Terence Blacker: I spy a fly-tipper. And a litter bug ...

Nothing exercises the British more than interference with their rubbish

Share
Related Topics

Some surprisingly positive news has emerged from local government. Across Britain, councils have been reviving the spirit of adventure and self-entertainment which many thought had died in the age of the computer; I-Spy, that game for all the family, is back.

At least 17 councils are encouraging adults and children to play I-spy when it comes to litter, fly-tipping, graffiti, excessive noise and other environmental crimes. Having made a note of the details, they then make a little report to the authorities. With a bit of luck, this amateur sleuthing will bring environmental villains of one kind or another to justice.

The recruitment of citizens as "environment volunteers" has caused a flurry of concern among those who are alarmed – quite rightly – about the erosion of individual liberties. They see the policy as a sneak's charter, the final triumph of the Crimewatch culture. They argue that enrolling children as young as seven to be "Junior Street Champions" will turn them into sanctimonious little Esther Rantzens, forever scolding us for our sins.

Yet, rather to my surprise, I find myself warming to the project.

The idea of getting people involved in the running of their community is eminently sensible. Belatedly, councils have begun to realise it is the alienated who tend to behave badly. A spirit of positive nimbyism is needed: a campaign to show that taking action to make one's backyard a fairer and more pleasant place has greater value, and gives more personal satisfaction, than any amount of pointless, generalised moaning.

The volunteers – 8,442 and rising – are not snoops or grasses. They are people who have woken up to the fact that becoming involved in small-scale community activity is a direct, unfussy way of countering the selfishness of a wider society.

Unfortunately, a good idea has been badly presented. Because we live in a culture hooked on punishment and revenge, the message has been about enforcement and getting others into trouble. The grim spectre of people spying on their neighbour's recycling habits has been invoked – and nothing gets the British more exercised than interference in the way they disperse their rubbish.

It was naïve of Islington Council to give its volunteers the sinister-sounding name of "Eyes for Islington". That "Junior Street Champions" tag for young recruits is even more Orwellian, echoing rather creepily the Junior Anti-Sex League of 1984. It is hardly surprising that critics, and possibly some volunteers themselves, have begun to see the policy as the government encouraging citizens to police their neighbours – the polar opposite of community spirit.

It is not too late for councils to shift the emphasis. The idea that doing something for one's own community is more useful and satisfying than gazing with impotent rage at the bigger picture is not such a stupid one. Those who report litter may even one day do the thing which is commonplace in other countries, but not our own – pick it up.

Encouraging children to be environmental observers is not to corrupt them. It is a long shot but, just possibly, handing out pencils, giving them badges and encouraging them to think of others may help them grow up to be happier, less selfish adults.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee