Sunday, May 27, 2007
Blair's legacy: Celebs get an upgrade
To be perfectly honest I'd never heard of the The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC), a Metropolitan Police unit "quietly" (ie secretly) created by Tony Blair's illiberal government last year.
"The FTAC [identifies] individuals who pose a direct threat to VIPs including the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Royal Family," reports the Mail on Sunday. "It was given sweeping powers to check more than 10,000 suspects' files to identify mentally unstable potential killers and stalkers with a fixation against public figures. The team's psychiatrists and psychologists then have the power to order treatment - including forcibly detaining suspects in secure psychiatric units...."
"The purpose of the centre is 'to evaluate and manage the risk posed to prominent people by...those who engage in inappropriate or threatening communications or behaviours in the context of abnormally intense preoccupations, many of which arise from psychotic illness.'" Click here for full report.
The most delightful aspect of the FTAC is the government's acknowledgement that VIPs, or "prominent figures" - or, in a word, celebrities - should be afforded extra special protection from obsessed loonies. Ordinary victims of stalkers, whose attackers are routinely released if at all detained, can only look on in shock and awe. And the wording of the FTAC's remit is sufficiently abstract as to encompass all manner of obsessions with stars.
My own interest in the sex life of Kevin Spacey could, arguably, be regarded as an "abnormally intense preoccupation". And, Robin Tamblyn - are you reading this? The Daily Express has evinced until recently a very peculiar fixation on Diana - we must assume that the only reason why editor Peter Hill has not been sectioned is because his subject is dead. Harrods boss Mohamed al-Fayed is consumed with his crazy idea that Prince Philip ordered Diana's and Dodi's deaths - he never stops repeating his foul allegations against the Nazi philanderer. Surely signs of mental disturbance? The Telegraph worships Liz Hurley, almost daily: I blame past editor Charles Moore ... he does look odd at the shrine.
Paparazzi must also wonder whether their relentless pursuit of such stars as Victoria Beckham, Madonna or even Jade Goody might be viewed as "threatening". Some snappers actually insult their targets to provoke a response. An unlimited stay in a mental institution might knock some sense into these thugs.
But of course, as Tony Blair would remind us - and do see his latest blast against civil liberties today in The Sunday Times - the FTAC was created in response to "terrorism". This maybe true, but no one in the field actually says this. The test is something called "psychotic illness" in relation to an abnormal fixation on a mega-being. Meaning is only contextual - you suspect Blair would want to say, "but you know what I mean".
This "but you know what I mean" bit is the most worrying aspect of the government's own abnormal preoccupations with curtailing our basic freedoms and monitoring our lives. Measures are expressed in a generality, but the political understanding is a particularity. This maybe because if Blair came out and said: "I wish to limit the freedoms of Moslem beardies" we would get side-tracked into a debate about racism. In his Sunday Times piece, Blair argues in effect that police should have "wartime" powers to stop and question "people": by people he wants us to think "foreign-looking beardies". Know what I mean? This dislocation of meaning is one of the great flaws in Blair's whole reaction to "terrorism".
But at least he's inadvertently discovered his legacy - Club Class protection for A-listers.