Come off it, folks: how many paedophiles can there be?
By Boris Johnson (Boris Johnson is MP for Henley), The Telegraph
Really? I said, not quite able to believe my luck. There we were,
waiting for take-off, and I had just been having a quick zizz. It was a
long flight ahead, all the way to India, and I had two children on my
left. Already they were toughing each other up and sticking their
fingers up each other's nose, and now - salvation!
Hovering above me was a silk-clad British Airways stewardess with an
angelic smile, and she seemed to want me to move. "Please come with me,
sir" said the oriental vision.
At once, I got her drift. She desired to upgrade me. In my mind's eye, I
saw the first-class cabin, the spiral staircase to the head massage, the
Champagne, the hot towels.
"You betcha!" I said, and began to unbuckle. At which point, the
children set up a yammering. "Oi," they said to me, "where do you think you
are going?" I was explaining that the captain had probably spotted me
come on board, don't you know. Doubtless he had decided that it was
outrageous for me to fly steerage, sound chap that he was. I'd make sure
to come back now and then, hmmm?
At which the stewardess gave a gentle cough. Actually, she said, she was
proposing to move me to row 52, and that was because - she lowered her
voice - "We have very strict rules".
"Eh?" I said, by now baffled. "A man cannot sit with children," she said;
and then I finally twigged. "But he's our FATHER", chimed the children.
"Oh," said the stewardess, and then eyed me narrowly. "These are your
children?" "Yes," I said, a bit testily. "Very sorry," she said, and
wafted down the aisle - and in that single lunatic exchange you will see
just about everything you need to know about our dementedly phobic and
risk-averse society. In the institutionalized prejudice of that BA
stewardess against an adult male, you see one of the prime causes of
this country's tragic under-achievement in schools.
I mention all this because the same absurd kerfuffle happened this week.
Some child was put next to an ancient journalist and his wife on a
flight, and the airline (BA again) went into spasm. As the hoo-ha raged,
the press turned to the lobby groups, and someone called Pam Hibbert of
Barnardo's obliged with the usual bossyboots quote. The ban on sitting
children next to adults was "eminently sensible", said this eminently
I mean, come off it, folks. How many paedophiles can there be? Are we
really saying that any time an adult male finds himself sitting next to
someone under 16, he must expect to be hustled from his seat before the
suspicious eyes of the entire cabin?
What about adult females? Every week there is some new tale of what a
saucy French mistress is deemed to have done with her adolescent charges
behind the bicycle sheds; and, disgraceful though these episodes may be,
I don't hear anyone saying that children should be shielded from adult
women. Do you? Or maybe I'm wrong - maybe all adults will have to carry
personal cardboard partitions with them on every plane or train, just in
case they find themselves sitting next to under-16s.
Even as I write, I can imagine the lip-pursing of some of my lovely
high-minded readers. How would you like it, they will say, if some weird
chap was plonked next to your kids? And they are right that I would
worry about some strange adult sitting next to my children, chiefly
because I wouldn't want the poor fellow to come to any harm.
To all those who worry about the paedophile plague, I would say that
they not only have a very imperfect understanding of probability; but
also that they fail to understand the terrible damage that is done by
this system of presuming guilt in the entire male population just
because of the tendencies of a tiny minority.
There are all sorts of reasons why the numbers of male school teachers
are down 50 per cent in the period 1981 to 2001, and why the ratio of
female to male teachers in primary schools is now seven to one. There
are problems of pay, and the catastrophic failure of the state to ensure
that they are treated as figures of authority and respect; and what with
'elf 'n' safety and human rights it is very hard to enforce discipline.
But it is also, surely, a huge deterrent to any public-spirited man
contemplating a career in education that society apparently regards all
adult male contact with young people as being potentially a bit dodgy, a
bit rum, a bit you know.
It is a total disaster. It is not just that both boys and girls could do
with more male role models in the classroom. Worse still, it often used
to be men who taught physics, and maths, and chemistry, and it is the
current shortage of such teachers that explains why 80 per cent of
pupils studying physics are now taught by someone with a degree in
biology; and that in turn helps explain why the numbers doing physics
A-level have halved, and why physics departments are closing all over
the shop, with all the consequent damage to our science base.
It has tended to be male teachers who take contact sports. Even if they
can find a playing-field, these days, the poor male sports teachers have
to cope with a terrifying six-inch thick manual explaining how they must
on no account shout at their charges, and above all, on pain of
prosecution, they must NOT BE LEFT ALONE with the kids. No wonder our
children are apparently turning into big fat Augustus Gloops.
It is insane, and the problem is the general collapse of trust. Almost
every human relationship that was sensibly regulated by trust is now
governed by law, with cripplingly expensive consequences.
I blame the media, I blame the judges, I blame the lobby groups, and in
particular I blame the cowardly capitalist airline companies that give
in to this sort of loony hysteria. If you happen to be reading this on a
British Airways flight, and have quite rightly sustained a burst blood
vessel, then I think you are entitled to an immediate upgrade.