Friday, 10 August 2018

Run It Up the Flagpole and See Who Salutes

It's Friday and I sense another lull in respect of the probation world, which is just as well because I've been encouraged to wander 'off piste' with this that appeared over night:- 
Off topic. I imagine it is not just me who has noticed the divisive and hateful bigotry that is being freely traded on social media these days. Boris Johnson's, the [former] Foreign Secretary, words have noticeably increased that content. It's distressing. What is equally evident is that there is no significant repudiation from those who would once have considered his comments incendiary. Have we become immune to this, a new narrative becoming normalised? If you find a gap I would appreciate one of your 'off piste' focus blogs. Having said that, once upon a time, Probation values would not have had this as 'off piste.'
It's been bothering me as well, hence my making this observation yesterday:-
I suspect that in the current age of post truth and fake news, well argued cases, evidence, truth even counts for nowt - what matters nowadays is winning the emotional argument. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage learnt this lesson ages ago.
If truth be known I've been waiting to use this from the Irish Times since I came across it in June. Politicians, especially former journalists like Boris Johnson, don't make 'mistakes' with their political posturing and I can't help feeling there are some very uncomfortable parallels here:-   

Trial runs for fascism are in full flow

Babies in cages were no ‘mistake’ by Trump but test-marketing for barbarism

To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism.

It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

Moral boundaries

But when you’ve done all this, there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.

It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages. I wonder how it will go down with Rupert Murdoch.

To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a “mistake” by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run – and the trial has been a huge success. Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”. And the generation of images of toddlers being dragged from their parents is a test of whether those words can be turned into sounds and pictures. It was always an experiment – it ended (but only in part) because the results were in.

‘Devious’ infants

And the results are quite satisfactory. There is good news on two fronts. First, Rupert Murdoch is happy with it – his Fox News mouthpieces outdid themselves in barbaric crassness: making animal noises at the mention of a Down syndrome child, describing crying children as actors. They went the whole swinish hog: even the brown babies are liars. Those sobs of anguish are typical of the manipulative behaviour of the strangers coming to infest us – should we not fear a race whose very infants can be so devious? Second, the hardcore fans loved it: 58 per cent of Republicans are in favour of this brutality. Trump’s overall approval ratings are up to 42.5 per cent.

This is greatly encouraging for the pre-fascist agenda. The blooding process has begun within the democratic world. The muscles that the propaganda machines need for defending the indefensible are being toned up. Millions and millions of Europeans and Americans are learning to think the unthinkable. So what if those black people drown in the sea? So what if those brown toddlers are scarred for life? They have already, in their minds, crossed the boundaries of morality. They are, like Macbeth, “yet but young in deed”. But the tests will be refined, the results analysed, the methods perfected, the messages sharpened. And then the deeds can follow.

Fintan O’Toole


  1. Exactly so. Grayling & his neocon privatisation experiments are exactly this. Spurr & his control&command empire are exactly this. Remember how most (not all) Trust Chiefs & their lieutenants snapped to attention, crisply saluting while "just following orders"? How the CRCs were so rapidly populated with eager enablers from Trust management teams? How those who rejected or dissented against the TR experiment were isolated, punished & abandoned without the EVR that the enablers were gifted? How even now those who are 'on message' are being rewarded with insidious tokens of faux gratitude, e.g. award ceremonies, discount schemes. If they valued your efforts & your work - and valued YOU - they wouldn't be denying you a pay rise, or reducing terms & conditions, or subjecting you to 'vetting'.
    Fascism IS alive & kicking in the UK.

    Excellent blog, Jim.

  2. did any one catch on the news about community orders and drug alcohol mental health treatment?


    1. Vulnerable offenders steered towards treatment

      Offenders increasingly ordered to use health services to address mental health, alcohol and drug issues in 5 pilot areas.

      Studies have indicated the effectiveness of ‘Community Sentence Treatment Requirements’ in cutting reoffending
      scheme to be assessed ahead of potential wider rollout in England

      Vulnerable offenders with mental health, alcohol and substance abuse issues are addressing the underlying cause of their offending, as part of a pioneering scheme announced by Justice Secretary David Gauke today (10 August 2018).

      In 5 pilot areas, justice and health services have signed up to a new protocol that will help to divert relevant offenders away from frequently ineffective short-term custodial sentences and towards treatment that aims to tackle the root cause of their criminality.

      Psychologists will be present in courts to assess offenders whose crime makes them eligible for a Community Order. Local panels comprising justice and health officials also ensure that Magistrates and Judges have the additional information they need to determine whether the offender should be required to receive treatment for their mental health, alcohol or drug issues.

      The protocol dictates a new minimum standard of service and additional training has been provided to staff in the pilot areas to improve collaboration between the agencies involved.

      This has increased confidence among sentencers - resulting in more ‘Community Sentence Treatment Requirements’ (CTSRs) being issued as part of sentencing in those areas. When used, CSTRs require engagement with local health services under the terms of the sentence. Failure to attend could represent a breach of that sentence.

      The initiative brings together the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England to improve access to treatment programmes for offenders serving community sentences.

      Research shows that around 29% of offenders who start Community Orders self-report having mental health problems and of those who are formally assessed, 32% were identified as having a drug misuse need and 38% an alcohol misuse problem.

      A 2017 joint report by MOJ and Public Health England looked at the association between community-based drug and alcohol treatments and reoffending behaviour. The report showed that:

      among those that committed an offence in the two years before undergoing drug or alcohol treatment, there was a 33% reduction in the number of offences they committed in the subsequent 2 years
      the reduction for those engaging in alcohol treatment was especially striking, at 59%
      A recently published study from MOJ found that when offenders were handed mental health treatment requirements as part of their sentence, they were significantly less likely to reoffend compared with similar cases where this was not the case. Despite this, the use of treatment requirements as part of community sentences remains very low.

      Since the pilot sites went live at various points in late 2017 and early 2018 – in Birmingham, Plymouth, Sefton, Milton Keynes and Northampton - initial figures suggest that over 400 CSTRs have been given.

      That means fewer short-term custodial sentences which are known to frequently be ineffective at turning vulnerable offenders away from crime. Adults released from custodial sentences of less than 12 months have a proven reoffending rate of 64.9%.

    2. Secretary of State David Gauke said:

      I am delighted to announce these sites in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England. We are all clear that we need to do more to support vulnerable offenders in the community.

      I want to improve confidence in community sentences, and early evidence from these sites has shown that treatment requirements can have a significant impact in improving rehabilitation and addressing the underlying causes of offending.

      We need to do more to raise awareness and increase confidence in treatment requirements and I look forward to exploring how these sites progress.

      Minister for Mental Health and Inequalities, Jackie Doyle-Price, said:

      All too often offenders are not able to access the support and treatment they need - this type of action could prove to be the turning point that helps to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

      We need to make sure services work together, not in silos, and this initiative is a vital step towards better information sharing and collaboration between health and justice agencies.

      Once the results of the trial sites have been assessed, it is intended that the scheme will be rolled out more widely across England.

      By putting treatment programmes at the core of community sentences, the project will enable increased use of these services, ultimately helping to reduce reoffending and improve rehabilitation.

      The programme sets out a new minimum standard of service, while there has also been additional training and improved collaboration between agencies. This includes a steering group at each site to ensure the smooth running of the diversion process.

      District Judge Richard Clancy, lead Judge at the Complex Case Court in Merseyside, said:

      To have a trial scheme where the court has on-site psychologists capable of testing suitability of a defendant for a mental health treatment requirement, so that such a community order can be made by the Judge on the same day without need for adjournment, is a remarkable and innovative move which I fully support. This is an excellent joint venture, and I have seen first-hand how this allows us to ‘nip in the bud’ one of the major causes of crime.

      Kate Davies, Director of Health & Justice, Armed Forces and Sexual Assault Services Commissioning at NHS England, said:

      It is vitally important that vulnerable offenders get appropriate and timely support which we know reduces the likelihood of reoffending. By improving access to services and treatments, trailblazers are already showing what can be done, addressing rehabilitation with individual and personalised approaches head on.

      By evaluating the sites, the government will be able to understand the effectiveness of the programme along with the clinical services required to increase the use of treatment requirements. In turn, this will help to improve commissioning of future services by highlighting positive outcomes.

      The programme aims to reduce the number of vulnerable people who receive short-term custodial sentences by boosting judicial confidence in alternatives to custody, while ultimately ensuring public safety.

    3. Beyond the pilots, I don’t see how this works with a cash-strapped NHS and an under resourced Probation Service. This is a rebranding of Mental Health Treatment Requirements that were hardly used and rarely worked because of resources and practicalities.

    4. It's just another part of the NHS being annexed for privatisation.
      Won't be long (probably already discussed) before Working Links or Richard Branson are bidding for contracts to help those 'vulnerable offenders' with their mental health and substance abuse issues.
      Offenders are worth a few quid. Vulnerable ones are worth far more!


    5. What started as a government funded between NHS and.......


  4. Somewhere on twitter this morning I saw a comment that an easing of the Universal Credit system would be difficult as government would be seen to be "going soft". The normalisation of cruelty is shocking. I was at a meeting last night where a retired, senior, court professional reflected that the coalition govt prefaced its slashing of legal aid budget with the justification that we had one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world. a) this was a lie b) even if it was true, that would have been a Good Thing. The same happened with Probation: While we argued for the benefits of an existing gold standard service, the countering argument was that a gold standard service was a self-indulgent extravagance. I suspect the more we said it, the more the Austerity evangelists winced. I noticed on twitter that staff expressing concerns about Visor vetting were told by managers that "if they had done nothing wrong, they had nothing to fear". Chilling.

    I also notice that there are a trickle of announcements of "improvements" and "investments". Not impressed. Any easing of the horrors inflicted across public services is welcome, but all that is happening is that, having taken a mile, they are giving back the odd inch here and there. So they can fuck right off when they talk about investment and so on, and trumpet new approaches.

  5. has anyone seen specification for minimum monthly face to face contact from ministry of justice?

  6. No great appetite being shown here thus far for going off-piste, by discussing fascism, authoritarianism and fake news. There is nothing new about any of these ideas or practices. Like the imperial slave trade they all have their modern versions. We are seeing far-right ideology back in the mainstream – in the White House and possibly in Number 10 if our mini Trump keeps blowing his dog whistle. There's always an out-group that can be blamed for present woes by tapping into anti-immigrant sentiment – the main reason that motivated Leave voters. The Russian state, when not smearing poison, is expert in spreading misinformation and seeking to pervert American and European elections. We can forget that British values offers any insulation as those 'values' gave us the dodgy dossier with its lies about WMD in Iraq and were easily dispensed with when the UK government was helping the US to kidnap and torture. There is an 'enemy within' and its not the judges as recently headlined in the Daily Mail. The enemies are gullibility, casual racism and ignorance of history. The modern fascists are cleverer these days: they don't prance around like Mussolini – they sit on the sofa talking to the Piers Morgan, they attack any press and media that promotes democratic balance and dares to reject crude demagoguery. Like Hitler, modern authoritarians acquire power through the ballot box – and if they can pervert or lie their way to electoral victory they will. We live in interesting times – and ultimately the people will decide how they wish to be governed.

  7. Another interesting parallel is that Boris and Tommy are being referred to in the same sentence and their similarities highlighted and celebrated by many. Strange times indeed.

  8. Napo on Vetting !10 August 2018 at 19:10

    “Update for Members – ViSOR Vetting

    Members will be aware that Napo have been in discussion with the employers about the extension of ViSOR use (and therefore Police vetting) in the NPS since the E3 consultation. Our latest update gives the history and context as well as outlining the many concerns that members have about the vetting. An emergency meeting was held with the employers yesterday (9th August) to try to get some clarification in some issues and to seek some resolution which would mitigate the potentially significant impact of failure of this level of vetting. We are as frustrated as members about the lack of progress in this and the collective view was made clear yesterday. What was also made clear was the employers view that what they are doing is entirely reasonable and while they accept that this is causing high levels of stress the only concession they are willing to make is to ensure that their communications to Divisional Leadership teams include the requirement to support staff who are suffering the intense distress and indignity of this process.
    Napo’s leadership group are due to meet next week and will discuss this and give consideration to all possible courses of action that are available to us at this point, including an industrial strategy and campaign. We are also consulting with Unison Leaders on a joint strategy. “


    Why is Napo always using words like “try to get some clarification” and “seek some resolution”? What about “demand why terms and conditions are being changed” and “force the employer to stop bullying staff into submission”. To say the employer’s “only concession” is it’s willing to ensure to ask staff are supported, is like saying the hangman is willing to ensure he uses a clean rope!

    1. So, Napo is to consider all action “including an industrial strategy and campaign”. Right they should. And before you say “I’m alright jack, I’ve got nothing to hide”, remember the old poem (edited);

      “First they came for Community Service, and I did not speak out—
           Because I did not work in Community Service.
      Then they came for CRC probation staff, and I did not speak out—
           Because I did not work in the CRC.
      Then they came for Probation Officers with criminal records and debt, and I did not speak out—
           Because I did not have a criminal record or debt.
      Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

    2. Like that randy dog which humped your leg, Napo underwent necessary 'vetting' post-Ledger and now it has no balls.

    3. Napo is redundant while the type of management it has continue to follow the leader. The general secretary has no obvious quality and the deputy is far worse. The moj don't take them seriously . Which is why Napo always catching on but never catch up.

  9. Thank you Jim for running with this. I have been gobsmacked by how much anti Muslim sentiment has flowed since Boris made his masked robbers and letterboxes comments. It still continues and has gathered momentum in the share world of social media. I cannot decide if it is based on ignorance of the facts by people I would view as generally decent or a letting out of dormant racism or general unfocussed grievances seeking a home. Either way it is concerning.

    1. Interestingly, anti-Semitic views by Labour leads to a consensus that it’s totally unacceptable and the party needs to be reformed, while anti-Muslim views by Conservative leads to a debate on whether firms of Islamic cultural dress should be allowed.

    2. Try to stay away from the Westminster game. I just know Boris had caused an outflowing of at best ignorance and at worst provided a foundation for racists and harm to minorities that the majority powers who govern us should take care to protect.