Monday, 30 May 2011

Baby P, Brandon Muir and political expediency

Even though Sharon Shoesmith's dismissal has been deemed "procedurally unfair", it's difficult to feel sympathy for the former director of children's services at Haringey Council in view of the damning report on her department following the death of Baby P, not to mention reports that her eventual compensation payout could reach £2 million.

But last week's Court of Appeal ruling can perhaps be construed as underlining the fact that her sacking by former education secretary Ed Balls was politically motivated - in effect she was used as a scapegoat for wider failings, and thus hung out to dry.

In turn this underlines the contrast with events surrounding the killing of Dundee toddler Brandon Muir in Dundee at the hands of the violent drug-abusing boyfriend of his drug addict, prostitute mother.

As blogged here previously the obligatory report on the circumstances leading to Brandon's death seemed like a classic Establishment fix, with a former senior police officer finding failings in procedures and systems, but these seemed to exist in some kind of bureaucratic vacuum where human error and frailty was simply not an issue, hence the blame lay wholly in processes rather than people, with the Dundee political reaction split along party lines.

Which was convenient indeed in view of the fact that politicians all the way from Dundee's social work convener up to first minister Alex Salmond had effectively exonerated social work staff in relation to Brandon's death before any investigation into officialdom's role in the tragedy had even begun.

Of course, it certainly often seems the norm that fawning politicians consider that public servants can do no wrong, in contrast with their political opponents who can do no right, but as usual the truth very probably lies somewhere between the two extremes.

But the Shoesmith case provides a very useful contrast to the reaction to Brandon Muir's tragic killing. Of course, even without examining the minutiae of the two cases it's self-evident that they are not directly comparable, but what's equally clear is that there were significant departmental failures in both cases.

Also, while we should neither absolve Sharon Shoesmith from any blame nor condemn Dundee's social work department out of hand, it's clear that in the former case political expediency dictated that she should carry the can in relation to Baby P, while in the latter national and municipal politics in Scotland dictated the opposite.

But whatever the precise motivations in play, they certainly seemed not wholly consistent with truth, justice and the need to learn uncomfortable lessons from the tragic deaths of yet another two children.


Anonymous said...

Typical isn't it? Two children dead but everyone wants to cover their arse rather than identifying and dealing with the failings. The we have a politician (Balls) acting the decisive minister, making a cockup of the process and now we have a situation where he could cost the taxpayer a million pounds, excluding legal fees.

Stuart Winton said...

Indeed, and Ed Balls was one of new Labours economics gurus, and look what happened there!

And yet after all he thought himsef potential PM material by standing for the Labour leadership.

Thus clearly double standards on failure!!