The word “bedlam” derives from the popular nickname bestowed on the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London. It was — in politically incorrect but descriptive terms — a lunatic asylum in which deplorable conditions were the norm. On a sliding fee basis, the public could view the poor souls confined there, poke them with sticks for fun, and even have sex with them. Thus “bedlam” is now synonymous shorthand for “a scene or state of uproar and confusion.”
A quick scan of news stories on the Labour government’s recent scandals and antics makes it clear that not much has changed in London since the 19th century. Bedlam prevails.
This includes staggering evidence that the British government has been suffering from a serious case of reverse kleptomania. Last week, Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather announced the results of an investigation she has been conducting. Since 2001, Teather discovered, government departments have registered the loss — or theft — of a total of 3,200 laptop computer and mobile phones. This works out to 468 devices per year, or more than one per day. Many of the laptops contained what is considered “sensitive information.”
Thus, no one should be surprised by this second incomprehensible news item from last week. An unencrypted data stick went missing from the offices of a consulting company hired by The Home Office. What was on the stick? Would you believe confidential information on the 84,000 prisoners (now serving time) in England and Wales and 43,000 individuals (now back on the streets) described as “prolific and serious offenders” who have repeatedly committed violent and/or sexual crimes?
This was not the first database to disappear during Gordon Brown’s reign as Prime Minister. Last year, the private records of 25 million UK children who receive government health benefits, the names of people who had applied for driving learner’s permits, and — incredulously — the names of new Army recruits, also went missing. New security procedures were promised, but obviously not delivered.
And now for the gallow’s humor. The public has been told that one of the possible consequences of the missing data stick is that criminals could bring legal actions against the government if their identities and home addresses are revealed and they are placed in danger. This is known as “toxic liability” and, should such suits occur, the government says compensation and damages will have to be paid for through increased taxes. The good news is that PA Consulting has had its other government contract put on hold for now. That would be the contract to develop government issued Identity Cards for every citizen in the UK.
Another lavishly funded British government contract involves the redesign and manufacture of unmanned spy aircraft (drones — not be to confused by bureaucrats) currently being used in Afghanistan and Iraq. The plan is to have these drones deployed domestically across the length and breadth of the UK to monitor ordinary citizens. As one indignant Brit exclaimed: “We won’t be able to sunbathe in the nude in our own back gardens anymore.” The drones are scheduled to be flying and spying within the next three years.
Speaking of spies, MI5 — aka The British Security Service — just announced a new recruitment program designed to entice gays and lesbians to join their ranks. This new policy upends the anti-gay hiring ban established in the 1950s, when two gay Cambridge students (Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt) created a notoriously successful Cold War Pro-Soviet spy ring. The decision was based on the increased need for intelligence officers following the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London. To achieve its hiring goals, MI5 has outsourced to a gay and lesbian recruitment firm named Stonewall. A spokesperson for MI5 explained: “People from all minority communities do have experience of getting on with people who are different and of fitting in. They are also good at doing these things in a way that is not conspicuous.” The obvious questions are how many gay and lesbian Islamic extremists are in England, and just how likely are they to get on inconspicuously with these new MI5 recruits?
But back to domestic surveillance. As if the wall-to-wall CCTV cameras across the low and high streets of the British Isles were not sufficient, a new plan has been proffered which calls for hidden CCTV cameras to be installed in the nation’s schools. The initial reaction of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers was mixed, but only 25 percent expressed concern over this new level of intrusion. 50 percent of ATL members said they didn’t think CCTV in classrooms would make any difference in how they taught their classes, although they might feel safer from attacks from rowdy students.
Another headline of note reported that London is now one of the most dangerous places in Britain in the wake of a spate of murders. Since 2008 began, 24 teenagers have been stabbed to death in the capital. Sadly, the “top cop” of London’s Metropolitan Police Department has been distracted lately. Sir Ian Blair (no relation to Tony) was nearly fired in 2005 when a squad of his men mistook a Brazilian electrician for a terrorist and shot the man to death in an Underground station. Now Blair is preoccupied with a lawsuit — brought against him by Scotland Yard’s highest-ranking Muslim officer — who claims he is the object of job discrimination.
But all is not lost. Seems the coppers in County Kent have their priorities straight. They recently seized a satirical War on Terror board game created by two web designers from Cambridge University. Why? Some players have to wear a ski mask (balaclava) with the word “Evil” stitched on it. The police said the bust was executed because these masks could be used in the commission of actual crimes. The game’s creators believe that the real reason they were targeted was that their game allowed for several scenarios in which the axis of evil empires could win the war on terror, roundly defeating the good empires. It’s increasingly hard to ignore that possibility.
Surveying the bedlam, Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, told the press last week: “Charlie Chaplin could do a better job of running the Home Office than this Labour government.”