Suspicious minds

<p>I recently found myself in the media, fighting the latest government insanity. It was announced a few weeks ago that from November, children's authors who wish to visit schools will have to sign onto a database, paying &pound;64 each, to prove that they're not paedophiles.</p>
<p>Headed by Philip Pullman, a number of authors suggested that this was a knee-jerk piece of legislation&mdash;he described it as &quot;poisonous and corrosive&quot;&mdash;and that it would do more harm than any good it could hope to effect. Of course we want to protect children. But do we really want them to fear and suspect all adults&mdash;to trust only those who come bearing a government stamped seal of approval? </p>
<p>For what it's worth, the last time I found myself alone in a room with a middle-aged man and a number of small children, nobody complained. But this was 10 Downing Street, the other man was Gordon Brown, it was the launch of the &quot;National Year of Reading&quot; and he was encouraging authors to make more school visits. I can report there was nothing particularly sinister about the PM's behaviour but then again, he's not on the database, so you never know . . .</p>
<p>I was particularly sorry to find myself confronting Anthony Browne on BBC's &quot;Newsnight&quot; over this issue. It seemed a shame that in his first public appearance as the new children's laureate, he should have been setting himself against so many of his colleagues and indeed against common sense.</p>
<p>Because in the weeks that have followed, it's become clear that this new law has precious little public support. Worse than that, it will take in millions of pounds like some sort of perverse stealth tax. Everyone from J K Rowling to the Archbishop of Canterbury will be forced to register and foreign papers have had a field day sneering at us. It's all an unpleasant mess.</p>
<p>And that unpleasantness spilled over into my week in the media. Anthony Browne, of course, was unfailingly courteous and I think our debate was lively without being mean. Not so some other authors who have used this opportunity to spread some quite gratuitously offensive bile across the news and the internet.</p>
<p>It's been my view that for the past 12 years, New Labour has been systematically undermining the way we see and live with each other. If we are no more than barcodes, digits on a database, we will be weak and easier to govern. But the most depressing aspect of the week for me was to see my faith in the fellowship of authors broken. We may disagree&mdash;but if we can't stick together, who can?<br />
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