Today has been one of those kicked-backed, reflective sort of days where you wake up with nothing planned, no objectives and no agenda. After a late start and an even more leisurely breakfast, me and the wife drifted into town for a mooch around the shops and a trip to the library before meandering into a restaurant for an extended lunch. Over lunch we talked a lot about the state of the country ( a favourite topic) and in the process, I was reminded of something I had seen on our walk into town.
Passing the main bus station, I saw a bus bearing the slogan “Working towards safer communities”. I stopped to ponder this statement. Naturally, we have all become very familiar with this kind of Blair-speak mission statement over the last 10 years: “Building a safe, just and tolerant society”, “Re-building Britain’s Railways”, “NHS, your health, your choices” being just some of the more nauseating ones. But how many times do we stop to really scratch beneath the superficial gloss to think about what these catch phrases really reveal about the state of our society.
“Working towards safer communities” is a case in point. What does that mean? On face value, it appears a perfectly admirable objective. However if you think about it a little more deeply, it does imply that the community is less safe than it should be. This is interesting, as there can surely only be two states of safeness: safe and not safe. To work towards a state of safeness means that, by definition, the present state must be that of non-safe. It’s like the NHS saying, “Working towards more alive patients”.
The second telling point is the phrase “working towards”. Working towards is a passive, wishy-washy, whining sort of a phrase, implying earnest but ineffectual efforts towards the objective in mind. It could be paraphrased easily to “We’re doing our best”. Notice also that the phrase “working towards” carries no real commitment to the objective. It doesn’t say, for example, “To protect and serve” or “making the streets safe”. No, all it says is “We are trying to…” So, implicit in the statement of intent is the caveat that if we should fail to achieve the objective, you should not criticise because we did our best.
So to translate, “Working towards safer communities” actually means “We doing our best to make a safe community”. When your house if broken into, or you’re mugged on the street, you should therefore not be critical of the government that has failed to protect you because they were – no doubt pointed out with indignant huffiness – doing their best, as if this somehow abdicates them from any further responsibility.
The point is, of course, that their best is not good enough, and no amount of woolly-minded, politically correct mission statements will hide the fact. The only promises of value are those that make specific commitments. The first duty of government is to create a safe society for its citizens. Either it is, or it isn’t safe: There is no such thing as nearly safe, mainly safe or mostly safe; and there is no such thing as “working towards” safe. To have failed to secure the safety of its citizens in its own society, is failure – pure and simple.