Below the line and below the belt

The fear of getting shot never stopped me from putting my head above the parapet at work. I couldn't help myself  if I felt it should be said I said it . This did not always make me popular but didn't appear to damage my career, I was only sacked the once! As a social worker and a director I wrote articles. I can think of only two occasions when my boss expressed annoyance at what I had written. On one occasion it was suggested that if I was going to write anything controversial I might have to get it cleared first. I learnt early on not to get clearance because people always want to tone it down to such an extent that you end up saying nothing of  consequence and it doesn't get published . Besides much better for your boss if they can claim they had no knowledge of it before it was published.

I like to reference tv programs in my writing. Recently I wrote a piece referring to The Good Wife, comparing the professional challenges to a lawyer’s integrity to that experienced by social workers and managers in the current financial climate. I wrote about The Wire saying it painted a picture of how our inner cities would look in the future if we continued to cut public sector budgets and privatise services. I referenced Shameless to illustrate the problems faced by those working in schools, housing and social services and how the professionals were viewed by those who experienced the system. And I wrote about Braking Bad in the context of privatising the health service, the similarities with the business model used by illegal drugs industry and the way the main characters rationalised their actions. The only time I failed to get such a piece published was when I wrote about Nurse Jacky a series based on how an over worked nurse with a keen sense of social justice manages to retain her integrity in the U.S. private health care system. It could be that the piece was simply not well written or the fact that nurse Jacky had a big drug habit!

I say this because things have changed people are even more reluctant to go into print for fear of appearing "disloyal " and it's no longer a case of I write you read because in the age of the Internet and Twitter feedback is swift and sometimes brutal. The comments by readers are referred to in the trade as "below the line" but often they feel like below the belt. But it would be bad for the public sector and bad for the public if those actually doing the job stayed quiet whilst those who watch from a safe distance consult with each other in a phony debate.


Blair McPherson former director, author and commentator on the public sector



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