to go ride in the city? Idiots like you use ‘PC’ as a buzzword for anything you don’t like, subsequently anything which involves any sort of rational thought is considered ‘PC’, because you love ignorance. And why wouldn’t you? It’s your most prominent trait.

    Why are weird ‘traditions’ any better weird ‘rules’? They both reflect a fear on behalf of the school establishment, and I happen to think the fear of a child losing an eye is a much more realistic one than them losing their soul or patriotism. I guarantee if you look at a any large sample of children over the years you will find a lot more of them who have lost an eye than have been arrested for treason.

    The only bigger ccliche out there than ‘PC’ is the full ‘political correctness gone mnad’ and both expressions are slopy shorthand for procaliming one’s own stupidity.

  12. please forgive the typos…I fell of my bike yesterday and my right arm is dysfunctional…so not only is half of my lovelife shot, I’m typing with one hand and not making many corrections…yes, the bicycle thing is what drew me, an American liberal, to Boris….

  13. Although I wouldn’t couch it such antagonistic terms, I agree with the point being made by Stu about the laziness of blaming everything on being ‘PC’ and ‘Political Correctness gone mad’. Political Correctness as a concept started out with what I think is a correct assumption – that words have power and using certain words can hurt and be incredibly unhelpful. AKA ‘common sense’ or ‘being polite’. Like many ideas it was used out of context by some and to extremes by others. But is it ‘Political Correctness gone mad’ not to use words like ‘nigger’ or ‘Paki’ – because that’s where it started out.

    Things like the silly conker story have nothing to do with political correctness and to align the two is lazy thinking and lazy writing. Being ‘PC’ has now just a handy label of contempt – rinse and repeat without need for explanation or in fact meaning. I thought better of you Boris. And what’s the nasty aside about the headmistress being a Lib Dem – I know plenty and I can’t imagine any of them taking a view point like that. Have a bit of respect and give us more than presumptions and soundbites.

  14. And I couldn’t disagree with you more about your gross over-simplification of ‘lefties’ versus, what, ‘righties’ on their attitude towards humanity. It’s interesting, is it not, that whilst professing to not care about people smoking, smacking and snacking, if anyone dare suggest that adult human beings should be ‘allowed’ to, say, smoke marijuana the screams of protest will come loudest from the Tory party. And try telling the gays and lesbians of this country that the Conservative view point on life is that ‘no straight thing’ was ever made of the crooked timber of humanity. You might hear some pretty loud guffaws on that one.

    The Conservatives seem to have no problem at all banning things they don’t like, Mr Pot. So if we’re going to have a debate about the role of government interfering in people’s private lives (a) don’t lump socialists together with liberals; they are distinct political movements with very different attitudes and (b) don’t fall into the party political soundbite trap again – one of the reasons people respect you even if they don’t agree with you is because they feel you are somehow above that kind of pointscoring. Please don’t prove us wrong.

  15. Whas the point in living forever if you have no day-to-day choices about what you eat, drink or generally do with your life?
    Thas the end result of our emerging Great American Nanny State, a prissy place where bureaucrats and plaintifs attorneys will be mad with power and on the lookout for anyone ordering a Big Mac, or worse, smoking a cigarette.
    In the U.S., the battle of the bulge has only just been joined. The food police are walking many beats, from the courthouses to the halls of Congress to television networks and even our schools, which could face class-action lawsuits over vending machines. Already, our choices are being limited.
    McDonalds phased out its Super Size order of fries (610 calories by the way) in large part (although the company wot say it) because of Morgan Spurlocs movieSuper Size Me a documentary in which thisvicti eats fast food three meals a day for a month, gaining 25 pounds in the process.
    The movie is now being dressed up as more evidence in a preposterous war on fast food chains. If the spurious Spurlock slept with three women or downed three six packs of beer a day or even ate three helpings of broccoli between sunrise and sunset for the month of August we wouldt draw any broad social conclusions.
    But because fast food is the special of the day in the American Trial Lawyers Association feeding frenzy this gus movie is getting big-time buzz.
    The lawyers have their own passionate play for big judgments cast this way: McDonals is the next Marlboro, and Burger King the next Camel.
    Anti-tobacco crusaders from the sandal-wearing crowd in organic markets to the Armani suit set now have their sights set on fast food, claiming that the Taco Bells and Sonics of the world lure customers away from the righteousness of fresh fruits and soy milk to the sins of saturated fats.
    Sure, there is a lot of advertising.
    But face facts. Wre pretty easy marks.
    Obesity is the second leading cause of death in America now, closely trailing smoking-related illnesses.
    Let me be the first to say it: This is great news.
    Both causes of death are the results of individual choices. When health official bombard us with statistics on smoking-related death and illness, as if wll be shocked, m just not moved.
    Is hardly tragic. If only the rest of the world could be so lucky.
    In many nations the primary factors in death are starvation and war and diseases that involve worms eating their way from ons ears to intestines.
    Seen from the worls gutter, life is pretty good when gluttony and enjoying a good smoke are literally the best ways to court the grim reaper.
    When millions of human beings from Latin America to Africa die without having any choices, is terribly self-absorbed for Americans to go around playing the role of victims because they helped build the billion-served signs under the golden arches.
    Whas worse, these grease-gorged giants want to sue over it, threatening some of the last jobs in America that cat be totally exported: fast food clerks.
    In the end, all of this nonsense over people eating too many french fries and cheeseburgers, reminds me of the best excuse ever provided by a drunken driver.
    Officer, I didt drink too much, I was just over-served

  16. Personal responsibility – absolutely. But guess what – people who think that eating enormous amounts of fast food is a bad thing are allowed to campaign, advertise and persuade just as much as McDonald’s are allowed to campaign, advertise and persuade. Many companies, fast food or otherwise, have had it all their own way so far and now they are attempting to hijack the civil rights movement to hawk their wares. Don’t they have to act with some responsibility too? They have the ‘right’ to sell their stuff – why shouldn’t they have a responsibility to make it as little damaging as they can? And if you can’t get on board with that one, how about a responsibility to stop pushing high fat, high salt on children? Advertising companies are not faceless – they are run by people. Those campaigns are designed and thought up by people. Haven’t they got a responsibility to act like decent human beings?

  17. Oh well, you can’t please everyone I guess, but your article made me smile none the less. At least you’re not talking incomprehensible political jargon all the time, keep it up. 🙂

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