Friday, 26 October 2012

The Powerful Can’t Hide (by Ann Walker)

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

The wrongdoing of the powerful always seems beyond the reach of moral challenge – until the people stepping forward to condemn it tip the balance in favour of justice. The UK is now witnessing the Savile moment, with influential people taking turns to excuse themselves for seeming to tolerate Jimmy Savile’s decades of abusing vulnerable people. Many more will be squirming as more questions are being asked.

The avalanche of revelations causes all sorts of reactions but perhaps we can find some hope in this and other current news.

No one responded sympathetically to solitary girls’ reports of Savile’s predatory behaviour. Some girls were even punished for speaking out. Eventually though, their stories were pieced together and we’ve seen the rapid destruction of Savile’s reputation along with his pretentious headstone. Examining his behaviour is shining a spotlight onto a number of celebrities as well as some of the institutions that are central to the British establishment. These include the BBC, the NHS and the police.

We can set this story alongside the vindication of bereaved Hillsborough families who have fought tenaciously for decades to reveal the truth. In sport, Lance Armstrong has fallen from grace after years of bullying and cheating. Now there are investigations into public allegations that ex-officers from the armed services may have broken rules to lobby ministers over the procurement of military equipment.
All this reminds us that influential people can be held to account. Citizens who have been resolute in questioning the powerful are seeing the results of their collective campaigning.

Causes can sometimes seem lost or hopeless but when people join forces to question the powerful, we can root out corruption and do something to rebalance the inequality of influence that has let people abuse their positions in all sorts of ways. It would be naïve to suggest that there’s been a major shift in power structures in recent weeks, but there is undeniable progress.

Tackling inequality of influence is a massive task, but we should draw on the inspiration of what people can achieve when they keep up the pressure for justice and change. Adopting a cooperative problem-solving approach is very timely.

[Ann Walker is Director of Education, WEA]