It is of course a fact of modern life that public servants no longer take personal responsibility for failure. We pay council chief officers and cabinet members huge sums of money, apparently to get the best performers, but when they fall down on the job there is always a rush to find someone else or something else to blame.
Birmingham can in a perverse way be thankful for once that this city is so far removed from the national media radar that the gruesome events surrounding the death of Khyra Ishaq did not dominate the headlines for more than a day.
Quite what the reaction would have been if Khyra had been starved to death under the eyes of social services in any London borough, or Newcastle, Glasgow, Leeds, or even, God help us all, Liverpool, hardly bears thinking about.
MPs in any of those cities would rightly have been incandescent with rage. Government Ministers would have been demanding resignations from the local council, as happened with the death of baby Peter in Haringey.
But in Birmingham, with the notable exception of Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood, the horrific deliberate starvation of a seven-year-old girl by her mother and step father – a fate so awful that hardened doctors broke down in tears because there had been nothing like it since POWs were left without food to die in Belsen and Buchenwald – went by largely uncommented on apart from the usual “we’re not to blame” crocodile tears from council and police.
The word from Mike Whitby’s bunker is that the council leader reinforced his faith in cabinet children, young people and families member Les Lawrence even before the Khyra Ishaq manslaughter trial concluded a week ago.
Lawrence, it is said, has been storming around the Council House collaring anyone who will listen to blame the local media for deeply unhelpful headlines pointing out the failures of children’s social services, a department which is already working to a government improvement order because the care of vulnerable children in Birmingham is deemed to be inadequate.
Get a grip, Les, stop blaming others, and take some responsibility.
Lawrence and children’s director Tony Howell can bleat all they want, the truth is that their carefully hatched plot to pass on the blame for Khyra’s death has been exposed for what it is – a cynical, self-serving smokescreen.
A week ago, the pair told a press conference there was nothing more that could have been done by social services or education officials to save Khyra.
This was because Khyra had been removed from school by her mother to be educated at home, and under English law local councils have no right to demand entry to a house in order to make sure a child really is being educated.
That is true, but totally irrelevant in this case, and it didn’t take Mrs Justice King, the judge presiding over care proceedings involving Khyra’s brothers and sisters, to see through such a ludicrous excuse. As Mrs Justice King pointed out, social workers could at any time have insisted on seeing Khyra, talking to her in depth and conducting an initial assessment, they simply chose not to do so.
One of the great unanswered questions surrounding the Khyra Ishaq case is why the council became sidetracked on the issue of her education, when common sense should have suggested that information from teachers about the state of Khyra and her siblings – always thin, cold and so hungry – warranted a full social services investigation.
Another question is which bright spark dreamt up the home education excuse, and why on earth did anyone think the council would get away with it?
Presumably the assumption was that once Khyra’s mother and stepfather pleaded guilty to manslaughter and there was no need for a trial, the full details of social services’ incompetence would never emerge.
Perhaps Coun Lawrence and Mr Howell did not read Mrs Justice King’s coruscating assessment, or maybe they assumed the report would never come into the public domain?
Was Khyra the 18th or 19th child to die of abuse or neglect in Birmingham since 2006?
How many of those youngsters whose lives were needlessly snuffed out were “known” to social services?
Coun Lawrence and Mr Howell know the answers.
They know, too, that the honourable course would be to resign.