Fear, trust, cowardice: making the connections

It’s now official: there is no trust left.

Politicians do not trust the public. Why otherwise would the government be rushing through, with cross-party support, a fairly draconian Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (“DRIP”) (pdf)? (There is good comment on this bill here, here, here, and here.)

For certain, we do not trust the politicians. And we are probably right not to.

A principal aim of this blog is to chart the steady attrition of defendant’s rights in the criminal law of England and Wales and to try and work out why this particular tide has been going out over the last years. As we shall see later, questions of trust have to be to the forefront in that discussion. Trust between human beings. Trust towards institutions, and trust placed in the populace by such institutions. Mutual trust. The kind of trust which is now very much under threat in our society.

Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer makes the connection between trust, DRIP and the sexual offences environment explicit:-

It is a question of our age – arguably the question of our age – which links every story that is probably interesting you right now. It screams out of the allegations that a paedophile ring operated at Westminster. It is triggered again by the government’s desire to rush through emergency surveillance legislation in the name of combatting terrorism. It is at the heart of the debate about the future of the NHS. It bedevils the arguments over independence for Scotland. It will be up front and central and decisive at the next British general election. Whom do you trust?… Comes an answer that is as popular as it is succinct: trust no one.

It’s not good enough for governments to blame ‘activists’ or ‘abusers’ or the threat of ISIS, or indeed any one cause, for our current set of predicaments [1]. The present government’s instinct (as was that of the previous administration) is towards authoritarianism and repression. There are still Reds Under Every Bed, apparently, only now we call them paedophiles and potential insurgents. During the Cold War we at least knew who our enemy was supposed to be. But now, for government, it’s potentially… everybody.

Nor is it good enough for some of the media to blame the current scapegoats who they say are to blame for many of society’s ills. What’s needed in a more precise inquiry into the root causes of these issues. And we need a sense of proportion here, too. Otherwise we shall never have any hope of getting trust back, in any form.

As Rawnsley comments at the end of his piece:-

Trust no one is not a good motto for a happy life nor for a functioning democracy. Most of us intuit that. We mourn that we can’t trust our governing institutions and yearn to see some restoration. There’s a great prize here for someone in politics to win, if only any of them knew how to go about grasping it.

There is one other theme which emerges from the present discussion on these topic. That of cowardice. Ray Corrigan sets out the argument succinctly, Through the DRIP proposal and the government scare-mongering behind it, he links fear of terrorism and of sexual abuse together in one over-arching leitmotif:-

Our political leaders are scared… They are not scared of the terrorists… They are scared that the next time there is a terrorist attack they will be accused of having not done enough to prevent it.

Since Corrigan makes this brief connection in his piece between terrorism and child abuse, it’s fair to suggest that his scare-mongering point holds true for abuse issues too, even though he doesn’t make the connection quite explicitly. There is fear there, in government and in the public. It’s a fear of not been seen to have done enough to combat abusers. It’s a fear too in some segments of the populace which government can harness to further develop a Panopticon state.

It’s that intrusive, global surveillance regime – in which everything is seen and where all our (perfectly legal) activities, big or small, wise or unwise, are weighed and evaluated, secretly and more publicly if deemed necessary, for their propensity to harm – that we should be really fearing.


  1. Those ills are, arguably at least as much if not more about: rocketing house prices, pension issues, cost of living, voter apathy. Humdrum, unexciting, important stuff.  ↩