Timeline of the Metropolitan Police Investigation of Leon Brittan in context – Tom Watson exonerated

[Since the evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee on October 21st, 2015, this timeline needs updating. I will do so as soon as time permits]

Following the various claims and counter-claims about the Metropolitan Police investigation into the allegations of rape against Leon (Lord) Brittan, the Met have released their key findings today, which clarify a great deal. I have combined this with other information to clarify context to produce a timeline. All information for which a link is not provided comes from the Met report.

Brittan had been named in the press in 1984 as being the Cabinet Minister about whom rumours of sexual acts with boys had been circulating, but most of the press declared these to be false, as did Paul Foot in his 1989 book Who Framed Colin Wallace?. Furthermore, the scandals concerning Elm Guest House (about which a comprehensive series of links can be found here) date back to the police raid in 1982, at which time reports referred to MPs and other VIPs being present, as well as drawing links to the disappearance/murder of eight-year old Vishal Mehrotra and fifteen-year old Martin Allen. It has been claimed by the Times journalist David Aaronovitch (in an article behind a paywall) that most information to do with Elm Guest House comes from Chris Fay, whose reliability has been attacked recently in the press. Documents published online by Fay’s colleague Mary Moss named Brittan as an attendee at the guest house; this was not in the 1982 reports, but certainly claims of high-level MP involvement was.

For wider consideration of the remaining questions about Leon Brittan, there is nowhere better to look than this excellent post by Tim Tate.


Timeline: The Investigations into Leon Brittan

October 24th, 2012: Labour MP Tom Watson asks a question of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, about evidence of a high-level paedophile ring linked to Parliament and No. 10, relating to the evidence files used to convict Peter Righton (see this documentary).
November 2012: Initial allegation of rape against Leon Brittan made by ‘Jane’ to South Yorkshire Police. Passed to Met as alleged incident occurred in London.
September 2013: Investigating officer decides no further action to be taken.
February 17th, 2014: ‘Jane’ has a meeting with the Metropolitan Police which causes her some discontent (this appears to be the case from a redacted letter from Alison Saunders to Tom Watson)
April 2014: Commander Graham McNulty requests an update into this investigation
April 28th, 2014: Upon receiving the update, McNulty orders a review
April 28th, 2014: Tom Watson writes to Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders about the case
May 17th, 2014: Exaro and the Sunday People report on the case of ‘Jane’ claiming she was raped in 1967 by a former cabinet minister. Both news agencies also report Tom Watson saying he finds Jane ‘a very credible witness’ and has written to Saunders requesting the case be reviewed.
May 19th, 2014: Review concludes that Brittan should be interviewed under caution.
May 20th, 2014: Most details of Watson letter now made public by Exaro.
May 30th, 2014: Brittan interviewed under caution.
June 2nd, 2014: Met receives Tom Watson’s letter to Saunders.
June 3rd, 2014: Seven MPs: Tim Loughton, Zac Goldsmith (Conservative); John Hemming, Tessa Munt (Liberal Democrat); Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk (Labour); Caroline Lucas (Green); call for a full national inquiry into child abuse, citing various particular cases.
June 5th, 2014: A lobbying campaign of MPs begins to garner wider support for an inquiry.
June 5th, 2014: Met submits evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, including Brittan statement and recording of interview. CPS requested other things be completed, including formal identification process from complainant
June 13th, 2014: Saunders replies to Tom Watson.
June 16th, 2014: The specific letter from the seven MPs is published drawing attention to cases including Elm Guest House and that of Jane.
July 1st, 2014: Labour MP Simon Danczuk gives evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, in which he raises the issue of the dossier given by Geoffrey Dickens to Leon Brittan, when the latter was Home Secretary. Danczuk had earlier hinted that he might name a former MP involved in abuse at Elm Guest House if asked – this was sure to be Brittan – and a Labour MP as well. In the event he did not do so, but this select committee appearance is the major trigger for widespread media coverage of claims of a Westminster paedophile ring, and especially on Brittan and the question of what happened to the Dickens dossier.
July 6th, 2014: Brittan named in press as having been interviewed by police over a historic rape allegation.
July 7th, 2014: Home Secretary Theresa May announces the setting up of an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), in light of the lobbying campaign and widespread allegations of new cases in the press following Danczuk’s Select Committee appearance.
July 7th, 2014: Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse takes over as Gold Commander of the investigation.
July 8th, 2014: Baroness Butler-Sloss, formerly chair of the Cleveland Child Abuse Inquiry, is announced as Chair of the IICSA.
July 14th, 2014: Butler-Sloss steps down from chair of inquiry.because of family and other connections.
September 5th, 2014: Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf is appointed by Home Secretary as the new Chair of the IICSA.
September 7th, 2014: After chatter from the outset, a report in the Mail on Sunday reveals close links between Woolf and Lord and Lady Brittan. The pressure on Woolf grows from this point onwards, with further revelations during the course of the next week.
October 7th, 2014: Formal identification process for ‘Jane’ re Brittan takes place
October 21st, 2014: Woolf appears before Home Affairs Select Committee about her role as inquiry chair, and gives an unconvincing performance.
October 28th, 2014: Labour MP Jim Hood names Leon Brittan in Parliament, saying that ‘the current exposé of Sir Leon Brittan, the then Home Secretary, with accusations of improper conduct with children, will not come as a surprise to the striking miners of 1984’ and referring to ‘The rumours that Sir Leon Brittan was involved in misconduct with children’
October 29th, 2014: Simon Danczuk backs Jim Hood’s naming of Brittan.
October 31st, 2014: Following a heated meeting with survivors and campaigners by the Inquiry Secretariat, Woolf stands down as chair of the inquiry.
November 2014: New file submitted to CPS by Met
November 22nd, 2014: CPS wrote back saying it would not consider the file because it did not meet the appropriate criteria.
November 25th, 2014: DAC Rodhouse decides to appeal the decision.
November 27th, 2014: Major (but poorly attended) debate in House of Commons on child abuse. Zac Goldsmith speaks at length about allegations concerning Elm Guest House and a cabinet minister said to have been photographed in a sauna with a naked boy.
January 15th, 2015: Matter raised with Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for London
January 21st, 2015: Brittan dies.
January 22nd, 2015: Met confirm that investigation into rape allegation in which a man in his 70s had been questioned was ongoing. CPS say: ‘A charging decision has not been made in this case and the matter remains with the police.
January 24th, 2015: Tom Watson publishes article in the Mirror, detailing the various allegations he had heard about Brittan, and indicating his belief they should still be investigated.
February 12th, 2015: DAC Rodhouse meets Chief Prosecutor for London, requests file of evidence be reviewed and a decision reached on whether prosecution would have followed had Brittan been alive.
March 5th, 2015: Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan writes to Saunders to request change of CPS policy to allow files to be considered where there was ‘significant public interest’.
April 1st, 2015: A further letter sent repeating the request, referring to the case of Lord Brittan. Accepted that as Brittan is dead, the CPS may not wish to review the file, but still sought a change of approach.
April 2015: Investigating officers meet with ‘Jane’, in line with the ‘Victim’s Code’, and inform her that there would not have been a prosecution had Brittan been alive.
June 24th, 2015: Final response received from Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, confirming that the CPS will not review the request.
October 6th, 2015: Met apologise in letter to Lady Brittan’s solicitors for not informing her at same time as complainant.

Thus it was the Met’s own review, started well before the publication of the interview with ‘Jane’ and Tom’s intervention, which decided to continue with the case. This exonerates Tom. There have been many malicious articles on this in the last two weeks – compared to only a few peeps from the Guardian and Mail on Zac Goldsmith’s intervention in Parliament – now more in the press should stop for thought and realise the vast importance of Tom’s work on a range of cases which are far from over.


Call for All Political Leaders and Leadership Candidates to Pledge Full Co-operation with Abuse Inquiry

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is now underway. Despite two previous chairs rightly standing down due to some of their connections, and unpleasant politics between some other panel members and other individuals, resulting in the loss of several very good people, nonetheless what is now in place is strong, focused, and has real powers. I am very pleased at the access to intelligence files and also the pledge that no-one who comes forward will face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. And personally, I am especially pleased that the Terms of Reference make clear that music tuition will be an area of investigation, for which I have campaigned qnd lobbied for several years. The website is at:

https://www.csa-inquiry.independent.gov.uk/

Some survivors and campaigners have unfortunately expressed grave reservations about the inquiry. I would implore them to at least try engaging with it, difficult though this might be, in full recognition of the fact that they have more reason than anyone to be distrustful of any such venture. But I believe the chair and panel do wish to get to the bottom of this terrible factor afflicting our society for so long, and help to build a better society in its place.

In an interview I gave earlier today for Sky News:

I called for the leaders of all the major political parties to pledge full co-operation with this inquiry (and make all relevant documentation available) and want to repeat this now, and hope others will help with urging publicly not only current leaders, but also leadership and deputy leadership candidates, to do so. Much evidence has come to light suggesting that abuse by senior politicians in many parties was either ignored or actively covered up, and that other politicians had connections to paedophile organisations. It is paramount that this is fully investigated in order to understand better how high-level abuse could go on for so long with apparent impunity.

So I ask people, journalists, campaigners, bloggers, tweeters and others to help keep the pressure on the following politicians in England and Wales to give such a pledge, and if not, explain not.

Conservatives
Leader: David Cameron
Future Leadership Candidates: Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Theresa May

Liberal Democrats
Leader: Nick Clegg
Leadership Candidates: Tim Farron, Norman Lamb

Labour
Leader: Harriet Harman
Leadership Candidates: Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn
Deputy Leadership Candidates: Tom Watson, Stella Creasey, Ben Bradshaw, Angela Eagle, Caroline Flint

UKIP
Leader: Nigel Farage

Greens
Leader: Natalie Bennett

Plaid Cymru
Leader: Leanne Wood


Labour can and must win in England alone – and has done so several times before

The loss of all but one Labour seat in Scotland to the SNP appears to have sent shockwaves down the political establishment, as if Scotland were a much larger part of the United Kingdom – in terms of population and seats – than it actually is. It’s time for some perspective in terms of figures:

There are currently 650 seats in the whole of the United Kingdom. 18 of these are in Northern Ireland and are generally uncontested by the major parties in the mainland. This leaves 632 for England, Scotland and Wales. Of these, 533 are in England, 59 are in Scotland, 40-in Wales. England has nine times the number of seats of the next largest region.

In 2015, the breakdown of seats in the three constituent parts of the mainland were as follows:

Total: Conservatives 330, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1

England: Conservatives 318, Labour 206, Lib Dems 6, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1
Scotland: SNP 56, Labour 1, Conservatives 1, Lib Dems 1
Wales: Labour 25, Conservatives 11, Plaid Cymru 3, Lib Dems 1

Labour continue to have a clear commanding lead in Wales; there is not at present any sign of Plaid Cymru making major advances comparable to the SNP, though of course this situation may change. The Conservatives, however, have an overall majority in England of 107 seats. Were Labour to recapture 20 seats in Scotland (which would now be a significant gain), say, they would still be a long way from denting the Conservatives majority in England.

But Labour have achieved this before. Consider these results in England alone:

1945: Labour 331, Conservatives 159, Liberals 5, Labour Independent 1, Independent Conservative 1, Common Wealth 1, Communist 1, Independent 3
1950: Labour 251, Conservatives 242, Liberals 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 4, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and Natural Liberals 2, Liberals and Conservatives 1, National Liberals 1,
1951: Conservatives 259, Labour 233, Liberals 2, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals 2, Liberals and Conservatives 3, National Liberals and Conservatives 5
1955: Conservatives 279, Labour 216, Liberals 2, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals, Liberals and Conservatives 3, National Liberals and Conservatives 5
1959: Conservatives 302, Labour 193, Liberals 3, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals 6, Liberals and Conservatives 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 3
1964: Conservatives 255, Labour 245, Liberals 3, Conservatives and National Liberals 4, National Liberals and Conservatives 2, Speaker 1
1966: Labour 285, Conservatives 216, Liberals 6, Conservatives and National Liberals 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 1, Speaker 1
1970: Conservatives 292, Labour 216, Liberals 2, Speaker 1
February 1974: Conservatives 267, Labour 237, Liberals 9, Independent Labour 1, Social Democrat 1, Speaker 1
October 1974: Labour 255, Conservatives 252, Liberals 8, Speaker 1
1979: Conservatives 306, Labour 203, Liberals 7
1983: Conservatives 362, Labour 148, Liberals 10, SDP 3
1987: Conservatives 357, Labour 155, Liberals 7, SDP 3, Speaker 1
1992: Conservatives 319, Labour 195, Lib Dems 10
1997: Labour 329, Conservatives 165, Lib Dems 34, Independent 1
2001: Labour 323, Conservatives 165, Lib Dems 40, Independent 1
2005: Labour 286, Conservatives 194, Lib Dems 47, Respect 1, Independent 1
2010: Conservatives 297, Labour 191, Lib Dems 43, Green 1, Speaker 1
2015: Conservatives 318, Labour 206, Lib Dems 6, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1

(Figures taken from the UK Politics Resources site)

In five of the eight elections since 1945 in which Labour won a majority nationwide, they also won an overall majority in England. The exceptions are 1950, when the Conservatives together with associated conservative parties had a total of 252 to Labour’s 251 in England, and Labour’s overall majority in the country was just 6 seats; 1964, when Labour had a nationwide majority of only 5, excluding the Speaker; and October 1974, when Labour had a nationwide majority of only 4. Attlee in 1945 and Blair in 1997 and 2001 won commanding three figure overall majorities in England alone; Wilson in 1966 had a respectable majority of 59, and Blair in 2005 also had a perfectly serviceable majority of 45.

Furthermore, in 1945, 1997 and 2001 Labour had an overall majority in the whole of the country on the basis of its English seats alone; in 1966 it would have scraped one from its seats in England and Wales (317 out of 630). 2005 was different, however; then the total of seats in England and Wales was 315, which would still have made it the largest party by a comfortable margin, but not able to command an overall majority in the UK if the SNP had performed like they did in 2015.

Labour can win, and win decisively in England; being able to do so is key to their winning a comfortable overall majority in the country again.


The rises and falls of the centre parties in the UK since 1918

It is quite informative to look at the plight of the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 General Election and compare it with previous elections since 1918.

During World War One, the Liberal Party split between the mainstream party, led by Herbert Asquith, and a breakaway faction run by David Lloyd George, who was much closer to Conservative thinking on the war and headed a coalition as Prime Minister from 1916, mostly made up from Conservatives. In the 1918 election, two rival parties fought: the Coalition Liberals (Coalition Lib) under Lloyd George, and the Liberals under Asquith. The two Liberal Parties won 163 seats between them, as follows:

1918: Coalition Con, 332; Coalition Lib (Lloyd George), 127; Labour 57, Con 47, Lib (Asquith) 36, Sinn Fein 73.

In the next election, in 1922, the Coalition Liberals became the National Liberals, and together they won in total 115 seats; at the same time Labour significantly increased their representation. Labour under Ramsay MacDonald did even better in 1923, though a reunited Liberal Party under Asquith went back up to 158, at the expense of the Conservatives. The following year, following a successful motion of no confidence against a Labour minority government, the Conservatives made massive gains, with a cataclysmic loss of 118 seats for Asquith’s Liberals. No centre party has ever made a really significant come-back from this 1924 result. Labour took a great many Conservative seats in 1929 and then the reverse situation happened in 1931, with Labour suffering the worst ever defeat in its history, losing 241 seats and reduced to a rump of just 46. But Labour was able to come back and win a moderately respectable 154 seats in 1935 under Clement Attlee, who would of course lead the party to historic victory in 1945. 1931 for Labour was not like 1924 for the Liberals, who made only modest gains to 59 seats in 1929, and split again over the calling of an election at the outset of the Great Depression. The Liberals under Herbert Samuel chose to remain within the National Government, whilst Lloyd George split from it, and another grouping under John Simon was formed in support of Conservative protectionist policies as against free trade from the other two factions. Between the three factions a total of 72 seats were won. In 1935 the Liberal vote plummeted again to 21, with Samuel himself losing his seat (a precedent, also matched by Archibald Sinclair in 1945, of which Nick Clegg is sure to have been aware, and must have been glad to have avoided).

1922: Con 344, Lab 142, Lib (Asquith) 62, National Lib (Lloyd George) 53
1923: Con 258, Lab 191, Lib (Asquith) 158
1924: Con 412, Lab 151, Lib (Asquith) 40
1929: Lab 287, Con 260, Lib (Lloyd George) 59
1931: Con 470, Lab 46, Liberal National (John Simon) 35, Lib (Herbert Samuel) 33, National Labour (MacDonald) 13, Independent Liberal (Lloyd George) 4
1935: Con 386, Lab 154, Lib (Samuel) 21

The first four decades after World War Two saw a long period in the wilderness for the Liberals, never rising to more than 14 MPs prior to 1983, and in several elections falling to just 6. Archibald Sinclair, who served in the wartime government, oversaw the fall of the party to 12 seats in 1945 and the loss of his own seat (like Samuel before him), but his successor Clement Davies did even worse in three miserable elections with 9, 6, and 6 seats. Jo Grimond did little better after taking over the leadership in 1956; the most he could muster was 12 seats in 1966, but then Jeremy Thorpe, who took over the following year, took the party back down to 6 seats again. However, the uncertain elections of 1974, only the second of which produced a wafer-thin majority for Labour, benefited the Liberals a little, gaining 14 and 13 seats respectively. David Steel managed to avoid the complete disintegration of the party following Thorpe’s resignation and subsequent trial for conspiracy to murder, and they held onto 11 seats in 1979.

1945: Lab 393, Con 197, Lib (Archibald Sinclair) 12
1950: Lab 315, Con 282, Lib (Clement Davies) 9
1951: Con 321, Lab 295, Lib (Davies), 6
1955: Con 344, Lab 277, Lib (Davies) 6
1959: Con 365, Lab 258, Lib (Jo Grimond) 6
1964: Lab 317, Con 304, Lib (Grimond) 9
1966: Lab 364, Con 253, Lib (Grimond) 12
1970: Con 330, Lab 288, Lib (Jeremy Thorpe) 6
Feb 1974: Lab 301, Con 297, Lib (Thorpe) 14
Oct 1974: Lab 319, Con 277, Lib (Thorpe) 13
1979: Con 339, Lab 269, Lib (David Steel) 11

The achievements of David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy should not be underestimated in terms of building a solid third force in British politics. Not only did Steel manage to hold the Liberal Party intact following the Thorpe resignation, but he also formed an electoral alliance with the new Social Democratic Party which broke away from the right wing of Labour in 1981. Together, the SDP-Liberal Alliance won 25.4% of the vote in the 1983 election, not much less than the disastrous 27.6% achieved by Labour under Michael Foot, but the first-past-the-post electoral system translated this into 23 seats for the SDP-Liberals as compared to 209 for Labour. Running as a tighter alliance under the joint leadership of Steel and David Owen in 1987, they nonetheless did not gain seats and lost one.

1983: Con 397, Lab 209, Lib (Steel) 17, SDP (Roy Jenkins) 6
1987: Con 376, Lab 229, SDP-Liberal Alliance (David Owen, David Steel) 22

Very soon after the 1987 election, Steel proposed a merger between the parties, which was supported by the vast majority of Liberals but bitterly split the SDP, with their leader David Owen amongst those most strongly opposed. Nonetheless, the merger went ahead, and Paddy Ashdown became the new leader, the party eventually deciding upon a name of Liberal Democrats (previously Social and Liberal Democrats). A rump SDP of anti-merger members, led by Owen, continued for two years and contested various by-elections (including an important one in 1989 in Richmond, Yorkshire, caused by the appointment of Leon Brittan to the European Commission; the Social Liberal Democrats and Owenite SDP between them gained more votes than the Conservative winner, future leader William Hague), but eventually wound themselves up in 1990 during financial difficulties, whilst a smaller rump of anti-merger Liberals never achieved any real profile.

In the 1992 election, won with a small majority by John Major’s Conservatives against the predictions of pollsters, Ashdown actually lost two seats (and vote share fell from 22.6% to 17.8%), taking the party down to 20, much bruised by the previous five years, the wounds they had created and a good deal of ridicule in the media. However, Major’s government went from crisis to crisis from the withdrawal of sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on ‘Black Wednesday’, September 16th 1992, onwards, and then was mired in a series of scandals, sexual and financial, as well as major party division, with a small anti-EU faction holding great power as Major’s majority dwindled. In 1997, despite the immense popularity of Labour leader Tony Blair, the combination of massive Tory unpopularity with the experience of four Tory election victories made many extremely cautious, and thus prepared to take part in an unprecedented amount of anti-Tory tactical voting. Ashdown’s Liberal Democrats actually fell in terms of percentage share of votes (from 17.8% to 16.8%), but this tactical concentration led to a near doubling of seats. Exactly how much this is down to Ashdown, how much to wider political trends essentially independent of his particular leadership, is unclear, but certainly the party’s position rose during his leadership. His successor, Charles Kennedy, achieved an increase to 52 seats (and 18.3% of the vote) in 2001, and an enviable 62 (with 22.0% of the vote) in 2005. Kennedy’s tenure has been marred by his resignation in 2006, at the age of 47, with reports of his drinking problem (though that was never a problem for Winston Churchill), and now he has ignominously lost his seat to the SNP. But it should not be forgotten that, even in the face of a seemingly impregnable Labour Party under Blair, he took his party to a representation they had not seen since the 1930s. Furthermore, he was the one senior Lib Dem figure to oppose the coalition in 2010, a position which with hindsight looks extremely wise.

1992: Con 336, Lab 271, Lib Dem (Ashdown) 20
1997: Lab 418, Con 165, Lib Dem (Ashdown) 46
2001: Lab 413, Con 166, Lib Dem (Charles Kennedy) 52
2005: Lab 355, Con 198, Lib Dem (Kennedy) 62

Kennedy’s successor Menzies Campbell was found to be uninspiring, and only remained leader for a little over 18 months, before being succeeded by Eurocrat Nick Clegg (with Campbell’s deputy Vince Cable acting in a transitional leadership role for two months). Following a strong media campaign in support of Clegg, and performance in television debates which was widely admired, certainly in comparison to an unpopular Labour incumbent in Gordon Brown, Clegg achieved a smaller than expected 1% rise in votes, whose distribution actually meant a loss of five seats to 57. But this was little commented-upon as the hung parliament led to the Tory/Lib Dem coalition. But the result from this week took his party to just 14.0% of their seats in 2010.

2010: Con 306, Lab 258, Lib Dem (Nick Clegg) 57
2015: Con 331, Lab 232, Lib Dem (Clegg) 8, SNP 56

Nick Clegg has completely undone the achievements of Steel, Ashdown and Kennedy, and pulled off the unenviable feat of a percentage loss of seats which exceeds even that achieved by Arthur Henderson for Labour in 1931, and a worse percentage loss for the centre parties than in any other election since 1918. In terms of numbers of seats, he has taken the party back to the types of numbers associated with Clement Davies in the 1950s or Jeremy Thorpe in 1970. He can at least console himself with the fact of holding onto Sheffield Hallam and thus avoiding the fate of John Samuel and Archibald Sinclair when they were Liberal leader (and Henderson as Labour leader in 1931).


How well or badly did the parties really do, in terms of votes, in the 2015 General Election?

My predictions from January for the election results turned out to be significantly out; but then so did almost everyone else’s, including those of Iain Dale and Peter Kellner which I cite in the above link. One small consolation, in predictive terms, is having forecast a bigger collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote than many others did; it always appeared to me that with the loss of the major tactical vote which had doubled the Liberal Democrat representation in Parliament in 1997 from what it had previously been, the party would fall away to less than 20 seats, though it is still shocking to see them fall to 8.

But in the midst of an emotional aftermath and a large amount of disappointment and disillusionment for many on the left following the unexpected result, have a look at the actual results in terms of votes and percentages, compared to 2010:

Conservatives: 10,806,015, 36.4% in 2010; 11,334,920, 36.8% in 2015.
Labour: 8,609,527, 29.0% in 2010; 9,344,328, 30.4% in 2015.
Liberal Democrats: 6,836,824, 23.0% in 2010; 2,415,888, 7.9% in 2015.
UKIP: 919,471, 3.1% in 2010; 3,881,129, 12.6% in 2015.
SNP: 491,386, 1.7% in 2010; 1,454,436, 4.7% in 2015.
Greens: 265,243, 0.9% in 2010; 1,154,562, 3.8% in 2015.
Plaid Cymru: 165,394, 0.4% in 2010; 181,694, 0.6% in 2015.
Turnout: 29,687,604, 65.1% in 2010; 30,691,680, 66.1% in 2015.

So in 2015 there was a very small increase in both Conservative and Labour votes. UKIP and the Greens had the biggest success in votes terms, both quadrupling their numbers (though UKIP started out from a much bigger base and are a very much more significant force); the SNP trebled theirs. The Liberal Democrats had by far the worst result of the above, falling to almost one-third of what they had before. Plaid Cymru achieved a very small increase.

But then look at the results in Scotland:

Conservatives: 412,655, 16.7% in 2010; 434,097, 14.9% in 2015.
Labour: 1,035,526, 42.0% in 2010; 707,147, 24.3% in 2015.
Liberal Democrats: 465,471, 18.9% in 2010; 219,675, 7.5% in 2015.
SNP: 491,386, 19.9% in 2010; 1,454,436, 50.0% in 2015.
UKIP: 17,223, 0.7% in 2010; 47,078, 1.6% in 2015.
Greens (Scottish Greens): 16,827, 0.7% in 2010, 39,205, 1.3% in 2015.
Turnout: 2,465,722, 63.8% in 2010; 2,910,465, 71.1% in 2015.

The Conservatives slightly upped their number of votes, but fell in terms of proportions by about one-eighth; Labour fell drastically, to almost half of their percentage votes, and the Liberal Democrats even more so. The SNP had a massive rise to two-and-a-half times the percentage their received in 2010, and interestingly the Greens doubled their vote, and UKIP did even better (doing better than the Greens by all measures in Scotland).

So if we therefore look at the votes for the five major national parties in England and Wales alone, we get the following figures:

Conservatives: 10,393,360, 38.2% in 2010; 10,900,823, 39.2% in 2015.
Labour: 7,574,001, 27.8% in 2010; 8,637,181, 31.1% in 2015.
Liberal Democrats: 6,371,353, 23,4% in 2010; 2,196,213, 7.9% in 2015.
UKIP: 902,248, 3.3% in 2010; 3,834,051, 13.8% in 2015.
Greens: 248,416, 0.9% in 2010; 1,115,357, 4.0% in 2015.
Turnout: 27,221,882, 65.2% in 2010; 27,781,215, 65.6% in 2015.

So here the patterns are similar to those for the UK as a whole, except for the fact that Labour gained 3.3% in England and Wales (compared to just 1.4% in the whole UK) and the Conservatives 1% (0.4% in the UK). UKIP and the Greens’ increases were both larger in England and Wales compared to the UK as a whole.

In terms of seats, in 2015 Labour gained 10 seats from the Conservatives, but the Conservatives in turn gained 8 from them, a net gain for Labour of just 2. Labour won 12 from the Liberal Democrats, but the Conservatives won 27 (their net gain in the election of seats from any other parties was 29). The Liberal Democrats had previously had a strong presence in Scotland with 11 seats; with all but one of these falling away.

Without the loss of 40 seats in Scotland, Labour would have a total of 272, 16 more than in 2010; without the huge gains from the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives would have had 304, just 2 more than in 2010. Labour fell because its gains from the Liberal Democrats (12 seats) and Conservatives (2 net) were too modest to match their losses to the SNP (40 seats). The Conservatives lost no seats to the SNP at all and scraped a majority primarily through winning seats from the Liberal Democrats.

So the pattern appears as follows: in England and Wales Labour upped its vote by 3.3%, respectable but nothing like enough to make a real difference, largely through the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote, but this benefited the Tories much more, either through directly taking votes or the collapse of an anti-Tory tactical vote. Labour were thrown back immensely above all by their drastic fall in Scotland. The Conservatives are very far from having won over a decisive section of the UK population; they have around 8% more than Labour in England and Wales, but have not hit 40% of those who vote. They are in a similar position to Harold Wilson after the October 1974 election, and a worse one than John Major after the 1992 election.

But for Labour, consider the percentages of the vote they have received in elections since 1964:

1964: 44.1%
1966: 48.0%
1970: 46.4%
1974a: 43.1%
1974b: 39.2%
1979: 36.9%
1983: 27.6%
1987: 30.8%
1992: 34.4%
1997: 43.2%
2001: 40.7%
2005: 35.2%
2010: 29.0%
2015: 30.4%

After the massive losses in 1983, Neil Kinnock was able to get the party almost to their 1979 levels by 1992. Ed Miliband has achieved considerably less than this. Tony Blair did not achieve the share of the vote of Harold Wilson in the 1960s (or even when Labour lost to the Conservatives in 1970) but benefited from a Conservative Party which had moved considerably to the right and lost a significant vote to the Liberal Democrats, who were also prepared to help Labour defeat the Conservatives through tactical voting. These factors have now changed; few would now appear to vote Liberal Democrat tactically against the Conservatives, and David Cameron has just about managed to convince wavering voters that the party is less toxic than it was during the Blair years.

Labour have not lost their key base of around 30% of the vote which translates into somewhere between 200 and 250 seats – though inevitable boundary changes will hurt the number of seats they can gain with the same votes. To win again, they need to regain a significant amount of their seats in Scotland (which may be the biggest challenge) and also make some inroads into that Conservative 8% lead in England and Wales. The apparent difficulty seems to lie in the fact that these aims seem mutually incompatible. However, I do not believe that the Scottish vote represents a significant move to the left and would ask how many would have voted for the SNP if they had the same programme except for the demand for independence, or any other rhetoric about being ‘Scottish’ or ‘national’; their performance might then be more comparable to that of the Greens. A situation of full financial autonomy, and its economic consequences (let alone those of full independence) might change the view of a great many Scottish people towards nationalism, though either such move would be very difficult to undo. Personally I find it extremely sinister when 50% of the people of an area unite under a flag, and find ludicrous suggestions that Labour would surge forth to victory if they became more like the SNP; they might find themselves closer to the position of the Greens.

Without the charismatic figure of Farage at the helm, the UKIP vote may wither away, but the consequences of this remain to be unseen. It will take a great deal for the Liberal Democrats to rebuild themselves; their decline may be terminal. Nick Clegg has returned them to their situation under Clement Davies in the 1950s, and completely undone the efforts of Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy to make them into a major third party force (see this post for a wider analysis of the results for the Liberal Democrats in historical perspective). But this just might offer an opportunity for Labour to reclaim some of the previous centre ground, but this would take a major cultural shift in the party such as they have only taken previously under Blair (and would have done under Gaitskell had he survived) in times of desperation following successive defeats. I will always resent deeply much of Blair’s foreign policy, but still acknowledge that New Labour did make possible some genuinely progressive social policies on the home front (as much because of others around him as Blair himself) and made the UK into a more internationally-minded and European country than that to which it has slipped back since. To achieve what Labour achieved under Blair, at least in the first term, may be as much as Labour could hope for now. This would still be a good deal better than what we have now.


Predictions for the 2015 UK General Election

Various predictions have been made for the 2015 UK General Election, which looks like being one of the closest-fought in living memory.

In 2010, the result was as follows:

Conservatives 306
Labour 258
Liberal Democrats 57
Green 1
Scottish National Party (SNP) 6
Plaid Cymru (PC) 3
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) 8
Sinn Fein (SF) 5
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) 3
Alliance 1
Independent 1
Speaker 1

Since May 2010, there have been 21 by-elections. Respect gained one seat from Labour, Labour gained one from the Conservatives, and UKIP gained two from the Conservatives; all others were held by the party which won in 2010. So the modified or added figures to the above are: Conservatives 303, Labour 259, UKIP 2, Respect 1.

My own predictions are below (corrected from an erroneous set of results before). These are nothing like as carefully picked as, say, those of Iain Dale, but are based upon various factors and predictions of particular swings in different areas (and a lot of reading on British politics and electoral trends). I do believe that the SNP will eat quite deeply into Labour’s vote in Scotland, that the Conservatives will lose a similar number of seats to Labour as they did in 1992, but I also believe – and to a greater extent than many other commentators – that the tactical anti-Tory vote for the Liberal Democrats which has existed ever since 1997 will slump to a very large degree. In 1992, the Liberal Democrats won 17.8% of the vote and 20 seats; in 1997, with a massive increase in tactical voting, they won 16.8% of the vote and 46 seats; this would rise to 52 seats in 2001, and 62 in 2005 (with 22% of the vote – the best ever Liberal Democrat election result, with the underrated Charles Kennedy as leader). I believe the ratio of votes to seats is likely to revert to pre-1997 levels. With this in mind, I think 2015 will be a disastrous election for the Liberal Democrats, which will set them back more than 20 years in terms of seats, though they are still likely to play a part in any post-election coalition. The Tories will benefit more from this collapse than Labour, playing a part in negating the seats Labour will otherwise gain.

Labour 290 (+33)
Conservatives 288 (-15)
Liberal Democrats 18 (-39)
Green 1 (-)
(Respect 0 (-1))
SNP 26 (+20)
UKIP 5 (+3)
PC 3 (-)
DUP 8 (-)
SF 5 (-)
SDLP 3 (-)
Alliance 1 (-)
Independent 1 (-)
Speaker 1 (-)

With this result, Labour/LD have a total of 308 seats, Con/LD 306, Labour/LD/SNP 334 seats, Con/LD/UKIP/DUP 319 seats. As any party needs at least 325 seats to command a majority (or 323 if the Sinn Fein members continue not to take up their seats), the Labour/LD/SNP grouping (perhaps joined by PC, SDLP, Green) looks the only possibility. However, I do not believe a formal coalition between Labour and the SNP will be feasible (nor would it be politically acceptable), so I predict a confidence and supply arrangement between these three parties. This will make getting most other legislation through Parliament extremely precarious; furthermore, there will be a number of Labour MPs unhappy with any such arrangement.

Here are the predictions of Iain Dale, who has done an exhaustive study of every seat (The figures I give for the change in seats relate to the numbers at the time of posting, not to those in 2010).

Labour 301 (-42) 
Conservative 278 (-25)
Liberal Democrats 24 (-33)
UKIP 5 (+3)
Green 1 (-)
Respect 1 (-)
SNP 18 (12)
PC 3 (-)
DUP 9 (1)
Sinn Fein 5 (-)
SDLP 3 (-)
Independent 1 (-)
Speaker 1 (-)

And here are the predictions of Peter Kellner of YouGov:

Conservative 293 (-10)
Labour 277 (+18)
Liberal Democrats 30 (-27)
UKIP 5 (+3)
Green 1 (-)
(Respect 0 (-1))
SNP 23 (+17)
PC 3 (-)
DUP 8 (-)
Sinn Fein 5 (-)
SDLP 3 (-)
Alliance 1 (-)
Independent 1 (-)
Speaker 1 (-)

(Kellner does not give details of the Northern Ireland parties’ results, nor for Plaid Cymru, so I am assuming these will remain as in 2010).

Some other predictions can be found at the link for Kellner above.

I am not a professional opinion pollster, just an amateur with a keen interest in British politics, which I have followed very closely for almost 30 years. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of the above results proves closest to the final outcome.


Be very sceptical about online communications laws which protect the powerful – social media and the right to offend

Today the UK Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, clarified that what he called ‘a baying cyber-mob’ could face up to two years in jail under new laws. This refers to proposed amendments to the 1988 Malicious Communications Act, to quadruple the maximum sentence. Already, as modified in 2001 (modifications indicated), the law defines the following offence:

1. Offence of sending letters etc. with intent to cause distress or anxiety

Any person who sends to another person—

(a)a [F1 letter, electronic communication or article of any description] which conveys—

(i)a message which is indecent or grossly offensive;

(ii)a threat; or

(iii)information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender; or

(b)any [F2 article or electronic communication] which is, in whole or part, of an indecent or grossly offensive nature,

is guilty of an offence if his purpose, or one of his purposes, in sending it is that it should, so far as falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above, cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated.
(2)A person is not guilty of an offence by virtue of subsection (1)(a)(ii) above if he shows—

(a)that the threat was used to reinforce a demand [F3 made by him on reasonable grounds]; and

(b)that he believed [F4, and had reasonable grounds for believing,] that the use of the threat was a proper means of reinforcing the demand.

[F5 (2A)In this section “electronic communication” includes—

(a)any oral or other communication by means of a telecommunication system (within the meaning of the Telecommunications Act 1984 (c. 12)); and

(b)any communication (however sent) that is in electronic form.]

(3)In this section references to sending include references to delivering [F6 or transmitting] and to causing to be sent [F7, delivered or transmitted] and “sender” shall be construed accordingly.

(4)A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to [F8 imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both].

Under the new amendments, the maximum sentence would be two years.

Direct physical or other threats are indeed a worrying phenomenon of social media, as are any threats to politicians or others in public life, and I have no problem with these being criminalised. But it is clear that this law goes much further than that. In particular, the terms ‘indecent’ and ‘grossly offensive’ are very nebulous, and could be used in highly censorious ways, as I will attempt to demonstrate presently.

Amongst those cited in support of Grayling’s laws are former Conservative MP Edwina Currie and Labour MP Stella Creasy. A 33-year old man, Peter Nunn, received an 18-month sentence for abusive Twitter messages against Creasy. Yet Creasy’s rank hypocrisy was amply demonstrated when challenged by myself and various others some weeks ago to condemn a case where violence was not merely threatened but actually carried out, in a frenzied attack against Respect MP George Galloway by Neil Masterson, who appears to be a neo-fascist supporter of the Israeli government. The 60-year old Galloway was leaped on in a frenzied manner by the attacker, and suffered a broken jaw, suspected broken rib and severe bruising to the head and face through the attack. There were a shocking number of people posting online in many places to say Galloway deserved it.

Just a few prominent commentators made an issue of this. Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, drew attention to the fact that no political party leader, nor the Speaker of the House of Commons, had condemned this attack on Galloway, which Oborne called ‘beyond doubt an attack on British democracy itself’. He added:

Had an MP been attacked by some pro-Palestinian fanatic for his support of Israel, I guess there would have been a national outcry and rightly so. Why then the silence from the mainstream establishment following this latest outrageous assault on a British politician?

Times journalist Hugo Rifkind, no political supporter of Galloway, tweeted on 31/8 ‘What happened to @georgegalloway shouldn’t happen to any politician in this country. Horrifying. Hope he’s okay.’

Amongst the responses were one by @77annfield, who said ‘any physical attack is wrong but it was his personality that brought it on’ (i.e. he basically deserved it), a few days later by an @ElectroPig who said ‘It shouldn’t happen to an HONEST politician who actually gives a damn. The rest of the bastards? #FineByMe’.

No UK party leader nor prominent politician condemned this attack on a fellow MP. Can we presume that Creasy thinks physical assault is OK, or at least not much of an issue, when it is against a political opponent or someone she doesn’t like? I am quite sure that if Creasy had suffered such an attack, and had her jaw and ribs broken, Galloway would have wholeheartedly condemned it.

Edwina Currie is currently the subject of various scrutiny for her role in appointing Jimmy Savile to a taskforce to run Broadmoor prison,, where he was involved in widespread sexual abuse, and also for the fact that she knew about the paedophile activities of late Conservative MP Peter Morrison, but appeared to do nothing about it until she could use it in diaries she had to sell. She said on the subject of Grayling’s proposals:

Most people know the difference between saying something nice and saying something nasty, saying something to support, which is wonderful when you get that on Twitter, and saying something to wound which is very cruel and very offensive.

it should not be surprising if Currie only wants ‘nice’ things said about her, considering her record. But the freedom to say things which are cruel, very offensive, and may be designed to wound, is fundamental in a democracy, I would say, however much Currie may not wish it to be. I worry about the implications of this law more widely to be possibilities of political dissent and satire in an age in which electronic communications and social media play a more prominent role than ever.

With this in mind, I would strongly recommend watching the two part 1994 BBC series written and presented by Kenneth Baker (now Lord Baker), From Walpole’s Bottom to Major’s Underpants, tracing the history of the political cartoon.

The image below, produced anonymously in 1740, refers to Robert Walpole, Prime Minister from 1721 to 1742.

Walpole's bottom

This dates from 1797, and is by Richard Newton, showing Pope Pius VI kissing the bare bottom of Napoléon Bonaparte.

Newton on Pope Pius VI and Napoleon

More recently, this image from 1967, drawn by Gerald Scarfe for Private Eye, shows Harold Wilson pulling down the back of Lindon Baines Johnson’s trousers and pants, as a comment on the Vietnam War; the original image actually had Wilson’s tongue up Johnson’s bottom, but then-editor Richard Ingrams thought this was too much.

Wilson and Johnson

This 1988 image, Mirth and Girth by then School or Art Institute of Chicago student David K. Nelson Jr, is of former Chicago major Harold Washington. This picture was confiscated by Chicago police, though Nelson later won a federal lawsuit against the city on the grounds of the confiscation and damage to his picture.

Mirth and Girth

This from 2006, by cartoonist Latuff, shows fundamentalist pro-Israel zealot Alan Dershowitz masturbating over the sight of carnage in Lebanon brought about through Israeli military action.

Dershowitz masturbating

This cartoon from Martin Rowson from 2007 at the time of Tony Blair’s resignation as Prime Minister, hardly hides its ‘fuck off and die’ message.

Rowson on Blair

And here, from 2012, is a Steve Bell cartoon portraying Angela Merkel as a dominatrix of Europe.

Merkel dominatrix

Other example would include a bare-breasted Margaret Thatcher on Spitting Image (which I have been unable to find to post here), and countless other images from that programme (look at the treatment of Cecil Parkinson, David Mellor or Sarah Ferguson, for example, after all were embroiled in sex scandals).

All of these could be more than plausibly described as ‘indecent’ (except perhaps the Rowson cartoon) and ‘grossly offensive’. They all appeared in mainstream publications, but what would happen if a cartoonist posted them online, and tweeted them, perhaps with the hashtag of their subjects included? If they would be liable for prosecution and possibly a two-year prison sentence, this would be an extremely worrying development indeed.

I have seen and experienced intimidation online by other pro-Israeli neo-fascists, who spread messages of sometimes violent hatred. Some students have been revealed to have been paid by the Israeli government to act as propagandists, and I would imagine some of the people I have encountered are amongst these. I cannot imagine these laws being used against them (and certainly have not heard of such a case), though in the future I could certainly imagined them being used to intimidate pro-Palestinian campaigners, by branding various views they might express (such as, for example, that the foundation of the state of Israel involved the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and cannot be accepted as legitimate) as ‘anti-semitic’, and as such constituting quasi-hate crimes against those to whom they are addressed. In neither of these cases is criminalisation appropriate.

In the UK, there is no written constitution as such, and thus no equivalent of the First Amendment to protect free speech. Many on both the left and the right would like to restrict the range of opinions capable of being expressed, at least through media they do not control (such as parts of the internet, as opposed to broadcast media over which the state has a monopoly or a press with whose owners successive Prime Ministers have an unhealthy relationship). But I believe very fundamentally in the right to the widest type of free speech when there is not a direct threat or incitement to something which is already a criminal act. And this would include views or statements which some will interpret as sexist, racist, anti-semitic, etc., or even a belief that terrible things should happen to someone, so long as this is not a direct incitement.

I generally block anyone on Twitter who says that anyone deserves to be hanged, to be raped in prison, or otherwise to be beaten up or mutilated – as often wished upon in the case of child abusers – or those who express approval for vigilantes or gangs thereof (including, for example, the female vigilante gangs in India). To my mind, those who do or wish such things are become little better than the abusers themselves. But I still do not believe at all that they should be criminalised for what they say.

In June, together with a group of others, I was involved in a Twitter campaign to get various MPs to add their names to those calling for a public inquiry into organised child abuse. As I discussed in a post I published on the eve of Simon Danczuk’s appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee (which moved the campaign into another gear), I did not feel the persistent hectoring approach taken by some (and encouraged in that respect by Exaro News) was necessarily very productive. However, the campaign as a whole did undoubtedly result in many more MPs adding their names than would have otherwise been the case, and this played a fundamental part in Home Secretary Theresa May’s agreeing to the inquiry. A few people, including Labour MP Eric Joyce, and for a while former Conservative MP Mark Reckless, complained that this amounted to ‘online bullying’ (a refrain also taken up by some journalistic opponents of an inquiry, and doubtless privately by many other politicians). I would be very worried that in the future such politicians could threaten Twitter activists with this law to dissuade them from running such a campaign. The same would apply to Edwina Currie and her condescending and arrogant approach to questions which are put to her concerning abuse, or to numerous other politicians. Examples of these might be Harriet Harman MP, who is naturally not going to be happy with numerous tweeters reminding her of her earlier activities which served to help the Paedophile Information Exchange and their ideologies, or Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf, proposed chair of the inquiry, who has recently deleted her Twitter account after a period which has seen many tweets asking her questions about the nature of her personal and professional connections to various people themselves likely to come under scrutiny as part of the inquiry.

Be very distrustful of any laws, or any expansion of sentences linked to a law, which receive support first and foremost from politicians or others in power looking to criminalise ordinary people who attack them (when not in a manner actually constituting obviously criminal attack, as with Galloway). With more and more revelations coming to light about politicians, abuse and the corruption of power, there will be many angry people, some of whose statements to politicians on social media may unsurprisingly be intemperate. Do not let those politicians get away with criminalising their critics. So long as there are no direct threats involved, members of the public in a democracy should be free to be as harsh and offensive to politicians as they choose.

But I would ask whether the following hypothetical tweets would lead to two-year jail sentences against those who sent them?

@JimmySavile You are a vile abuser of children and necrophiliac protected at high levels of government

@PeterRighton Your proposed childcare reforms will make it easier for you to rape boys in homes

@PatriciaHewitt You submitted document to government saying child abuse does no harm, paedo defender

@PeterMorrison Did you miss the division bell because you were too busy seeking out adolescents in public toilets?

@CyrilSmith You are a hideous, obese and arrogant ass whose jokey exterior masks boy-raping scum