Sunday, 15 November 2009

Deceit, lies and official neglect

UK Government apologises

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in the news today, apologising for government involvement in the child emigration movement. Not his government’s involvement, since this activity finally ceased some forty years ago. Easily done, of course, ‘sorry’ costs nothing and there are people whom it pleases (but not, I suspect, the people whom he would really like to please, the majority of voters in the forthcoming UK General Election).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/nov/15/apology-child-migrants-gordon-brown

Child emigration was not exactly a thought-out government policy, of course, it was something originally dreamt up by individuals and charities, usually of a religious/ideological bent, of which Dr Barnardo was the leading player in the late nineteenth century. It involved children who were poor, awkward, neglected, cruelly treated, or just plain unlucky, shipping them off in droves to the colonies, specifically Australia and to a lesser degree Canada and othe colonies and dominions. In all this process, their families were powerless in the hands of an established system, and often actively misled about what was going on. Part of the rhetoric of the scheme was to rescue the children from often appalling circumstances here, and along the way infuse the Empire with potentially good yeoman stock.

Certainly over the years one has heard of remarkable personal success stories from all this and in an ideal world, with honestly, selectively and great personal care, there might have been more such successes. In reality, however, one now hears so many horror stories of the fate of these children, in effect duped and dumped overseas without a care of what happened to them, in the hands of unaccountable administrative machines (often run by high-moral-ground ideologues) open to every sort of exploitation and indignity that one might visualise (and possibly a few others too).

Human heartbreak en masse (some 150,000 souls) just another example of the bureaucratised disposal of human beings, not the worst by any means, and probably not the last, certainly not the only stain on the twentieth century, and within that, not the only one upon the United Kingdom. Something to grieve over, be sad for or ashamed, and above all now particularly, to learn from. But apologise? What meaning of benefit might this have, not least if you personally, or the Government that you now represent, or the electorate that elected it, had no hand whatsoever in these events?

The time to say ‘Sorry’

The time to say ‘Sorry’ about something, surely, is when you have had a hand in bringing a situation about, or have stubbornly maintained it, especially when something is still happening now, when you really do feel for the situation, and when ‘Sorry’ is just one tiny, verbal step in the far more meaningful process of doing something to right the wrong and improve the lot of poor suffering humanity?

Can anyone out there think of such situations today? What about, around the globe, the continuing official policies towards children and adults with physical disabilities, their parents, families, and carers?

In the United Kingdom this means the populations currently accounted under the rubrics of ‘special needs’ and ‘inclusion’ (different countries use different terms, at different times). The terminology is not the issue here, but the human and social realities. Does anything written above, about child emigration of the past, ring a bell about the human and social realities of those now touched by special needs and inclusion?
  • deceit, lies and official neglect
  • not exactly a thought-out government policy
  • originally dreamt up by charities
  • of an ideological bent
  • poor, awkward, neglected, cruelly treated, or just plain unlucky
  • families powerless in the hands of an established system
  • often actively misled
  • certainly remarkable personal success stories
  • so many horror stories
  • duped and dumped
  • without a care
  • unaccountable administrative machines
  • high-moral-ground ideologues
  • human heartbreak en masse
  • bureaucratised disposal of human beings
  • be sad or ashamed,
  • particularly, learn

Enough already of an already over-laboured point?

The time to say ‘Sorry’ about something, surely, is when you have had a hand in bringing the situation about, or have stubbornly maintained it, specially when it is still happening now, when you really do feel for the situation and when ‘Sorry’ is just one tiny, verbal step in the far more meaningful process of doing something to right the wrong and improve the lot of poor suffering humanity?

Love is never having to say 'Sorry'

I’m with Ali MacGraw and Barbra Streisland on this one.

There is nothing extra to be gained from ‘Sorry’ if you care, you listen, you understand, you communicate, you feel, and above all, if you try to do something to change things. In a word, if you love.

No doubt Mr Brown means well for the child emigrants. No doubt he means well for children and adults with ‘special needs’, their parents, families and carers. I doubt, though that he will be saying ‘Sorry’ to them,either on his own behalf or on behalf or Government. To do so would acknowledge a problem now, one that has to be solved. Better pick on one that is safely out of the way in the past and across the oceans.

Memo to Mr Cameron

Fast-forward some forty years. What cold comfort will there be if some future Prime Minister and Government should apologise for the wildly misguided and dysfunctional policies and services, and sheer bloody-mindedness of the special-needs ‘systems’ of today?

Wind back to the present day, what if some Prime Minister and Government should apologise, admit responsibility now.

In 2050 saying ‘Sorry’ for these past sins would be ‘leadership’ in the way so often meant today by that unfortunate word, in all sorts of walks of life: bureaucratic pusillanimity.

In 2010, that would be leadership of Churchillian scale.

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