When John Reid calls on Muslim parents to spy on their teenage sons for signs of nascent terrorist leanings, the instinctive question is not whether the Home Secretary has gone too far, it seems to me, but whether he has gone far enough.
Not everyone agrees. The extremist Abu Izzadeen, who heckled with such spirit during Reid's "dob the kids in" keynote address on Wednesday, was not impressed, and nor were rather more moderate voices of Muslim opinion. To them, the notion that a parent should rush upstairs and put a glass to the wall adjoining their son's bedroom whenever his mobile chirrups is not just deliberately divisive, but a generic slur on the entire community.
Others may wish to examine Reid's words in the context of the current political climate, and wonder if he was pitching it less at Muslim mums and dads than the editor of the Sun and others who find such shows of machismo attractive in potential leadership candidates. But that can't be right, because only a few days ago the lovable PhD informed us that he hasn't a scintilla of personal ambition, and scorns anyone (no names, no pack drill) who does.
No, there's nothing for it but to take the good doctor at his word, and assume he meant this as a serious contribution to the war against terrurrrh. If you are a Muslim parent, and your boy is losing interest in his schooling, keeping "odd hours", and landing himself with "strange new friends" - and let's be frank, none of the above is hardly bog standard adolescent behaviour, is it? - the Home Secretary graciously invites you to do some snooping preparatory to having a quiet word with MI5.
So far, so splendid. If there's a more acutely nuanced way to reassure British Muslims that the Government refuses to tar them all with the Islamofascist brush than by urging them to sleuth on their own kids (and without the expense of having to buy false beards!), stick it on a postcard and send it to the Home Office.
But what about the next step? When will the good doctor address the reverse issue of children spying on parents? The enemies we are told to fear above all aren't wild-eyed 17-year-olds dreaming of virgins after watching an Al-Qa'ida training video down the mosque. The ones who are supposed truly to petrify us, because of the near impossibility of intercepting them, are the sleepers who bed themselves in to society for ages, giving no clue of their sympathies until the explosion. These men left their parents' homes long ago and have children of their own, like Mohammed Siddique Khan.
Admittedly, Mr Khan's son was still a baby when he led the July 7 bombings, but there will be other would be suicide bombers with children old enough to keep an eye on their fathers, and it is they who Reid should be recruiting to his network of infant spies.
Of course there's nothing new about a practice going back to imperial Rome and beyond, but "Dr" Reid will know it by its Soviet term of"denunciation". These days, he laughs off his erstwhile Communism, by saying he once believed in Father Christmas as well (a brilliant analogy when you think about it. Santa, Stalin ... Stalin, Santa. Peas in a pod). Yet although he was barely into his thirties when he abandoned the faith (he was 49, by the way, when he heard the chilling news about the tooth fairy; but that's another story), he must already have read about the Soviet trait of revering children who turned their parents in for unSoviet activities. As recently as 1965, a statue was erected in Moscow to honour Pavlik Morozov, a hero of the Soviet Union under Josef Santa, sorry Stalin - you see how difficult it can be? - for denouncing his father in 1932, and paying for it with death by lynch mob. If Reid ever cares to legislate to make familial snitching mandatory, he should call it Pavlik's Law.
It's been said perhaps too often that, in so far as it's modelled on anything, New Labour is loosely based on Orwell's Party, and here's the obligatory quote from 1984. "The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately."
Eventually Winston Smith's sweatily industrious next-door neighbour Parson's, a man of ultra-slavish loyalty to the Party, is handed to the Thought Police by his two nippers after they claim to overhear him denouncing Big Brother in his sleep.
This is the paradigm Reid should cite in a stirring conference speech next week, when encouraging all Muslim children over five to creep into their parents' bedrooms - not every night, no need to go mad; let's say once a week - and listen out for incriminating sleep talk. Tiny tape recorders, small enough to be hidden inside a Teletubby's ear, could be standard issue at primary schools along with the pencils and protractors.
And why limit the principle of blood relatives watching one another on behalf of the state to the Muslim community? In America, as part of the "war on drugs", there have been myriad reports of police chiefs praising little ones for popping into the station with that eighth of Skunk they found in Pop's tool box, while under a bill being touted in California (assembly bill 2,068), children will be asked such questions as whether their parents spank them or watch violent television shows.
We are seldom too far distended from the coat tails of our imperial master across the Atlantic. For us, the step from the new children's Index recording details that may or may not indicate a future danger of abuse for all children (except of course those of celebrities; they are exempt on data protection grounds) to questioning children directly about their parents' habits seems a small and inevitable one.
What an endlessly enticing place it is, this brave new world that has such peepers in it. Indeed, one suspects that the culture of surveillance - whether by phone tapping, satellite imaging, and 90 CCTV cameras every mile; neighbours peeking over the fence to check for a dripping hose; or a distressed shopkeeper in Leicester ringing Special Branch because his 15-year-old won't do his homework and can't get up on a Saturday morning - will prove the only lasting domestic legacy Mr Tony Blair will bequeath us.
The next time one of his own teenagers breaks the law by getting vomitously drunk on the street, instead of describing the incident as "hilarious" as he did when Euan decorated Leicester Square with his innards, perhaps he'd have the indecency to turn the little blighter in.Reuse content