Thursday, 4 December 2014

Guest Blog 11

Zersetzung

Political differences inspire passion, but the mendacity and self-interest of this government leaves one feeling that the most extreme sense of outrage is merely proportionate to their craven disregard of the democratic process in pursuit of the ends of their privateering paymasters. An analogy that comes to mind is not any democracy but a dictatorship or an obviously corrupt authoritarian regime supported by repressive, often covert means, such as in Stasi Germany. Zersetzung was the name for the modus operandi of the secret police or Stasi as it repressed opposition through psychological means as well as brutality and spying.

Until this dismantling of our profession, I never really appreciated how governments will maintain power through the black arts of psychological manipulation and the use of surveillance to suppress people. Probation Officers have been forced into contorted mind-sets, and into silence, working against their better knowledge and instincts, and the gagging, so reminiscent of the Eastern bloc, is merely one obvious sign of this. As a consequence, I have heard first-hand accounts of division, resentment and mistrust amongst those who have been colleagues for years, reminding us of Stasi methods that would successfully turn members of a family against each other. 


So, on this blog, most people still working are rightly fearful of losing their employment and post anonymously, and people have been warned to be careful on social media. Yet the Stasi could never draw on the kind of surveillance culture which now operates through the internet, spying and blacklisting on people who protest. Living in Cheltenham, I am always conscious of an arm of the state potentially watching our every move. Recently, for instance, I asked a friend of mine to sign my forms for social work registration and her partner, half jokingly, advised her not to as she may be adversely affected by our association, so maybe he knows something I don’t!

Somehow, though, like the moral vision of an individualistic, selfish society, we have become naturalized to this suppression of the democratic right to protest so we scarcely notice it any more. We now bear a resemblance to the oppressed in such despotic regimes, unable to do what we feel is right, self-editing our responses in compliance with the thinking of those in power, and stopped from whistle blowing by the threat of losing employment. The media too play into their hands. While we are well aware of the dominance of the right wing press, those who have tried to tell our story have been pulled up short by the gagging of anyone who knows what is going on. While I have racked my brains to find out how we could get around this, by disguising voices and faces, the real story should have been the gagging itself, how we became the victims of a corrupt censorship and found ourselves unable to speak out.

However, in the midst of all the sinking mire of corruption, gagging and lies, Napo has surpassed expectations and stood up for us. Whatever the result of the Judicial Review, I congratulate both Napo and the members who have shown bravery in coming forward with their evidence. It shows how dearly we need to reinvigorate our unions, widen union membership and give voice to those who are silenced, so that we can have in the future governments who can serve our children.

Joanna Hughes

35 comments:

  1. The analogy with the Stasi might be a comparison too far. The sense of fear in probation was there before the split, as the Trusts were quite authoritarian and had little time for dissenting views as they dismantled the professional ethic and replaced it with managerialism which 'split' probation into various departments and embraced lean and mean methods. Whether Whitehall managed or dictated from the centre is a moot point, but centralisation predates the current government and is evident throughout criminal justice: all local autonomy taken away and everyone, irrespective of grade, required to act as a functionary. Little Red Guards is my stretched analogy. Ironical that G4S is seeking more autonomy for prison governors!

    As for the role of Napo, I think an assessment of its conduct in fighting TR is not validated by the TR submission which was long resisted apparently by the leadership of the union.

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    1. It may be a comparison too far - but very strange things are happening. I've become aware of an instance of the MoJ supplying minutes of a CRC meeting before that meeting took place.

      Regarding Napo - I agree, but that's for another day.

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    2. Strange things indeed are happening, I agree with that. I tried to make it clear that I was only reminded of the psychological manipulation of the Stasi and the elements of divide and rule. However, there is no denying people are being turned against each other and nobody dare speak the truth. I can't remember such things happening before June.

      Regarding Napo, it feels as if at times, I have spent more time fighting Napo than the MOJ but I wish to give them the credit now for lodging the JR and doing the right thing. Unions are far from perfect and, in my view, need reforming so they do not run in a top-down way, but Napo have now stepped up to the mark and I feel almost sorry for them having relatively few people coming forward with the evidence they need. So much of that must be connected with the gagging.

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  2. Sadiq Khan has written (edited to fit):

    If this government has its way, by next May 80 per cent of people leaving prison or on community sentences will be supervised by private companies with no track record in this area.
    These companies will take over the day to day running of most of the probation service, on ten year contracts costing the taxpayer around £6billion.
    All of this is happening despite no testing having been done to see if the new system will work. There’s been no piloting so we don’t know if the new way of working puts public safety at risk.
    The new payment model has never been used on this scale before in criminal justice anywhere in the world.
    It’s a reckless gamble that’s already leading to chaos -offenders going unsupervised, experienced staff demoralised and despairing probation officers opting to walk away.
    No wonder experts, including the Ministry of Justice’s own officials, have been warning against these reforms ever since they were first announced.
    But what the government is proposing goes against the grain of everything we know makes a difference in cutting re-offending.
    What doesn’t help is carving up responsibility between different agencies, which increases the likelihood of failures, leads to confusion and creates a stifling bureaucracy.
    Failures in probation put public safety at risk. To guard against this, a strong, independent chief inspector of probation is a crucial check and balance to prevent things going wrong.
    But Chris Grayling, in his arrogance, appointed a chief inspector with links to two of the companies that are preferred bidders for almost a third of the contracts. At a time when the chief inspector needs to be at their most vocal, serious questions are being asked about whether the current incumbent can perform the role free of fear or favour.
    Serious questions need answering about Chris Grayling’s judgement in making the appointment in the first place.
    So insecure is he about his legacy that he wants to make it as difficult as possible for any successor to unpick his half-baked reforms. Should a change of government wish to walk away from his mess, the taxpayer could be lumbered with a compensation bill worth £400million. This is not value for money for taxpayers.
    There is still a chance that the mess created by Grayling’s privatisation is so great that the wheels come off. If so, I’ve made very clear that any unsigned contracts will go straight in the bin if I become justice secretary.
    What’s more, if the contracts are signed, I’ll be asking the best and brightest experts to pore over them to find a way out that doesn’t lumber the taxpayer with the bill for Grayling’s windfall for the private companies. Let those bidding be on notice – I won’t simply inherit this this government’s plans, no questions asked.
    The fact is there is an alternative if only the government had been prepared to look for it: local, publicly run probation trusts acting as commissioners of what works to cut re-offending. Each trust close to their local area, free to work with the public, private and voluntary sector to keep the public safe.
    Whitehall restricting its role to setting tough stretching targets, and a no nonsense zero tolerance regime in place for those trusts that fail. What’s more, as my discussions with probation trusts confirmed, most trusts would have taken on short sentence prisoners within their existing budgets if only they’d been asked – there was no need to privatise the service.
    We can only conclude that the government’s plans are ideologically driven. Outrageously, the Lib Dems have gone along with Grayling’s plans to reward the same companies that have time and again let down the taxpayer.
    They are propping up the same payment model that failed so spectacularly in the Work Programme. Public safety is too important an issue to take risks with, but that is precisely what this government is doing with its reckless probation privatisation.

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  3. I agree about the degree of fear in the public/ privatised sector in general. I work in the third sector and we are extremely wary of criticising either local or national bodies. My experience in working for both national and local bodies is that these organisations “do not forgive or forget”. I too post anonymously for that reason.

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  4. @8.38 Joanna - this culture happened way before June in some Trusts. I worked for a Trust where the Chief's tantrums were legendary, there would be an inspection of workspaces prior to any visits to make sure all was in line with her requirements and staff have been threatened with disciplinary action for simply liking posts on facebook. Most recent visit resulted in me being directed to work at another office 'for the sake of my career' as I am not be trusted not to say something off message and there would be consequences. Proof, if we really needed any, that only the well rehearsed get to meet the great and good and the message being directed back up the chain is aggressively positive. Welcome to the brave new world of probation where detractors are packed off somewhere they can't bother anyone else and conformists are rewarded with shiny made up posts with made up titles. And cases are reduced to a couple of ticks in boxes on a cas form.

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    1. I couldn't agree more anon 9.22, I worked in a Trust ruled by fear of saying the wrong thing with a Chief Exec who was simply, a bully. Managers promoted on a system of patronage and now the Chief is gone his former directors are all saying they will do things differently, if only they had stood up to him in the first place! I do not mourn the passing of my old trust.
      What makes me so sad is the lost opportunity for progressive change. We all know the "direction of travel" was already wrong and needed change desperately. The only unifying factor in probation, for me, was the altruism that motivated staff, we are a diverse lot but managed to hold this special value in common. I admit to some frustration at the some of the social work trained colleagues amongst us thinking they somehow had the moral high ground and saw some wonderful practice from others with more recent training.
      It is all blown to the wind by TR, but I believe we could rise again and be the force for good we once were. Sadly it will take something pretty significant to happen as Grayling is determined to see his plans, which are simply put, wrong but possibly corrupt too.

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    2. Anon 4/12 12:12 Sounds like we are from the same Trust. Not sorry to lose Chief

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  5. We are forgetting the unprecedented introduction of MoJ 'political officers' chaperoning any meetings between CRC leads and bidders. The parallels are obvious.

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    1. They aren't at all unprecedented - any meeting during a competitive procurement between bidders and the current operation would have staff from MoJ procurement present. Their purpose is to ensure that the requirements of competitive neutrality are met and that bidders don't appear to be unfairly advantaged. It may or may not work, but it's standard practice across government procurement

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  6. I cannot help but imagine an MoJ official, bedecked of stripy nightshirt and nightcap, lying between Mr and Mrs McDowell in bed to ensure that they do not discuss the bids.

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  7. I have to say I find the references to Nazi Germany and the Stazi really offensive. I'd have thought better of you.

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    1. There was no reference to Nazi Germany.

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    2. I am not responding to defend Joanna because it seems to me that Joanne is eminently capable of defending herself. I have never met Joanna and only know of her through her contributions to this blog and some newspaper articles I have read on her. Joanna has the courage of her convictions and has stood up and spoken out on our behalf and in defence of our service. Thank you again Joanna. For what it is worth I am not offended by your comments. I do think better of you and support what you have to say. I wish you well and look forward to your next blog.

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    3. Joanna has been the driving force - along with a number of others - who have driven this campaign against TR in the direction we now find outselves - she choose to stand by her convictions and leave the service - despite this, she has continued to stand by her convictions and fight for US all, against this hideous agenda which is destroying the professional - no good can come from TR for offenders, victims, public or staff.

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  8. This blog seems to have stirred up passions among government officials today and even moved a couple of them to make comments!

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    1. Just because someone doesn't agree with you doesn't mean they're a government official

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  9. With reference to Sadiq Khan's article:

    "Serious questions need answering about Chris Grayling’s judgement in making the appointment in the first place."

    All well and good, but is Mr Khan going to ask the questions?

    How long has Grayling known?
    Why wasn't it public knowledge?

    As I noted yesterday, a 'Register of staff Interests' has now been added to HMI Probation website:

    http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/about-hmi-probation/managing-conflicts-of-interest/

    Shouldn't this information have been released on his appointment, if Grayling knew?

    Don't such conflicts have to be declared publicly?

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  10. Can NAPO call old trust chiefs as witnesses to the JR? Who knows what they might have to say, and if they are being gagged, it's a good place to find out why.

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  11. There is nothing wrong with a good dose of paranoia, naivety, and "my way or no way" Joanna. Keep it up.

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    1. Thank you anon at 16.50, I will keep it up! I don't mind being called paranoid or naive, but doesn't the fact that every other contributor is anonymous or a nickname prove some of my paranoia might be justified?

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    2. Joanne I can tell you there are far supporting everything you have done and praising where you have helped get this campaign to date then there are critics. You are a strong, principled lady admired by many - along with others prepared to stand by their convictions - stand up for what we all know to be right - good on you Joanne and no matter where next weeks takes us - many Probation staff will remains grateful - you raised the profile of this campaign, you fought to get JR a reality. You didn't resign and walk away - you continued to fight for what so many of us believe. Wish you well my friend

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  12. Has any one else heard of the rumours that are circulating about shared sale being signed tonight or tomorrow?? Not sure if this is correct but another colleague said that it might possibly be taking place sooner rather than later!!!!

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    1. Grayling has announced the contracts are to go ahead - no date yet for signing - see Napo comments.

      http://www.napo2.org.uk/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=875&p=3541#p3541

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    2. There are stages to the signing processes and the final one, the one that matters, is after JR has been heard.

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    3. It is my understanding that contracts to move to next phase (Purda) are being signed next week

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  13. NAPO Latest:

    https://www.napo.org.uk/news/probation-union-anger-secretary-state-ignores-dangers

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  14. Contracts to be signed by next Monday!

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    1. I'm off work then. Can the make it Wednesday? I just want to go in and show them my new stress management tip. It's called 'not giving a fuck about my job'. to top it off I've just heard that the Government are looking to make massive cuts next year and I'll probably get laid off.

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  15. Final contracts to be signed 18/19th December if they go ahead (ref JR outcome) before that there will be signing off of various "schedules"of the contract - look out for your CEO popping into London , not for Christmas shopping but to sign off their part of the deal at expensive lawyers offices - will there be a signing ceremony with smiley faces all round ?

    The final deal will certainly have the Grinch's smiling mug on it since the sell off may be the only one thing that he has achieved in this parliament!

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  16. I really enjoyed reading the blog.

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    1. Anarchist PO - its not over yet.

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  17. What happens to Partners who currently work with and have long standing contracts with Probation. They have been kept out of the loop.

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    1. Good questions - presumably those contracts have already been transferred to the NPS or one or more CRCs or if not should have been.

      I guess now is the time to get the contract out and find out its legal status, presumably they are time limited.

      I think were I such a contractor, I would seek independent legal advice rather than rely on the MOJ, they keep breaking their own laws as has been ordered by The High Court again today over the books ban.

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