Although we've known for a long time that the day would come, it's still truly shocking to find that the gallows humour jokes about our demise is turning out to be disturbingly correct. The next few months are going to be very stressful for everyone working in probation, at whatever level, and as each is forced to ponder their future.
On top of this of course, everyone will be expected to carry on shouldering the normal day-to-day stresses the job brings, and sadly for many colleagues that alone becomes intolerable at times and triggers stress-related sickness. I know this from bitter experience and have written previously about it.
As we all did, I knew last Wednesday, the day of the Queens speech to Parliament, would be a special day and I found myself rising at the ridiculous hour of 4.30 in order to write something. I've always had a strong sense of history, for instance by marking probation's 100th anniversary by attending the Service at Westminster Abbey, the Sheffield conference that year and NAPO's AGM.
Wednesday was special for a very different reason though, but readers of this blog helped me deal with it. On that day the counter records that exactly 1,300 hits were made, a record since I began. That's always pleasing for a blog author, but to me it's doesn't just feel like a huge compliment, it reflects the amount of concern and worry there is out there at the present time.
For whatever reason the NAPO forum pages are not proving to be a place where people are saying much. That's a huge shame, but it strikes me that people need somewhere other than the ephemeral and ubiquitous 'twitter' to say something. There are those who, quite understandably, say that the 'game is up' and it's simply not worth fighting the privatisation, but surely there is still a need to exchange information? To know what is going on and not feel that each of us is on their own in having to make accommodations with this omnishambles.
I really hope that the deafeningly-quiet NAPO forum pages do get a new lease of life and become a vibrant platform for sharing thoughts and information, but can I also modestly suggest that this site might be able to play some useful part in the war of words and unpleasantness that will undoubtedly unfold over the coming months?
I've said before that information is power and I'm extremely grateful to everyone that has contributed to this blog over the last couple of years. I think it's reasonable to assume that it gets read down there at NOMS HQ and at the Ministry of Justice. I'm also fairly sure it's read at NAPO HQ and by the Chiefs. Never acknowledged of course, which is absolutely fine with me, but equally I know that any casual search on google by interested members of the public on the subject of probation would be hard-put not to stumble across this blog pretty quickly.
I read a good quote the other day. Apparently it is said that 'Uncle' Joe Stalin once remarked that 'History is made by those who turn up.' This appears particularly apposite given our present situation on the one hand, and seeming apathy on the part of practitioners on the other. We've never really had a high public profile and even quite smart people still don't really seem to understand what we do. Not surprisingly then the No10 petition has struggled to get beyond 20,000. Good, but not good enough.
Probation is going to be talked about a lot over the coming months and that is a chance to explain and inform. I really do believe that if people better understood what we do and why and exactly what is being proposed, the whole ridiculous plan could be successfully questioned.
It strikes me that the internet and world wide web have radically altered the way in which information can be collected and exchanged. As consumers of news, we are no longer reliant upon official sources and the so-called Main Stream Media outlets. Increasingly news and informed comment is being produced democratically by ordinary people and free of editorial control that is often determined politically or by some other form of self interest.
It should come as no great surprise that it's beginning to seriously affect the political, and hence democratic process. Information and misinformation have always played a big part in politics and war and of course the internet provides unrivalled opportunities for disseminating both the former and the latter. There can be malevolent as well as good intent.
Serious questions have already been raised as to the authorship and motivation behind the so-called Centre for Probation Reform. We'll have to see what transpires, but it's message to basically 'roll over and accept change' of course very neatly suits a government agenda. It might sound like paranoia, but it really could be written by sources close to Whitehall, either physically or metaphorically.
This is in danger of rambling a little, but I want to end on a story that I believe gives hope. It's about a book and how it came to be written in the teeth of concerted opposition from the subject, a very powerful international corporation that did not want the story told. Utterly frustrated at every stage by this behemoth, the author turned to the internet and made an open invitation to ordinary citizens everywhere to carry out research in their local libraries and public archives into historic references and activities by predecessors of the current international company and household name.
The resulting mountain of information that flooded in to the author from all parts of the globe enabled them to tell the true and unedifying story of the Hollerith Tabulating Machine Company. It was this now long-forgotten and ordinary-sounding business and their development of the punch card reader that enabled the Nazi's to locate and round-up the Jews during the Second World War.
These machines were rented to the Nazi regime for the whole duration, along with the sale of blank cards, with the proceeds being paid into a Swiss bank account. At war's end, the machines were 'repatriated' to the US by invading troops and the whole story was nearly never told. To me 'IBM and the Holocaust' by Edwin Black pub 2001 serves as a remarkable example of just how empowering new media has become as a force both to influence and inform.
Sign the No10 petition here, but also consider sharing your thoughts, concerns, insights and information so we might all get to know the bigger picture, and who knows, defeat the bastards.