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You are a camera

More official exhortation from the British state. This a poster on the underground.


Quite an interesting case, I think, because it isn’t the standard minatory approach: Do X as the Y agency demands, or get a big fine. This has the superficially laudable object of preventing children from bullying one another.

You may think (I do) that it ought to be unnecessary to urge people to protect children against bullies, and that this is not a suitable topic for state propaganda – that most adults could be counted on to intervene as a matter of ordinary humanity. But that reckons without the passivity and inanition fostered by 60 years of welfarism, and 30 years or so of ‘child protection’ doctrine under which speaking roughly to a little boy (let alone touching him), makes one the wickedest of criminals. You might have to work on people these days to get them to do something.

But plainly that isn’t the object of the exercise here. This ad doesn’t encourage people to stop bullying. For all the empty vapourings about ‘active citizenship’ (See here for an example of the Government propaganda on that topic that is churned out by notionally independent organisations), nothing may undermine the dependency culture. What this campaign is for is to get people to report incidents they think might be bullying to the authorities. There is a website and a subsidised telephone line for you to do so.

It is obviously impossible that this could help the unfortunate smaller boy. One has to conclude that isn’t really the point. The point is to get members of the public to adopt official attitudes, and engrain them by providing a mechanism to rehearse, to act out, concern. It is for to prove you are a compliant member of society by watching others carefully and reporting deviant behaviour. The state will deal with the problem, however minor, however fleeting, however apparently amenable to personal decision.

I don’t think that this is a deliberate, explicit project. I think it is a natural outcome of the cultural assumptions of those who commission such ads. We are not just supposed to love the surveillance camera, but to identify with it. The ideal citizen is a passive tool that reports back as requested; that fits in with the total bureaucracy’s demand for record.

For those of us – left and right – who still hold to the western liberal tradition of individual moral responsibility, this is a sickening, vertiginous conception of social life. The life of ants, not human beings. For those who are broadly conservative communitarians – right and left – who would like embedded institutions, direct relationships and personal responsibilities to dominate, likewise. The possibility that we may – all taken together – be in the minority should be a source of terror.

Secure beneath the watching eyes? Not in the slightest, me.

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26 comments to You are a camera

  • Verity

    Guy, is this real or is it a trick?

  • guy herbert

    Real. This is too serious a question to joke about. Britain is in the grip of ‘soft paternalism’ like you’ve never seen.

    The lousy quality of the image is my bad phone-photography added to my poor blogging ability in getting the photo sized right. It isn’t photoshopped.

  • Verity

    Guy – This isn’t “soft” paternalism. This is iron-fisted, jackboot-on-the-foot paternalism. I am horrified.

    What is even worse than a thug like Blair and his cohorts trying it on is, the people are tolerating it – with a few honourable exceptions such as yourself.

  • Not Dave

    Its just getting more and more like any other totalitarian society. The SS, KGB or the Stasi being fed leads by a willing populace eager to suck up in order to avoid being persecuted themselves. Or at least that’s what they are aiming for.

    PS Seems to be at least a couple of us posting under the David tag, so I’ll use a new one for now. Only seems fair.

  • Midwesterner

    In the US, when we want to draw attention to a government intrusion, making an egregious parody it is popular.

    Our parodies are your real life. Frightening. I used to think 1984 was a parody. I guess not.

  • Brian

    I am not exaggerating when I say the picture bundled in this particular posting was the creepiest image I’ve seen – anywhere – in recent memory.

  • Brian

    Perhaps we are supposed to report incidents of police offices, social workers, ‘anti-social behaviour coordinators’ and ‘anti-harrassment workers’ exceeding their powers so they can be thrown in prison without further ado.

    Then again, perhaps not.

    By the way, there appears to be another Brian posting as well. Hello Brian.

  • The BullyWatch London website really does urge Passivity and Voyeurism, rather than any actual action by the public if they happen to witness any bullying.

    As the Londonist blog points out:

    Let’s hope they don’t click into the growed up section where bystanders are advised to…erm…stand by:

    Always stay safe do not intervene in physical bullying or incidents on the street.

    Presumbaly what you are meant to do, is to use the insecure web form, filling in lots of personal details, including questions like “Was the person being bullied physically hurt ? – Yes, stabbed“. Administering first aid or even dialling 999 in such a case, is apparently not to be considered.

    This web form will then be emailed to the Charity, who will then Coordinate with the Police, the Department for Education and Science. , the Local Authority Social Workers, the Department of Helath etc., who will then add various secret reports to the forthcoming massive Childen Act 2004 Database of All 11 million Children in the UK (and their Parents or Guardians), or, the smaller scale pilot database schemes like Ryogens etc. which rightly worry campaign groups like Action Rights for Children

    At some point in the future, some sort of Intervention may or may not happen, but at least all the bureaucrats’ backsides will have been covered.

    Some more comments:
    “Another creepy surveillance state public advertisment – Bully Watch London”

  • I’m with Guy on not liking this at all. However, I see some slight cause for optimism.

    If the Government needs the help of the people to do the spying, does this not show that all those CCTV cameras have not turned out to be as useful as they hoped?

    If we ignore the call, perhaps more policemen will be put back on the beat.

    If that’s expensive, perhaps some silly irrelevant laws will be unmade, so that the police have more time to enforce the laws that matter.

    Best regards

  • Johnathan

    I am sure Euan Gray thinks it is pragmatic and jolly sensible. Nothing to bother our ideological little heads over.

  • Verity

    Nigel Sedgwick, the government doesn’t “need the help” of the people to do the spying. The message is, “You can’t escape, because we have tens of thousands of people spying on you and you don’t know who they are.”

  • Quenton

    Nigel, believing that government officials are willing (or even capable) to take personal reponsibility for their failed initatives and roll-back changes is akin to believing that the tooth-fairy exchanges childern’s teeth for money (with a very favorable exchange rate at that!).

    Police greatly desire the co-operation of the public they serve, and for the most part people want to give it to them. People are normally very happy to tell the constabulary all about the bad guys in their midst. It’s their natural reaction since they benefit from peace and security more than the police do. When the people stop doing this there are usually two main reasons:

    1. The people see the police as a greater threat to their saftey and/or liberty than the people the police say are “bad”

    2. The “bad” people are seen as being more powerful than the authorities. This loosely translates to reality as “If I rat them out they will hurt me and there is nothing the police can do to stop them”.

    If citizens need to be told to assist the authorities then clearly something has already gone dreadfully wrong.

    Let’s look at Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles” for a second.

    1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

    2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.

    3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

    4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

    5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

    6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.

    7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

    8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

    9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

    Numbers 2-5 and 7 seem to be most relevant here. It seems to me that British cops are intent on doing the exact opposite of whatever these principles tell them to do.

    The principles speak specifically of over-use of physical force being one of the things that turns people away from co-operation with the police. Though it is not “physical force” alot of people may see the increased use of survelliance and un-checked authority as “overkill” and don’t feel that the police are playing for their team anymore (as in reason 1 that I list earlier). Principle #7 in particular seems to have been grossly violated with NuLab’s far-reaching “reforms”.

    I wouldn’t worry about reason two as much. It is only a difficult problem in third-world nations with little police infrastructure. It exists in Brittain and America for sure, but the reason is not because of the lack of power by the authorities, but the lack of caring on the part of neighbourhood residents. If both sides are viewed as “bad” then what’s the point of helping one over the other? Better to keep around the thugs as they are easier to fight off or make deals with than an over-bearing state with limitless resources who could, at their discretion, make you “dissapear” with minimal effort.

    If the British authorities want citizen co-operation then they would do better by actually setting up a real dialogue with the people as opposed to lording over them and telling them to do so “because they asked you to”.

  • Verity

    For the first few years after I left, and observed from France and then Mexico Herr Blair slicing away at our Constitution and our traditional liberties, I felt hurt and sad for our country. And terribly angry at having felt obliged to get out.

    But now it’s come to this, the government inviting citizens to spy on one another in the expectation that the message will not cause widespread outrage or even mild disgust. And I feel a revulsion that the British let it come to this in their own country. Taken over by a small cadre of communists.

    Why didn’t people spot Blair and his enforcer Campbell for what they are? Blair is a typical communist – a hunger for riches and privileges for himself and his family; an interest in dismantling an entire society to make it more pliable; the goal of dismantling the family and bringing up the children themselves, thus keeping them ignorant worker ants; dismantling traditional loyalties (he hasn’t dared tackle the monarchy yet and I sense has given up on that for now, after the Queen Mother’s funeral opened his eyes); stuffing the debating chamber of the House of Lords with placemen as enthusiastically as any Chinese prime minister. The one thing he never managed, although he clearly sought it, was the establishment of a personality cult around himself.

    Tony Blair has dismantled everything he has touched, under the guise of “reform”. And now they are inviting British citizens to spy on one another.

  • Verity

    And one of the people with a camera on its head is a child.

  • permanent expat

    The fathers of those now assuming Heinrich Himmler’s sordid mantle in the Septic Isle died in their thousands fighting this abomination.

  • Guy,

    I’m surprised you weren’t accosted for taking a photo on the Underground, as I was in Liverpool Street Station a short while ago!

  • Verity

    permanent expat – indeed.

    And they gave in anyway. They make me sick.

  • Julian Morrison

    Quenton: his #7 is really the core definition of a genuine police, but it’s more than that – it’s a declaration of equality. Everyone has the right to enforce the law. Police just do it as a day job.

    I wonder when and why the basic idea of the police shifted? Obviously it was long before Blair. For all of my lifespan at least, the police message has been the division of citizens into two castes: police, who have the guild right to act (or not, at their sole whim), and the plebians, who not only must but ought to be passive. They have always propagandized “conceal, hide, flee, surrender, appease” and “the burden is on you not to tempt crime”. This is going on 30 years now.

  • I feel that too much can be made of state intrusions on personal liberty. I don’t endorse nanny state laws, but I recognise the validity of what you write, and yet feel that too much is being made from the sample issue.

    As a teacher, I can say things I don’t believe so that I can raise an issue. Awareness of bullying and its effects needs to be part of social culture so that social culture has an expression for allowing an individual to express their feelings. Emotions that aren’t rehearsed within a social framework tend to be anti social.

    In short, I agree that the ad is indicative of Labor’s intrusion into personal space, but I don’t respect bullies either.

  • guy herbert

    Charles Pooter,

    I exercise discretion. I’d like to have chronicled the steady development of irrelevant fortifications around certain British public buildings over the past 3 or 4 years but I have no interest in getting arrested. (Nor did I have a camera until late, but had I had one, I still would have been leery.) Of course a spy would do ordinary tourist snaps and catch such things in the corner, rather than seeking to illustrate them, but that point is likely to be lost on security people.

    One can take photographs in the West End in a way that would be unwise in Westminster or the City. You can do things at 7 in the morning you can’t at 2 in the afternoon and vice versa.

  • guy herbert


    The rot does go back a long way, but the start of the big change was in the mid-80s. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 both created a bureaucratic ethos and instantiated in law numerous special powers for the police – some of them things that they had been shown to have been doing unlawfully during the miners’ strike, such as creating roadblocks. The Public Order Act 1986 was also a milestone, both in creating the infinitely flexible offence of ‘disordely conduct’ and adding to police powers, notably creating numerous powers over public demonstrations.

    At the same time police pay was massively increased turning them into the first class of public servant (they all are now, save the armed forces and ministers) better paid than their peers in the private sector. Once self-interest rather than public spirit is a possible motivation for becoming an official, then you have reached a tipping point towards a closed caste with contempt for a public that doesn’t have such privilege. (Cf the waBenzi culture.)

    There are plenty of decent policemen around, still, but the swaggering thug or political enforcer has an evolutionary advantage in the new polity.

  • Julian Morrison

    Now this is imagery more to my liking: http://www.agirlandherfed.com/

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I was a bit rude about Euan earlier up. Apols, I was just ensuring I got in before he tried to defend it!

    Verity: well spotted on the kid. Jeysus.

  • Guy and Julian,

    Your last couple of posts about the police were very insightful. They deserve better than being hidden away in the comments…

  • michael farris

    On its own, the poster isn’t much of anything, you’d think it’s some sort of vague anti-Orwellian statement, and almost paranoid. But the context in which the spy-camera-people are supposed to be a positive image for a society is creepy beyond belief.

  • Julian Taylor

    A recently highlighted case in the press was of an eight year old girl picked on an bullied by 3 ten year girls at her school. Even when the girl’s elder (nine years old) sister intervened the bullies still continued, happy in the knowledge that there was nothing that the school or the state would, or could, do beyond school detention.

    Given the the state is indeed toothless in the face of actually doing anything about bullying it comes as no surprise therefore that they shift their emphasis away from the direct offence and instead blame others (the ‘cameras’) for failing to report it.