Angela Lambert: Political correctness helped to kill Victoria Climbie

'The desperate plight of a tortured girl was allowed to continue to the point where she died'
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The Independent Online

Victoria Climbie is dead, killed by political correctness.

The Orwellian think-speak of our age – Orwell actually called it Newspeak, but think-speak is the term that took root – is responsible for many crimes. Newspeak was devised, said Orwell in the appendix to 1984, "to meet the ideological needs of Engsoc, or English Socialism". It was a language "constructed for political purposes and intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using it".

Today's political correctness is a hybrid that has to cover many ideologies and initially feminism, though nowadays it is also required to put a positive spin on ethnic differences and handicap, mental or physical. As a result, people who are lame are "physically challenged". As if that made them any less lame, or ramps any more numerous.

This evasiveness makes it much harder to criticise someone who is black, even when their actions are manifestly irresponsible and their capacity to do their job is far short of what's needed. Suppose Carole Baptiste, the social services supervisor in charge of Victoria Climbie's social worker Lisa Arthurworry, had been white. Suppose she'd been an extreme follower of a Christian church, given to proselytising at every opportunity, neglecting her work, frequently away from the office and reluctant to do more than glance at case files.

She would have been cautioned, then warned and finally disciplined. She might even have been sacked, though political correctness would ensure she was given the comforting pretext of voluntary redundancy as well as monetary compensation to ease her distress and trauma.

But neither Victoria's inexperienced and desperately overworked young black social worker, nor her so-called supervisor, the religious fundamentalist, was ever bollocked by their team leader. If the unthinkable had happened, they'd have hollered "racism". After a lengthy enquiry, during which they'd have been suspended on full pay, each would doubtless have received generous compensation.

I don't want to be too hard on social workers. I know some marvellous ones who do a thankless job for derisory pay, work gruelling hours and can't answer back. But if slavish adherence to political correctness required all the case-workers in charge of the Climbie file to be black, it was wrong. True political correctness means being blind to colour.

And so the desperate plight of a tortured small girl was allowed to continue to the point where she died from her injuries. Yet many people must have noticed what was happening. Not perhaps her primary social worker, who could never gain access to the infamous flat where she was being kept in a bath, trussed up in a rubbish bag and scarcely fed; but when the mad, bad and dangerous aunt took the child to hospital... what can medical staff there have thought?

Her injuries were plain enough. But one might well imagine that, remembering political correctness and the risk to themselves of stirring up the ethnic antheap, they might have thought: "Not right, but not my problem. I haven't time to start the paperwork, launch an inquiry, ask tricky questions." And who could blame them if they did?

And there's another thing. Social workers are taught – in the name of ethnic awareness – to treat the customs of other countries, other races, with respect. Certain cultures accept violence towards women and children. If the child had been severely disciplined, well, maybe it's the custom in her African village. don't interfere with cultural norms. Let well alone.

Finally of course, there was that aunt: an aggressive and deluded figure whom no one challenged with impunity. It would have taken real courage to ask her why Victoria was so strangely and persistently injured – particularly if the child herself, intimidated into silence, were standing there with that glorious wide smile protesting that really, it was all her own fault.

In her final court appearance, Victoria's aunt seemed not only vicious but mad. Her claim to have loved Victoria, the assurances that she would never have harmed her – she loved her more than the child's own parents – sounded as though she had convinced herself that they were true. The dementedly self-deluding are the hardest people of all to prove wrong.

But apart from her and her lover, most people in this sorry saga meant well and were doing the right thing according to current belief and practice. This is why the beliefs and practices must be changed. Political correctness is not the almighty god before which even the truth must bow. It is a temporary phenomenon that may – in a decade or two – leave the flotsam and jetsam of a few words behind it – though not, I hope, discourse, or closure, let alone appropriate behaviour.

I will be called a racist. I am not. I am glad that the days are long gone when my mother would say to me, as the black bus conductor approached: "Hold your breath, darling, till he's passed." But that doesn't stop me saying that Ms Baptiste was a neglectful religious extremist who should have been kicked out of her job. Or that political correctness prevented that. And killed Victoria Climbie.

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