… or at least on the radio!

So, on Tuesday the “one eyed scottish idiot” (Clarkson, 2009) called a general election – as this isn’t really news as most of the word knew the election would be on May 6th, I thought I’d talk about an interesting side effect of the election instead. Gordon also chose my birthday to make the announcement – meaning yet again that story was knocked off the front page!

Anyway, the month running up to the election is known as Purdah, and as well as being a period of no major decisions being made by parliament,  increased regulation on news reporting etc. in the media applies. A further side effect is that the COI (corporate office of mis-information) aren’t allowed to advertise, based on the logic that advertising government initiatives (apart from the election itself) is in part publicity for the sitting government, and thus an unfair advantage.

Now, unlike some – I don’t have a particular problem with COI advertising, despite it occasionally being annoying being told to turn off lights, recycle, do my shoelaces etc (actually I do need the latter) and I should also point out that my present employer, like a lot of the commercial radio industry benefits significantly from COI advertising – yet I do have a problem with a particular advert I’ve heard a lot on the radio these last few weeks.

The advert in question is a Home Office Ad encouraging people to report suspicious behavior to the police – it’s actually quite a clever advert from a script writing point of view, using odd words from the ‘talking heads’ in the ad to make up the overall message – my issue though is with the message itself which seems to be “look out for your neighbors, they might be terrorists”. Ok, so it’s possible that old Mrs Davies at Number 23 is putting together a dirty bomb – and Mr Watson from the corner shop might be plotting to overthrow the government, but both seem unlikely (well the latter possibly not as Mr Watson does have a vote conservative sign in his window – n.b. Mr Watson is  fictional).

My concern is that as soon as you start treating everyone around you with suspicion, you stop treating them like people. I’ve lived in my current block of flats for about 6 months, and have barely shared more than a few words with my neighbors, and I think if I were to try engaging them in more of a conversation than a ‘Hi’ when passing in the car park – they’d probably think I was a bit weird, and start actively avoiding me in future. Worrying isn’t it.

I’m not proud of this fact, but when I get on a tube I’m actually a little nervous if there’s more than a few young asians with tatty rucksacks in the carriage. This is actual insanity on my part as I know full well that in excess of 99.9999999% of people on tube trains are as harmless as I am (if not more harmless) – so why do I react oddly to someone my age, with dark-ish skin and a rucksack like mine. Mostly this is due to the press for making us suspicious of people around us in busy places, but it’s worrying that the government have now jumped on the bandwagon, and are trying to make us suspicious of those who live around us.

There was a time that neighbors all said hello to each other in the street, lent each other sugar and helped others out, that time was gone long before my 90’s upbringing – but we were always civil to those who lived around us, and through a number of fairly complex social connections pretty much everyone on our street was on first name terms (and despite this being Worcestershire, not everyone was whiter than casper) – now it seems we’re supposed to be popping around to Mr Plod if we see ‘er up the road talking to a tall dark stranger, or if that new family by the shop have a car with blacked out windows.

This is stupid, as there are probably innocent explanations for these things – and real terrorists aren’t stupid enough to leave the kind of obvious trail hinted at in the advert. If we actually got to know our neighbors (as I grant you I’ve failed to do) then we’re more likely to spot real signs if something actually suspicious is going on and will feel a lot safer in our homes than the government seem to want us to be.

Right, cheesy ending time – “That’s when good neighbors become good friends”, I’m off now to say hello to one of my neighbors and I don’t care if they think I’m a bit weird!