This blog post was planned earlier this year in response to a very important question placed on social media, by the account known as Experimental Philosophy (@xphilosopher ), which was as follows:
At this moment in time, this issue seems more vivid than ever, and it is one I myself have considered at length during my university career, both when my own politics were more aligned with the radical left and in terms of the social democratic position which I espouse nowadays.
Teaching is not preaching. In the UK, the 1996 Education Act forbids the ‘promotion of partisan political views’ at primary and secondary level. This is sensible when teaching at that level; a corresponding prohibition at tertiary level would inevitably entail a significant loss of autonomy and academic freedom which would be undesirable. Furthermore, students are generally legally adults, and as such it is reasonable to think that they are in more of a position to be able to recognise and critique such views for themselves.
But what about the duty of academics to make all students feel welcome, and able to express their own views without fear or intimidation? Here there is much reason for concern, not least with respect to political bias amongst academics themselves. There is clear evidence that academics identifying with conservative or right-of-centre positions are in a quite small minority. There have been various attempts to refute this, some involving obfuscation, other balanced appraisals (such as this study), suggesting that the situation varies between countries and disciplines, but without denying this is the case in the humanities in particular. As one working in the humanities, and identifying as left-of-centre, this concerns me very much.
I was distressed and angry by the Brexit vote, and continue to believe that this will soon be seen as one of the worst own goals in this country for a very long time. Nonetheless, I am quite sure that not everyone who supported or continues to support Brexit is simply stupid or ignorant (I think they are wrong, but that is not the same). Furthermore, as 52% of the population voted for Brexit, this is sure to include at least some who were students at the time, or their families. For a lecturer in class to brand them stupid and ignorant (the views they express outside of the classroom are their own business) would be grounds for legitimate complaint. I dislike a lot about the form of unbridled capitalism in the United States, as well as the meagreness of welfare provision in that country, the gun culture, the fact that this is the only Western country still to execute its own citizens, or the draconian sentencing policies implemented in many of its regions. I do not believe this amounts to a slur on American citizens in general (anymore than drastic opposition to Putin and the actions of the Russian government and military amounts to a slur on all Russians), whilst recognising that to some extent in a democracy the actions of governmental authorities cannot be divorced from the will of its citizens. But I would never think that teaching is a place to try and preach this to students, some of whom may be from the United States.
Some of the responses to the Twitter post above were encouraging (I won’t link to all the tweets, but one can go and view the thread oneself): some suggested that one should avoid making partisan statements in class, avoid making one’s own political opinion clear (I do not necessarily agree with this, but certainly think it needs to be tempered – see below), or interestingly suggested the teacher can present themselves as the advocate for an argument in a paper, perhaps thus inviting the students to find holes in it. But others epitomised what the post was trying to address – one said that conservative students are ‘threatened by rational thought, scientific evidence, and collective determination of invariant truth’ (which I argued is equally true of many on the left), another branded anyone right-of-centre as ‘racist or intolerant’. One suggested that one should become friendly with conservative colleagues, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Others reasonably asked whether this was not equally an issue for conservative academics teaching left-of-centre students, and this certainly needs to be considered too; I would say (including in my own field) there are more than a few who present themselves as politically ‘progressive’, and assume themselves to be left-of-centre, but their neglect of the economic lead them to become quite aggressive advocates of market forces and consumer culture (see my earlier post here and the end of the post here).
This is a blog post rather than a scholarly article, and does not allow for the type of thoroughgoing research required to ascertain the extent to which political activism and intimidation of students with different political views are major factors within higher education. So here I draw upon personal experience, and knowledge imparted by a wide range of other academics and some students or former students. I am not sure I have always been successful with avoiding some of these factors in my teaching, but over the last decade-and-a-bit have thought and worked harder on this.
- Always ensure that your lecture materials, set readings, and so on, draw attention to plural political and other perspectives on the issues at stake.
- As an extension of 1, make sure you set readings which are not just those with which you personally agree.
- If you wish to inform the students of your own position on certain matters, always emphasise that this is your own, should not be given priority over the views of other scholars, and above all stress that students will never be penalised in their assignments for disagreeing with your position, nor win any special favour for agreeing with it.
- When there is a clear majority of students adhering to a particular view in class discussions, make sure you interject alternative views into this, and present these at their most convincing. Otherwise, students whose views are in the minority may feel afraid of not ‘going with the flow’.
- Avoid asking leading questions (this is a wider academic point) on all occasions. This includes assignments – anything along the lines of ‘Show how various forms of culture or knowledge served to sustain the power of particular groups in society’ should be right out. This should be reframed as a question of whether the forms of culture or knowledge in question served such an end. Also, avoid any type of passive-aggressive language which indicates a ‘right’ position to take or could be viewed as denigrating those who might disagree.
- Never present the work of highly politicised and contested figures – whether Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman, or Michel Foucault, Stuart Hall and Edward Said – as if their work represents some type of objective truth. Always draw attention to the critiques which exist of their work.
- As an issue directed towards those of a more right-of-centre persuasion: be aware of how politically loaded some concepts might be (I would include ‘cultural industries’ and ‘creative industries’ in this category, just as much as the Adornian negative conception of the ‘culture industry’). While students will often be working in a capitalist and market-driven world after graduation, that in no way means that education should exclude more critical positions on the marketplace and commercialism. Remember that you are teaching students to be intelligent, mature and independent critical thinkers, not just to adhere to a dominant ideology which you think might serve them well at a later stage.
- Do not appropriate rhetoric about white supremacy simply for the purposes of closing down discussion. This term should not be used lightly, especially not with students. This is no better than using racial epithets against students. Similarly, avoid as far as possible any comparisons with the Nazis unless talking about obvious genuine fascists. Also, be proactive if you see students trying to use similar rhetoric for the same aims.
- Much of the rhetoric about ‘decolonising’ education is toxic; loaded with all sorts of unchallenged assumptions, frequently ahistorical, again used as a means to close down debate and force through a particular political programme, and exploited by particular academic factions in order to bolster their own positions. I have published on the subject here in the context of music here and here; I would also recommend this piece by Patrick Porter, this by James Olsen and this interview with Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò for alternative perspectives to the dominant positions within the academic industry on this subject; the article upon leaving academic from Paul Harper-Scott gives a prime example of how this rhetoric is exploited. This does not mean by any means that the subject of possible intersections between culture, knowledge, institutions and colonialism are not a legitimate area for study; far from it. But whether particular intersections exist, and if so their nature, are critical questions, not opportunities for imposing dogma via questionable claims of EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity – see this article by Alice Sullivan and Judith Suissa on how bodies dealing with this are often hijacked by activists and political extremists). To be able to engage with such questions, teach students about the history of colonialism (including that from non-European powers) and slavery (likewise), introduce them to culture, thought, from non-Western culture, but allow them to arrive at their own conclusions. To put some non-Western cultural work, social practice or variety of knowledge on a pedestal, as if beyond criticism, is as demeaning and dehumanising to the heterogeneous people and social groups in any such region as anything from a far-right racist.
- Equally pernicious is the argument that ‘everything is political’, used to suggest that one person’s teaching cannot be more ‘politicised’ than another’s. This is aggressive and belligerent rhetoric which could equally be exploited by those on the far right.
- There are not that many subjects which lie outside of the boundaries of legitimate debate – those which involve dehumanisation and denigration of people on the grounds simply of what they were born, or those which involve cynical denial of genocidal events, are amongst the few. Even some for which academics may feel most passionately – about the extent to which a government should allow admission to those seeking to immigrate or claiming asylum, or whether the termination of a pregnancy is purely a matter of a woman’s own body, or whether the unborn child has rights and deserves protection too – elicit multiple views which exist within the boundaries of democratic debate. In some cases this may prove extremely difficult – how to respect, for example, the religious sensibilities of those who have firm views on the place of women, or on homosexuals, which would be beyond the realms of acceptable discourse for many others. Here I do not have a solution other than to argue that tertiary education should be conducted from a secular perspective, and no religion deserves special treatment.
More broadly, the use of teaching as a vehicle for propaganda and political activism should be entirely unacceptable, and students should receive independent advice to become aware of this and be provided with appropriate channels to register their unhappiness about it.
I have found many in academia may pay lip service to ‘critical thinking’, but this is tempered in one of two ways. For many, such critical thinking does not apply to many of the assumptions underlying their own field of work. Numerous ethnomusicologists, in my experience, can be especially wedded to axiomatic assumptions about the relationship between music and its social/cultural context (not to mention frequently treating the works of their own set of canonical thinkers practically as sacred texts). They are of course perfectly entitled to their own views and to express them, but students should not be made to adhere to and avoid critique to such thinking under fear of ostracisation or penalisation of their work. For others, their concept of ‘critical’ means absolute adherence towards a particular political view which they deem ‘critical’. Critiques of the NHS, of trade unions, of factions within the left, of antisemitic ideologies in the same place, can be just as ‘critical’ as those of capitalist institutions, the military, the monarchy or the church (and I say this as a dedicated trade unionist, with huge pride in the NHS, also very sceptical of the monarchy, many churches, and certainly of unregulated power given to the forces of capital).
There are of course limits – it would be foolish to think that a position advocating slavery, or expressing support for Nazism or Stalinism, should be treated just like any other political position. But even in these cases there is much more to education than simply telling students how bad these things are. There are many questions relating to the workings of the Western slave trade, the extent of complicity or active involvement of many in various fields of life, the extent to which assent towards this was dominant within political discourse or the extent to which it engendered significant opposition, and the sensitive issue of active complicity of some members of the societies from which slaves were taken (just as Holocaust scholar Raoul Hillberg encountered great controversy when investigating the involvement of some Jewish organisations in facilitating the machinery of genocide, now a perspective accepted by a wide range of historians). Nazism, wider fascism and the Third Reich form parts of my own research areas; I see how important it is in education to consider historical conceptions of fascism (far from the crude way the term is often bandied about nowadays), but also consider not just the extent to which it formed/forms a continuity with the pre- and post-fascist histories of the societies in question, to what extent there was popular approval for the movement (equally a question for Stalinism), including during the times of the worst atrocities, and how and why this might have been true, if there was indeed considerable support (the extent continues to divide historians, especially in the wake of the work of Daniel Goldhagen). I have taught a module entitled Music, Fascism, Communism for over a decade. In this, I frequently show students a section from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (1935), focused around a Nuremberg Rally, presenting the Führer almost like an angel sent from on high, and with mesmerising choreographed scenes of sacralised, ritualistic displays of militaristic power. It would be easy just to tell students why this is so terrible; but actually I would like them to consider what it was about these types of spectacles (if indeed they did resemble Riefenstahl’s portrayals, which is a big ‘if’) might have proved so compelling, and by extension consider how cultural forms (I often juxtapose the Riefenstahl with some choreographed scenes from Busby Berkeley – others have commented on the similarities, and Riefenstahl herself acknowledged the influence of Berkeley) can operate upon the spectator (and listener) in such an atavistic manner, appealing in a purely sensuous and emotive manner, not to rational and critical faculties, and how this strategy has proved as effective in steering consumer habits as in bolstering emotional identification with fascism – though of course also registering dissenting views towards this interpretation. This is about attempting to encourage wider critical analysis of the phenomena in question and related ones, not simply to bolster support for a viewpoint with which no reasonable person would disagree (that Nazism was a disastrous and genocidal movement). Knowledge of Stalinism or more widely of documented atrocities under actually-existing communism seems to become thinner with every year that passes since the end of the Cold War; it is vital that students are aware of what has been documented beyond reasonable doubt, but there remain many different interpretations to explore, concerning such issues as whether Stalinism and its counterparts elsewhere were an inevitable consequence of any type of social upheaval following the principles laid down by Marx and Engels, or whether it was a distortion of these and this historical trajectory could have been avoided, the role of personalities such as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Tito, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and many others, and in a cultural context whether there was any necessary connection between this type of politics and radical artistic movements (see my latest piece in The Spectator for some thoughts on this).
At one institution where I once did some teaching, I found that one student with whom I was working was a supporter of the British National Party. However, so long as this did not lead to the expression of overtly racist views in front of others, I did not see any reason for this to affect things. In another somewhat less loaded case, when teaching about performing some music explicitly linked to a specific left-wing political programme, with associated texts alluding to global events, I realise that some students there who had grown up in Eastern European countries under communism were uncomfortable with any suggestion that one should share the view of the composer in question, so I tried to adapt teaching from then onwards to make clear this needn’t be the case. I have also (briefly) taught a student who went on to become a Brexit Party MP; I have no idea what they think about my teaching, but hope at least that it didn’t make them feel politically excluded.
But let me end with an inspiring example from the past: the case of Ralph Miliband, father of David and Ed. Miliband was born to a Jewish refugee parents from Poland, who had settled in Belgium, and in turn had to flee the country to escape persecution at the hands of the Nazis and their Belgian allies. Miliband was a major political theorist who taught at the London School of Economics, the University of Leeds, and various US institutions. His positions were associated with particular factions of the Marxist left (and he had little time for the idea that change could be achieved through the Labour Party), unlike both of his sons, though this fact was used to discredit Ed Miliband in particular by association in pernicious journalism in the Daily Mail, calling the elder Miliband ‘The man who hated Britain’. But one who defended Miliband most strongly was Lord Moore, formerly John Moore, known in the 1980s as a right-wing member of Thatcher’s cabinet (associated in particular with major cuts to social security). Beyond defending Miliband against the charge that he hated Britain, he recalled studying under Miliband at the London School of Economics, where Moore was a student in the late 1950s:
Ralph Miliband taught me and I can say he was one of the most inspiring and objective teachers I had. Of course, we had different political opinions but he never treated me with anything less than complete courtesy and I had profound respect for his integrity.
I cannot imagine any stronger tribute to the fairness of one’s teaching than to have such a testimony from someone at the other end of the political spectrum, nor more worthy aim for academics than to be as fair and balanced to one’s own students as Miliband was to his.
I am addressing this blog post to those on the left based in London, maybe working in journalism or the media, or in academia, or in a creative or cultural field. I want to know how many people you know who think two or more of the below?
(a) Labour’s heart is in the right place, but they can’t be trusted with the economy – especially after Gordon Brown sold off our gold last time.
(b) Immigration is not necessarily bad, but has to be carefully controlled to protect British people’s jobs.
(c) The system is too soft on criminals, and tougher sentencing is needed.
(d) Terrorists and child killers deserve the death penalty.
(e) Muslims in the UK need to demonstrate their allegiance to this country.
(f) The current benefits system rewards those who are work-shy and penalises hard-working people.
(g) We should be allowed to be proud of being British again.
(h) Too many decisions are being taken for us in Europe.
(i) Multiculturalism was an experiment which failed.
(j) I work hard for my salary, as do many others, and it is wrong for the government to take it away from us.
(k) Parents and schools cannot maintain discipline with one hand tied behind their back.
(l) There are too many Scots dominating politics and the media.
Because of the nature of my work as a musician and academic, a large number of the people I see quite regularly do belong to the categories mentioned at the top of the post; my wife’s circles are a little broader. Amongst my own family and their circles I would encounter many if not all of the above often; amongst hers much less frequently.
But if you have never or extremely rarely encountered anyone who thinks two or more of the above, I would suggest you have moved in narrow circles. Enlightened ones, perhaps, but narrow nonetheless.
It is easy, all too easy, for metropolitan liberal left figures to spend so much time in the company of fellow believers so as to imagine anyone who thinks otherwise is some type of a freak. Amongst academics working in the arts, humanities and social sciences (other than economics) I could probably count on at most two hands the numbers I know of (not just have met) who would agree with several of the above. In so many of those circles, whiteness is associated almost solely with racism and the need for post-colonial guilt, maleness is about little more than macho violence and at best sublimated urges towards gang rape. The white working classes in particular are imagined to epitomise both of these things, and are one step away from storm troopers; previously they were associated with the BNP (any sign of an England flag, even during World Cup time, would be read as an unequivocal signifier of such a thing; one reason that Emily Thornberry’s notorious tweet caused such controversy), nowadays a UKIP vote is assumed to betoken the same.
I am not disingenuous and would hate to minimise the severe nature of racism or sexual violence. But I am less convinced that a serious attempt to combat these things is the real motivator for many in metropolitan liberal circles; rather, they are a means for demonstrating their own sense of superiority, in a manner which is as elitist as any, combined with a dehumanising fear of any group who they can safely see as a dangerous ‘other’ without transgressing certain liberal articles of faith.
I do not believe in any of the views above, and have sometimes despaired of those who do, especially those relating to crime and capital punishment. But I do recognise that many do hold them, and that Labour needs to win some of these people over. In some ways they have done this – in the part of the country from which I hail, the North East, a previously solid Labour area though in which UKIP have made serious inroads, one will certainly encounter views on crime and immigration which would horrify many metropolitan Labourites. But a future Labour party needs to accept that at present their ideologies do not necessarily command widespread approval, and work constructively with people who might be persuaded towards their arguments. Trade Unions have not always supported campaigns for equal pay, and were sometimes actively hostile; this was not a reason for the left to abandon trade unionism, but to work constructively to try and persuade these organisations and their members to change their view, an aim which was ultimately in large measure successful.
A great many liberal intellectuals, however, preach a doctrine of identity politics which postulates absolute differences and total irreconcilabilities between groups on the basis of ethnicity, gender, and various else (drawing upon a Marxist model of the antagonistic relationship between classes – but that was about economic position, not identity). An ideology, using hideous academic buzzwords such as ‘intersectionality’, which treats with suspicion all except those who tick every box of oppression, is no basis upon which to formulate a mass movement.
The modern Labour Party is not as bad as this, but there are some similarities. There are plenty within the party who want simply to stigmatise and shame large numbers of people for their views, and would view opinions on race and immigration of many of the population as requiring little less than ‘re-education’, with all the Stalinist implications of such a term. Under the last Labour government, measures were recommended involving the keeping registers of young children who had committed any sexist, racist or homophobic transgression, even when as young as 4; this is Labour politics at its most authoritarian, eager to stigmatise anyone who steps out of line. Certainly serious prejudice, hate or bullying in schools need to be addressed, and education is needed where they are found, but all these types of measures will achieve is to alienate and breed resentment in large numbers of children and their parents.
I am deeply disappointed with last weeks’ election results, and still passionately hope for a future Labour government. My own ideological preferences would be for policies very much associated with the left of the party, or in some ways to the left of anything represented within Labour, but I am realistic enough to realise this is a small minority view unlikely to gain serious traction in the foreseeable future. I have as much as anyone decried Blairites, and Tory voters, but now see the futility and counter-productivity of this; I think they are wrong, but demonising such people is hardly the way to convince them. I was very angry in 2010 about many in my own circles who went weak at the knees about the figure of Nick Clegg during the campaign, genuinely believing him to offer an alternative to the left of Labour, but with hindsight the foolishness of such a belief has been more than demonstrated, and the party has paid a terrible price for it. These people may not have been typical Liberal Democrat voters, though, more than a few of whom might have been as inclined towards the Conservatives as towards Labour.
For now, I do not believe it is impossible to have a Labour government who will commit and deliver on progressive approaches to taxation and public spending, proper funding of health and education, strong child-care provision, a fair benefits system which provides a safety net for those at the bottom and does not consign others to poverty and misery if they need to draw on benefits, decent affordable housing, positive and productive measures to reduce sexual inequality and build mutual racial tolerance, protect civil liberties and human rights, tackle crime whilst realising its social roots, make the UK play a positive role within the EU, and work to reduce extremes of inequality. Not all of these things might be able to be achieved in one or two parliaments, but if some progress can be made towards some of them, that is much better than leaving it to the Conservatives to decimate the welfare state, the public sector and much else, as I believe they will, as well as taking Britain back to a mean-spirited, aggressive xenophobic Little Englanderism which I had forlornly hoped New Labour had consigned to history.
Labour needs to move away from a certain dominance of a metropolitan faction which achieved some prominence around the leadership of Ed Miliband, and start both talking and listening with a wider section of the population, without feeling the need to hector and preach towards them, or make amply clear that they feel the need to hold their noses. Left-wing politicians, commentators, academics and other metropolitan fellow travellers have as much to learn as to teach, though many of them cannot imagine this. The party should reject for leader representatives of their authoritarian control-freak wing, a tradition begun by Jack Straw and David Blunkett and continued by the likes of Keith Vaz and Yvette Cooper, and could do worse than give prominent positions to Tom Watson and Simon Danczuk, most immensely respectable MPs who have done invaluable campaigning work on the issue of VIP abuse of children (an issue about which I am absolutely sure that the wider public would share a level of revulsion that would drown out the denials from senior figures in all political parties).
There is no reason, I believe, why Labour could not win round many to at least some of the arguments above. But this will never happen until those who are not yet won round, and who think some of the views above, are treated with some respect rather than contempt.
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:
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.
1. Scotland made the right decision.
2. Labour under Ed Miliband is looking considerably weaker than before the referendum. Cameron probably ended up being a more persuasive advocate for the union than Miliband. Miliband has neither a ‘heartland’, a community who would identify with him, as did Wilson, Callaghan, Smith and Brown, nor the personality to build a wider English following, as did Blair. I do believe Sadiq Khan or Tom Watson (who has written an interesting response to the referendum) would make stronger leaders (if they would want the position).
3. Never have the Liberal Democrats looked more insignificant, despite the fact that they are the second largest party at Westminster representing Scottish seats.
4. Two people to have come out reasonably well from the campaign, and who have been underestimated, are Gordon Brown and George Galloway. Brown should attempt a come-back as First Minister of Scotland, and more widely his legacy should be re-assessed.
5. ‘Scottish workers have more in common with London dockers, Durham miners & Sheffield engineers than they have with Scottish barons & landlords’ – Scottish miners’ leader Mick McGahey in 1968 on Scottish separatism vs working class solidarity (as quoted = by Ken Livingstone).
6. I don’t see why the unemployed and those on low pay in devastated communities in the North of England – or in inner city London – are any less worthy of special treatment than the Scots. Trying to divide these communities on grounds of ‘nation’, as Salmond + co do, is cynical and pathetic.
7. The whole devo max package was a last minute panicked reaction to one poll showing the ‘Yes’ camp in the lead. Major legislation like this should not be rushed through without all the consequences being considered. This will now utterly dominate the legislative agenda up until the election, and will have a major effect upon the election itself.
8. The West Lothian question will not go away, nor should it. Labour are burying their heads in the sand over this, retreating to their comfort zone when they need more English votes to win an election. They could trump Cameron by giving a firm commitment to a German-style federal system, which would utterly transform British politics.
9. A new variety of the West Lothian question: why should those in Glasgow be able to be exempt from various aspects of policies determined in Westminster, but those in Newcastle not?
10. The borders between England, Scotland and Wales are pretty meaningless anyhow, as are most nation states. There is however some logic in the whole of Great Britain being a unified entity because of its geographical nature.
11. One of the worst elements of the campaign was the presenting of a Manichean struggle between ‘Scotland’ and ‘London’. London is simply the capital city, where MPs meet. Many Londoners are just as much the victim of successive governments’ policies as those in Scotland. In an independent Scotland, would it be any more fair to attack the people of Edinburgh, because Hollyrood is there? The article linked to earlier by Tom Watson makes much of the chasm between the City of London and Scotland – and the rest of the UK, and how that chasm was allowed to increase during the Thatcher years. But this is about capital and its concentration, not about Londoners in general. Hating people because they happen to come from or live in the most international city in Europe, London (I don’t come from the city originally, but have lived here for 21 years), is the worst type of politics.
[Since first publishing this article online a number of further MPs have indicated their support for a national inquiry in line with the express wishes of the original seven. For details of this, and how to write to your MP to ask them to support, please see this post]
The pioneering news organisation Exaro have published two important articles today by David Hencke relating to a cross-party group of seven MPs who have written jointly to Home Secretary Theresa May called for a proper inquiry into child abuse, citing the Hillsborough inquiry as a model (see Hencke, ‘Police keep failing ‘to follow evidence’ in abuse cases, say MPs: Call for wide inquiry into ‘schools, churches, children’s homes, politicians and celebrities’, 3/6/14, and ‘MPs call on Theresa May to set inquiry into child sex abuse: Tim Loughton and Zac Goldsmith in cross-party group that highlights failures by police’, 3/6/14; see also Jason Beattie, ‘MPs demand inquiry into historic claims of child sex abuse by Cabinet Ministers’, Daily Mirror, 4/6/14).
The seven MPs in question (who Hencke has elsewhere called the ‘Magnificent Seven’) are:
Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park, whose constituency contains Elm Guest House, Grafton Close Children’s Home, and Colet Court and St Paul’s Schools (Twitter @ZacGoldsmith ).
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and former Children’s Commissioner, who spoke powerfully in the House of Commons in September 2013 about many ongoing revelations of abuse (Website here; Twitter @timloughton ).
John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley, who made representations on behalf of financial journalist Leah McGrath Goodman on the grounds of her being banned from the UK following investigation into child abuse at Haut de la Garenne, Jersey, but has also been critical of UK family courts when dealing with allegations of abuse against parents. (Website here; Twitter @johnhemmingmp )
Tessa Munt, MP for Wells, who as a member of the Education Select Committee has taken a special interest in child safeguarding, and whose constituency contains Wells Cathedral School, one of the five specialist music schools, all of which have been connected to abuse (Website here; Twitter @tessamunt )
Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich East, who has been indefatigable in his commitment to this issue ever since raising in Westminster in October 2012 the issues of a high-level paedophile ring (see Watson’s blog and articles here and many other places online; Twitter @tom_watson ).
Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale, co-author with Matthew Baker of Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith (London: Biteback, 2014), who has written of how Smith was connected to Peter Righton and also a wider paedophile ring including prominent politicians (see this article by Watson in praise of Danczuk) (Website here, Twitter @simondanczuk )
These seven MPs are concerned about how important files, surveillance videos and other material have gone missing, lack of charges brought as a result of Operation Fernbridge, and in general an apparent reluctance on the part of the police and others to pursue cases of serious abuse. Watson has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions naming a former cabinet minister alleged to have raped a woman going by the name of ‘Jane’ (see also the detailed five-part account linked to at the bottom of this article and the video interview with ‘Jane’); this is the same senior cabinet minister who has been linked to the VIP paedophile ring related to Elm Guest House (as confirmed by Mark Watts on Twitter on 18/5/14). The Metropolitan Police have chosen not to pursue Jane’s allegations further, nor even interview the alleged perpetrator, raising serious questions about whether proper procedure has been followed; Exaro have also claimed that there was a shocking concerted police smear campaign aimed at discrediting ‘Jane’. Furthermore, there are serious questions about the whereabouts of a series of documents submitted to the Home Office by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP (see here, here and here), one of the few MPs who continued to pursue this issue in the 1980s. Loughton has spoken of his alarm at consistent ‘reluctance, or more worryingly, the seeming complicity of police and other agencies to investigate the allegations seriously, and pursue the perpetrators rigorously’, and how ‘Documents go missing and investigations are curtailed with a chilling frequency, and that now threatens a serious undermining of the public’s confidence in our current child-protection system despite all the progress that has undoubtedly been made in recent years’.
The range of areas of public life in which there have been major allegations of abuse is frighteningly large: these include children’s homes in Islington (see also here and this article by whistleblower Liz Davies), Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark, Haute de la Garenne in Jersey, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk, Staffordshire (the ‘Pindown’ scandal) Birmingham, Leicestershire, North Wales, South Wales, Cheshire, Leeds, Sunderland, Northumberland, Lothian, Renfrewshire, Isle of Lewis, the Kincora Boy’s Home in Belfast, Stockgrove Park School, Buckinghamshire, Stanbridge Earls School near Romsey, Hampshire, New Barns School, Gloucestershire, Castle Hill School, Shropshire, St George’s School, Suffolk, Knowl View School in Rochdale, in Cleveland, many of the leading public schools (see also the range of articles here), the Catholic Church, not least in Scottish abbeys, the Church of England, the entertainment industry (not least involving Jimmy Savile), grooming gangs in the North West and Oxford, music education, a ring around Piccadilly Circus, major networks trading images of child abuse, and more. Some of these cases have been investigated, with some prosecutions, but there is good reason to believe some of these investigations have been half-hearted, whilst other cases have simply been ignored. There are many individuals linked to multiple networks (not least the sinister figure of Peter Righton), continuing talk of the VIP paedophile ring connected to Elm Guest House and elsewhere, major information concerning late MPs Cyril Smith and Peter Morrison and serious allegations about others who are living (not least the severe claim that a Blair era cabinet minister was being investigated for abusing children in a home in Lambeth, leading to a detective being taken off the case, and even that a council official looking to expose a ring involving the minister was murdered). The activities of members of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), about whom I have blogged in detail, remain shady, and there are many suggestions that this organisation might be linked to a great number of cases of abuse. Furthermore, it is now clear that PIE had deep links to the Home Office, receiving large amounts of money from the organisation, with at least three members working on its premises (with a phone line there), its magazine printed there, and some civil servants receiving images of child abuse delivered to the building!
It is heartening to see such a diverse cross-party group of MPs coming together on this issue. Yet it is more than a little disappointing that there are not more, and that the most senior politicians in all the major parties do not appear to be taking seriously what can only be called an epidemic (if even less than half of the allegations were true). I would urge everyone reading this to write to their own MP and implore them to support the seven courageous figures above (any of whom I would gladly vote for). I have earlier blogged on the need for Ed Miliband, the leader of the party to which I belong (Labour), to put all of his weight behind calls for a proper inquiry, but also how there is near-silence from the upper echelons of Labour, perhaps related to the fact that senior Labour politicians are under investigation and also that the current Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, has been linked to PIE during her time as Legal Officer at the NCCL, during which period NCCL took out an advert in PIE’s journal Magpie and also their policy on images of children reflects aspects of PIE thinking. But this should not be stopping Miliband, nor should worries about the former Thatcher era cabinet minister, and Peter Morrison and others, be stopping David Cameron (and in light of revelations about Cyril Smith, Nick Clegg should be firmly behind this).
Leading experts, researchers and campaigners on child abuse Peter McKelvie and Liz Davies met recently with Home Office minister Norman Baker. They were granted a mere ten minutes of time, despite having built up huge bodies of evidence about child abuse, but it was made clear that there was no intention to undertake either a national police investigation (absolutely necessary because so many complex cases are interlinked) nor a public inquiry. I would urge people to read the account above. Nonetheless, I have been informed that both individuals spoke very highly of Zac Goldsmith’s commitment to the issues in particular.
The media have reported much about the relatively small number of cases coming to court as a result of Operation Yewtree. But these are just a tiny fraction of the wider allegations of serious and sustained abuse (and non-sexual abuse should not be treated any less seriously). All credit to these seven MPs, but as for the others – if our MPs do not care about protecting children in the most vulnerable situations, what do they care about?
Many different stories involving alleged organised or institutionalised abuse of children have been prominent in the press during since February: about the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), and their links to the National Council of Civil Liberties, about abuse in a range of top private schools (especially Colet Court and St Paul’s), about the hideous range of abuse carried out by late Liberal MP Cyril Smith and then further in special schools in Rochdale, trials (with both convictions and acquittals) of celebrities as a result of Operation Yewtree, further information concerning the shocking abuse cases in children’s homes run by Islington Council, and new stories relating to abuse in Lambeth, with suggestions that a detective was taken off the case after a cabinet minister from the Blair era became a suspect (see also here, here, here and here, whilst the inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland (the largest inquiry of its type in the UK) opened at the beginning of the year. Other investigations continue, most notably Operations Fairbank, Fernbridge and Cayacos, resulting from the questions put to the House of Commons by Tom Watson MP in October 2012, and dealing in particular with suggestions of a VIP paedophile ring, involving senior politicians from various parties, and centered upon the terrible abuse scandal at the Elm Guest House in Barnes (see also the various links here), and the possibility that children may have even been trafficked to this place from a children’s home in Grafton Close in nearby Richmond to service VIP guests. Cyril Smith and the late Sir Anthony Blunt, former Master of the Queen’s Pictures and Soviet spy, have been named as visitors to Elm Guest House.
The courage of a few good politicians
The Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk, co-author with Matthew Baker of the excellent Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith (London: Biteback Publishing, 2014) has reiterated the claims that Smith was not working alone, and was part of a wider VIP ring; indeed Danczuk has gone so far as to argue that if charges had been brought against Smith, he would have named others and the resulting scandal could have toppled a government. Certainly the same possibility would have applied for the Blair government if a serving minister there had been charged with the abuse of children.
Danczuk has indicated that he is considering using Parliamentary Privilege to name one especially prominent former cabinet minister who was part of a ring with Smith and involved at Elm Guest House. This is almost certainly a figure from the Thatcher era whose identity is well-known on the internet, but has not been otherwise made public in the mainstream media in this context, though he was named when such allegations were dismissed thirty years ago. Various reports from Exaro News and The People newspaper (see links above) have indicated that a former cabinet minister was involved, with stories of videos and the possibility of some survivors being able to identify this figure . I hope that if Danczuk is secure in his conviction here that he will indeed name this figure, as unfortunately there is reason (on the basis of precedent) to have doubts as to the possibility of full investigations being able to proceed without external interference. This name, if made public, may cause shockwaves both in the UK and wider afield, and in such a context it would be very hard to resist the call for a proper public inquiry (and, perhaps more importantly, it would be harder for darker forces to try and prevent the police investigating this figure properly).
Danczuk and Watson are heroic politicians for our time, both risking huge amounts of approbrium and antipathy from colleagues and others (as Watson has detailed in his tribute to Danczuk). As a campaigner and independent researcher into abuse in musical education and also into PIE (about which numerous earlier blog posts give primary source information) I have had the pleasure to meet with Watson. No words can praise highly enough his complete dedication to these issues, as demostrated earlier with the allegations about the media and phone hacking. A few other MPs have shown courage and determination with these issues: Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central, has continued to pursue the issue of abuse in music education and safeguarding (with Chetham’s and the Royal Northern College of Music both lying within her constituency), whilst Conservative MP Tim Loughton, former Children’s Minister, also speaking out about the scale of organised abuse as can be read in a speech he made to Parliament last September detailed here in Hansard.
But these politicians (and a few others) are relatively few and far between. Others have tried to fudge or ignore the issues, perhaps knowing of the fact that a full inquiry could uncover information deeply unsettling for all the three major British political parties (and maybe several others as well). As the late Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens found, pursuing the issue of organised child abuse involving prominent individuals is a lonely cause. When Dickens claimed that children were being abused on a council estate in Islington, the Labour MP for Islington North (my own MP), Jeremy Corbyn, claimed that Dickens was ‘getting cheap publicity at the expense of innocent children’ (see here for more on this story). When Dickens tried in 1984 to introduce a bill proscribing organisations like PIE, Labour MP Clare Short claimed the reason for the bill was ‘publicity for the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens)’ and spoke of ‘cheap publicity stunts’.
The left, paedophile organisations, and organised abuse
During this period, as has been amply chronicled recently, there were sections of the left, even the far left. Investigation of pro-paedophile literature (which I have done extensively, finding an alarming amount of this in mainstream publications, including scholarly literature, which I will document at a later date) shows no shortage of individuals (even including several prominent feminists) who sought to link the issue of paedophilia to supposedly progressive attitudes towards gender and sexuality. NCCL were affiliated to PIE for an extended period, and took out advertisements in PIE publications Understanding Paedophilia and Magpie, whilst their 1976 evidence to the Criminal Law Revision Committee (some of which reads almost exactly in the manner of a good deal of pro-paedophile literature) included the astonishing claim that ‘Childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in, with an adult result in no identifiable damage’. It is clear that for a period NCCL (and also various gay rights organisations) were influenced, possibly even infiltrated, by paedophile campaigners, a process Christian Wolmar has traced (drawing in part upon first-hand experience of encountering paedophile groups) over a range of leftist organisations in the 1970s (this is also documented in Lucy Robinson’s book Gay Men and the Left in Post-War Britain: How the Personal got Political (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011)).
Current Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman MP was Legal Officer for the NCCL from 1978 to 1982; she joined the organisation two years after the Criminal Law Revision Committee submission, but no evidence has yet been provided of her – or her husband, Jack Dromey (who was on the committee of NCCL from 1970 to 1979, and has claimed to have opposed PIE but given no evidence for this) opposing the influence of PIE at the organisation.
How has Harman responded to the latest flurry of press attention? After the story was re-hashed in the Daily Mail in mid-February (having appeared sporadically for several years previously); it had become clearer how deeply PIE were involved with a wide range of abuse scandals, an involvement which has become even clearer in the subsequent months. In particular, the sinister figure of the late Peter Righton (files relating to whom provided the impetus for the police investigations which opened in 2012 – see also this 1994 documentary), who weaned his way to influential positions in the social work profession, was a high-up member of PIE, and has been linked to a network of abusers in public schools and to a range of cases of abuse in children’s homes; one victim has linked Righton to Cyril Smith (Smith may have met Righton when he was Liberal spokesperson on social services from 1976 to 1977). The journalist Eileen Fairweather, who broke the story of widespread abuse in Islington children’s homes for the Evening Standard, wrote of how one woman recalled being told openly by Righton at a social function in the 1970s how he enjoyed having sex with boys in children’s homes; Righton apparently assumed that as a lesbian she ‘wouldn’t break ranks’, and the woman went along with what she called ‘a typical gay man’s excuse – that he didn’t use force’ (she later gave a statement to the investigators) (cited in Christian Wolmar, Forgotten Children: The Secret Abuse Scandal in Children’s Homes (London: Vision Paperbacks, 2000)). Righton also wrote an endorsement which was used on the cover of Tom O’Carroll’s book Paedophilia: The Radical Case (ibid). Elsewhere, Fairweather has written of the deep links between Islington Council and PIE.
Harman’s first response was completely defensive: in a statement which was printed in the Mail on February 24th, she referred to the allegations as a ‘smear campaign’, and denied any connection with NCCL policy on lowering the age of consent to ten, or opposing the law on incest, as in the 1976 submission, pointing out that she did not work for NCCL until two years later, and denying that her involvement with NCCL implied any further support for PIE. However, as the paper pointed out, the 1976 submissions remained policy in 1978, when Harman joined, and she does not appear to have raised any objections then; furthermore, the affiliation continued throughout her time as Legal Officer. In a statement published together with Harman’s, Dromey argued that he was ‘at the forefront of repeated public condemnations of PIE and their despicable views’
As the media response grew louder, Harman appears to have realised that this would not be enough, and gave an interview with Laura Kuenssberg for Newsnight, again denying this amounted to anything more than a smear. She pointed out that PIE were one of a thousand organisations affiliated to NCCL, and that any organisation could affiliate. Ed Miliband (in what appears to have been his only statement on the whole controversy) backed Harman absolutely on the same day, reiterating her claim that the story amounted purely to a smear (Sam Coates, ‘Miliband backs Harman over ‘paedophile smears’, The Times, February 25th, 2014). It was later revealed that Harman and Dromey may not have been so confident about what journalists might find, and they trawled the NCCL archives in Hull themselves (their names can be found in the ledgers) on February 24th, five days after the story broke, and on the same day as the Newsnight interview. The Mail responded by pointing out that in the year when Harman joined the organisation, PIE was listed in the book The NCCL Guide to Your Rights as one of eighteen organisations which ‘may be helpful’ to readers, alongside the likes of the Family Planning Association and Rape Crisis Centre, and also that by 1982, the constitution of an affiliated institution had to be ‘approved by the Committee’ (PIE continued to be affiliated for a further year). The Telegraph also viewed other internal documents that cast serious doubts upon Harman’s claims that PIE had been ‘pushed to the margins’ back in 1976, before she went to NCCL, revealing that NCCL gay-rights spokesperson Nettie Pollard (probably the key link between NCCL and PIE, who has elsewhere herself been named as a member (#70) of PIE) had sat on a fourteen-strong NCCL gay rights committee with PIE chairman Tom O’Carroll (O’Carroll later thanked Pollard for her help in the foreword to his 1980 book Paedophilia: The Radical Case), and printed a letter from Harman forwarding a query from Pollard as to how to table amendments to the Protection of Children Bill in the Lords in 1978; this story was also pursued briefly in The Guardian. At this stage a spokesman for Harman had to concede that Pollard had promoted paedophilia and exploited the gay rights committee. Most damningly, the Mail printed a copy of the NCCL advert taken out in PIE journal Magpie in 1979 (which I had earlier revealed, though omitted at this stage to mention the earlier 1977 advert in Understanding Paedophilia).
Various of these articles drew attention in particular to how Harman herself urged changes to the 1978 Protection of Children Bill by saying that ‘images of children should only be considered pornographic if it could be proven the subject suffered’; this is perhaps the most crucial piece of information, and which comes dangerously close to PIE-style thinking, by positing that something only becomes pornographic if the child considers it as such (rather than in a statutory fashion). Though Harman protested that this was to stop parents being criminalised for taking beach or bathing pictures of their children (which would in itself be fair), these proposed amendments went further than that, as a lawyer would surely know.
As the furore continued, Patricia Hewitt made a reasonably decent and measured statement (after a period when she was uncontactable), claiming that NCCL was ‘naive and wrong to accept PIE’s claim to be a ‘campaigning and counselling organisation’ that ‘does not promote unlawful acts’, accepting responsibility and apologising, saying she ‘should have urged the executive committee to take stronger measures to protect NCCL’s integrity from the activities of PIE members and sympathisers’, though disclaiming any part in the ‘proposal to reduce the age of consent’, and saying nothing about the 1976 Criminal Law Revision Committee submission. Hewitt’s retirement from her position as a non-executive director of BT was also announced a few weeks later, though it is not clear whether this was related.
But there was no such humility from Harman, whose public school haughtiness deserves consideration just as does that of David Cameron or George Osborne; in an interview for The Times in early March, she adopted a contemptuous tone, continuing to refuse to apologise, talked about intending to be Deputy Prime Minister, and even talking about how she was ‘spending a lot of money on my hair, which is the same colour as when I was 33 [….] I’m not quite sufficiently politically correct to be able to stop it’, giving the impression that this mattered more than the ongoing stories about abuse (Sam Coates, ‘I want to be deputy PM, says Harman as she stands firm over paedophiles’, The Times, March 8th, 2014).
Former Head of the Obscene Publications Squad Michael Hames (author of The Dirty Squad (The Inside Story of the Obscene Publications Squad)) argued that ‘the NCCL legitimised the Paedophile Information Exchange’, and that Harman, Dromey and Hewitt ‘made a huge mistake. At the very least they should acknowledge, publicly, that they got it wrong’. But this would not be forthcoming from either Harman or Dromey. The current director of Liberty (the renamed NCCL), said that past paedophile infiltration of the organisation was a matter of ‘continuing disgust and horror’, statement endorsed by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
A civil liberties organisation should defend the civil liberties of all people, including those whose views they might otherwise despise and reject. The American Civil Liberties Union has defended the right to free speech of the Klu Klux Klan; in my view, they are absolutely right to do so, for using fascistic techniques of censorship is no way to combat fascist ideology and organisations. Paedophiles have rights and civil liberties as well (and I have no interest in debating with those people who would deny that they do); were the NCCL simply to be defending these, or indeed fighting against the rather archaic law of ‘Conspiracy to Corrupt Public Morals’, then their actions should be applauded. Furthermore, it would be rash to censor even a debate on the precise age of consent, which varies slightly between different Western countries.
But NCCL’s support for PIE went further than this. I do not believe Harman, Dromey or Hewitt to have been active supporters of the abuse of children themselves; however, at a time when PIE was at its height, they were all intimately involved with an organisation which not only allowed PIE to affiliate (would Harman have been so happy with a group which advocated that a man can beat his wife if she is disobedient, or a fundamentalist Christian anti-gay organisation?), but also advertised in its own deeply unpleasant publications (see the ample amount of material I have published on this blog here, here and here) and appear to have been influenced by aspects of PIE thinking in their policy, as well as having PIE members on their own committees. No clear evidence has been provided for any of these three figures having opposed this, unlike with Peter Hain, say. PIE’s strategy was to infiltrate and influence mainstream gay rights and civil liberties organisations towards their own ends; Harman, Dromey and Hewitt stand as appearing culpable in allowing this to happen, and in the process adding a degree of respectability to that very paedophile movement which looks to have been involved in the worst cases of organised abuse.
As further investigations into the latter continue, it would be a miracle if the involvement of leading PIE members is not evoked on many future occasions, and many more questions asked about just how this organisation and the ideologies it espoused came to win a degree of acceptance especially on the liberal left (two very thoughtful articles on this question have recently been published by Eileen Fairweather and Christian Wolmar). However, all figures associated with the Labour leadership appear to have treated this as an issue primarily of the reputations of Harman and Dromey (Hewitt is less active in politics today and no longer in Parliament). Harman’s own self-centered attitudes and absolute refusal to concede that this might be about more than her, has precluded the leadership from really commenting at all on the many other stories which have been further illuminated, an intolerable state of affairs. I would personally have difficulty campaigning for Labour if this situation continues.
The need for a decisive lead from Labour and Ed Miliband
The potential situation for Labour is grave: senior figures such as Harman, Dromey or Margaret Hodge (in charge of Islington Council during the period when paedophiles manage to infiltrate their children’s homes, and who tried to dismiss newspaper reports claiming this – but amazingly went on to become Children’s Minister under Tony Blair) stand likely to be found to have been at least complacent if not complicit in a situation which enabled PIE, and as a result widespread abuse, to flourish. If coupled with revelations about a Blairite cabinet minister, this could cast an unremovable shadow over the whole Blair era. Danczuk has written of how ‘it seemed that a fair few on the Left, including some who have subsequently become key figures in the Labour Party were fooled into giving this hideous group [PIE] shelter’, part of the situation which enabled Cyril Smith to act with relative impunity – he does not name the figures in question, but there is little question that he is referring to Hewitt, Harman and Dromey. The dismissive statements of Corbyn and Short, at a time when Dickens was fighting practically a one-man campaign against PIE, look like a form of petty tribalism which in this context could be dangerous; more ominously, some other Labour names have been mooted in terms of visitors to the Elm Guest House. Eileen Fairweather has described the type of Stalinist thinking to be encountered on the left when there are abuse allegations involving gay men, whilst some researchers into abuse committed by women, such as Michelle Elliott or Jackie Turton, have encountered similar resistance to any investigation of the subject. It would seem as if for some on the left, child abuse only matters when it can be exploited to serve a particular type of gender/sexuality politics; when the perpetrators are women or gay men, some might prefer that the abuse go unchecked*.
All of this remains at the level of allegations, for sure, but it seems unlikely that an investigation would not do damage to the Labour Party. But this is equally true for the Liberal Democrats because of Cyril Smith, and very much so for the Conservative Party, with a serious of prominent figures also having been mooted as Elm Guest House visitors (one of them still in the House of Commons today), not to mention the as yet far-from-clarified situation involving the late Peter Morrison, about whom I have blogged at length, involving allegations (based upon accounts by Conservative politicians) of cover-up and even bribery, and that Morrison was linked to the North Wales abuse scandals.
I am a member of the Labour Party; I was unable to stay supporting them following the Iraq War, but rejoined after Tony Blair left the leadership and have had high hopes of Ed Miliband, who I voted for as leader. I look to the Labour Party to protect the interests of ordinary citizens against powerful forms of exploitation, and can hardly imagine an issue Labour should be opposing and attacking more strongly than the existence of networks of VIPs using their position to exploit and abuse children sexually, protected through friends in high places. Miliband showed great resolve over the issue of Murdoch and hacking; now he needs to do the same of the issue of organised and institutional abuse. His silence (and that of most other senior Labour politicians) to date on the issue, save to defend Harman as mentioned earlier, is no response befitting of a Prime-Minister- and government-in-waiting; as with other party leaders, the impression given is of one more concerned about protecting the reputation of a few of his colleagues than in investigating extremely serious allegations of abuse (just as has been seen in numerous other institutions facing abuse or cover-up allegations relating to some of their members).
This should not be a partisan issue, and attempts by all sides to exploit it for party political advantage are crass in the extreme. Ed Miliband has the opportunity to change this and call for an all-purpose public inquiry with which he and his party will fully co-operate, which would put real pressure on the other parties to do the same, as he should also demand. This would require a similar level of commitment from his senior colleagues; if some are not prepared to give this commitment, then Miliband must make clear that he is no longer in a position to lend them support.
[*As for example in the case of the American feminist Kate Millett, who when asked in an interview (originally published in Loving Boys (New York: Semiotext(e), 1980), pp. 80-83) ‘Do you think that a tender loving erotic relationship can exist between a boy and a man?’ she replied ‘Of course, or between a female child and an older woman’ and also said that ‘ part of a free society would be that you could choose whomever you fancied, and children should be able to freely choose as well’. Millett’s book Sexual Politics (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1969) remains a standard feminist text, but I believe on the basis of this interview anything she says about sexual politics should be considered suspect. ]
This week, at Prime Minister’s Question Time, Labour leader Ed Miliband tore into David Cameron for the representation of women in his party, pointing to the all-male frontbench in front of him, in contrast to his own. Miliband did not care to mention the ethnic make-up of that front bench, perhaps because of fear of alienating xenophobic Middle England from which he needs to gain votes, or perhaps because his own wholly white front bench on display that day would score no better. At present, the cabinet consists of 22 members, of whom 18 are male and 4 female. Not one member belongs to an ethnic minority. The shadow cabinet contains 25 members, of whom 14 are male and 11 female, with 2 members from ethnic minorities. What is not visible, but no less important, is the representation of different educational backgrounds amongst both cabinets. Of the cabinet, 12 were educated in the state sector, 10 privately; of the shadow cabinet, 19 were state-educated, 5 privately; for one member it is unclear. The difference in the break-up of either cabinet in terms of educational background is as stark as that for gender and ethnicity. With this in mind, I decided to assemble some wider statistics concerning the MPs in the three major parliamentary parties, not least to draw attention to the least commented-upon form of discrimination and favouritism, to do with the vast over-privileging, above all in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties, of those who were privately educated. This is a subject frequently evaded by many leading politicians in any of the parties; the New Statesman have recently referred to ‘education’s Berlin Wall’, a term even taken up by Education Secretary Michael Gove, though as an NS leader pointed out, the privately educated Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt declined to comment on the subject.
UK Population by Gender and Region
According to the 2011 census, as provided by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the population of the UK was 63,182,000 million people, made up of 31,028,000 million men and 32,154,000 million women. In percentage terms this means 49.1% men, 50.9% women. Between the four regions, this breaks down as follows:
England: 53,012,456 – 26,069,148 (49.2%) men; 26,943,308 (50.8%) women.
Scotland: 5,295,000 – 2,567,000 (48.5%) men; 2,728,000 (51.5%) women.
Wales: 3,063,456 – 1,504,228 (49.1%) men; 1,559,228 (50.9%) women.
Northern Ireland: 1,810,863 – 887,323 (49%) men; 923,540 (51%) women.
Total Population of mainland (England, Scotland and Wales): 61,370,912 – 30,140,376 (49.1%) men; 31,230,536 (50.9%) women.
Total Population of UK: 63,182,000 – 31,028,000 (49.1%) men; 32,154,000 (50.9%) women.
Percentages of UK population represented by region:
Northern Ireland: 2.9%.
The gender discrepancy can mostly be explained by different life expectancies, certainly amongst the existing population who are now aged over 50, as the differences in numbers become more pronounced and regular in the upper age bracket. As can be seen, the overall discrepancy is relatively consistent amongst the regions, except for Scotland, where it is around 3% (compared to 1.6-2% elsewhere, smallest in England).
UK Population by Ethnicity and Region
The ethnic break-up of the United Kingdom as a whole can be compiled from individual results for each region. In England and Wales, according to the 2011 report by the ONS, 86.0% of the population are classified as White (divided into ‘White British’ and ‘Any Other White’, with populations of 80.5% and 4.4% respectively). After this, the next largest groups are Indian (2.5%), Pakistani (2.0%) and Black African (1.8%). Overall, Asian and Asian British groups account for 7.5%, whilst Black African, Caribbean, Black British and others account for 3.3%. 14% of the English and Welsh population can be considered as belonging to non-white ethnic minorities. Wales itself is the least ethnically diverse region (closely followed by South West England), with 95.6% white population, 4.4% ethnic minorities. Using the population figures above (England 53,012,456; Wales 3,063,456; England and Wales 56,075,912), this amounts to numbers of approximately 2,928,663 white, 134,793 ethnic minorities in Wales. In England and Wales combined the figures will be 48,225,284 white; 7,850,628 ethnic minorities. Thus in England alone the figures are 45,296,621 (85.4%) white; 7,715,835 (14.6%) ethnic minorities.
The 2011 census results for Scotland show that 96% of the population are classified as White. Of the remaining 4% (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Other Asian, African, Caribbean, Black British, Arab, and Other), the largest ethnic minority is Pakistani (1%). Asians make up around 3% of the population, and Black African, Caribbean and other around 1%. Thus from a total population of 5,295,000, approximately 5,038,200 are white, 275,000 ethnic minorities.
The representation of ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland is much smaller than in the rest of the UK, with 98.2% of Northern Ireland residents classified as White. From the remaining 1.8% split (in descending order of prominence between Chinese, Irish Traveller, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Other Asian, Black Caribbean, Black African, Black other, Mixed and Other). The largest ethnic minority in Northern Ireland, Chinese, accounts for just 0.35% of the population. Thus from a total population of 1,810,863, approximately 1,778,267 are white, 32,596 ethnic minorities.
If these figures are weighted relative to the population of each region, the following figures are obtained:
England: White 85.4%; Ethnic Minorities 14.6%.
Wales: White 95.6%; Ethnic Minorities 4.4%.
Scotland: White 96%; Ethnic Minorities 4%.
Northern Ireland: White 98.2%; Ethnic Minorities 1.8%.
From this, figures can be calculated for the mainland (population 61,370,912) and the UK as a whole (population 63,182,000). The population of the mainland, from the figures above, is approximately 53,263,484 white; 8,125,628 ethnic minorities. For the UK as a whole, the figures are approximately 55,041,751 white; 8,158,224 ethnic minorities. In percentage terms, this amounts to:
Mainland (England, Scotland and Wales): White 86.8%; Ethnic Minorities 13.2%.
UK: White 87.1%; Ethnic Minorities 12.9%.
UK Population by Education
Historical statistics for state or private education in England and Wales can be found in a 2012 report by Paul Bolton. They show a proportion of pupils educated at independent and direct grant schools falling from 8.1% to 5.7% between 1963 and 1978, then rising again, peaking around 1990 at around 7.4%, then falling slightly to around 6.5% in the years approaching 2000, then rising slightly again over the next decade, with a small fall from around 2010. The following figures are provided for percentages of pupils at independent schools at five yearly intervals from 1950 (from 1963 they apply to England alone):
For those aged roughly between 25 and 70 in 2010, who thus were educated from age 7-18 between 1947 and 2003, I will take an average percentage from the figures from 1950 and 2005, which works out at around 6.2% of those in such an age range who were privately educated. For Wales the figure in 2011 was 1.9% and for Scotland in 2013 , 4.5%. Applying a weighting to these figures in line with that for the average over this period compared to the present number in England (thus 6.2/7) gives the following figures
For those aged between 25 and 70 in 2010:
England: 6.2% privately educated
Wales: 1.7% privately educated
Scotland: 4.0% privately educated
These three sets of figures can then be weighted according to the population of each mainland region (England 83.9%, Scotland: 8.4%, Wales: 4.8%), thus calculating (6.2*83.9/100) + (1.7*4.8/100) + (4*8.4/100) = 5.6% of the mainland UK population born aged between 25 and 70 in 2010 who were privately educated, and thus also 94.4% who were state educated.
Figures for MPs
The House of Commons website with data on elected MPs (see here and other pages linked to at this site), and the study of MPs compiled by the Smith Institute following the 2010 UK general election serve as the basis for most of my calculations. A few seats have changed hand following by-elections, but as these types of changes have generally been atypical of changes at general elections, I will use the figures from immediately after the election for my calculations. The following are the figures for those elected by party, with the brackets after the numbers giving the number of re-elected MPs, followed by the number of those newly elected.
Conservatives: 306 (166 + 140)
Labour: 258 (190 + 68)
Liberal Democrats: 57 (46 + 11)
Others: 28 (20 + 8) [Independent MPs: 1; Green: 1; Scottish National Party: 6; Plaid Cymru: 3; Democratic Unionist: 8; Sinn Fein: 5; Social Democratic & Labour Party: 3; Alliance: 1]
Total number of MPs: 650
Total number of MPs in three main parties (Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats): 621
I will concentrate solely on the three major parties, as the numbers of MPs represented by any of the others are generally too small to be able to discern meaningful trends. There are three measures of the representativeness of the MPs in each of these three parties which I will apply – in terms of gender, ethnicity (belonging or not belonging to an ethnic minority), and state/private education. The results are revealing.
MPs: Representation of Gender
Number of male/female MPs by party after 2010 UK General Election:
Conservatives: Male 257 (84.0%); Female 49 (16.0%).
Labour: Male 177 (68.7%); Female 81 (31.3%).
Liberal Democrats: Male 50 (87.7%); Female 7 (12.3%).
All three main parties: Male 484 (76.7%); Female 137 (23.3%).
These can be expressed relative to the numbers in the mainland UK as a whole (49.1% men, 50.9% women) by taking the taking the ratio of the representation in each party to that in the nation, converted into a percentage. So, for example, the ratio of male Liberal Democrat MPs (87.7%) compared to the percentage of the male mainland UK population (49.1%), expressed as a percentage, is 87.7/49.1*100 = 178.6% over-representation.
The figures for representation are thus as follows:
Conservatives: Male MPs 171.1% over-representation: Female MPs 31.4% under-representation.
Labour: Male MPs 139.9% over-representation: Female MPs 61.5% under-representation
Liberal Democrats: Male MPs 178.6% over-representation: Female MPs 24.2% under-representation:
All three main parties: Male MPs 156.2% over-representation: Female MPs 45.8% under-representation.
MPs: Representation of Ethnicity
Number of white/ethnic minority MPs by party after 2010 UK General Election:
Conservatives: White 295 (96.4%); Ethnic Minority 11 (3.6%)
Labour: White 242 (93.8%); Ethnic Minority 16 (6.2%).
Liberal Democrats: White 57 (100%); Ethnic Minority 0 (0%).
All three main parties: White 594 (94.1%); Ethnic Minority 27 (4.3%).
(It is worth noting here that the Liberal Democrats have only once ever had an ethnic minority MP, Parmjit Singh Gill, who only held the seat of Leicester South for less than one year after winning a by-election in July 2004, to be defeated in May 2005 – see http://www.theguardian.com/politics/person/6766/parmjit-singh-gill )
Using the same principle of measurement as for gender, representation can be calculated as follows, on the basis of percentages of 86.8% white, 13.2% ethnic minority for mainland UK:
Conservatives: Whites 111.1% over-representation; Ethnic Minorities 27.3% under-representation.
Labour: Whites 108.1% over-representation; Ethnic Minorities 47.0% under-representation.
Liberal Democrats: Whites 115.2% over-representation; Ethnic Minorities completely unrepresented.
All three main parties: Whites 108.4% over-representation; Ethnic Minorities 32.6% under-representation.
MPs: Representation of Educational Background
These calculations are a little more complicated than the previous two, because of the need to produce averages of those in the wider population who were educated in the state or private sector over a period of time (because of the varying ages of MPs). The Smith Institute gives the following figures for state and private (fee-paying) education of MPs elected or re-elected in 2010:
Labour: State 88%; Private 12%
Conservatives: State 46%; Private 54%
Liberal Democrats: State 59%; Private 41%
All MPs: State 66%; Private 34%
This can then be expressed as ratios relative to the figures for the population aged between 25 and 70 as given above. On the date of the 2010 General Election (May 6th), there were 15 MPs elected who were aged 70 or over – 13 Labour (Gerald Kaufman, Dennis Skinner, Stuart Bell, Joe Benton, David Winnick, Austin Mitchell, Paul Philip Flynn, Glenda Jackson, Ann Clwyd, David Allen Keen, Geoffrey Robinson, Michael Meacher and Frank Dobson) and 2 Conservatives (Peter Tapsell and Alan Haselhurst). The two Conservative MPs were both privately educated; of the 11 Labour MPs whose schools are known, 9 were educated in the state system, 2 at independent schools; the Labour figures roughly tally with the averages for the party, whilst the Conservative sample is too small to be significant. The youngest MP elected in 2010 was Pamela Nash, who was aged 25 at the time, so there were no MPs aged under 25.
The representation of state and privately educated persons in parliament can thus be easily calculated in the same manner as above, by taking a ratio of the percentage represented in parliament to the percentage in the nation as a whole, always using figures for those aged between 25 and 70 in 2010 (state educated 94.4%; privately educated 5.6%). Figures here are used just for the mainland, as no Northern Ireland MPs are not part of the sample.
The figures for each party then are:
Labour: State educated 93.2% under-representation; Privately educated 214.3% over-representation
Conservatives: State educated 48.7% under-representation: Privately educated 964.3% over-representation
Liberal Democrats: State educated 62.5% under-representation: Privately educated 732.1% over-representation.
All three main parties: State educated 70% under-representation: Privately educated 607.1% over-representation
In the three main parliamentary parties, by far the most over-represented group is the privately educated – 607.1% of their representation in the population as a whole. This is followed by male MPs, 156.2% of their representation in the population as a whole, and white MPs, 108.4%. If one looks however at under-representation, then ethnic minorities fair worst in terms of numbers of MPs, at just 32.6% of their representation in the population as a whole. This is followed by female MPs, at 45.8%, and then the state educated, at 70%. In all of these three measures, whether considering over- or under-representation, the Labour Party come out best, with the smallest under-representation of female, ethnic minority and state-educated MPs; the Liberal Democrats are worst in terms of under-representation of female and especially ethnic minority MPs; whilst the Conservative Party are worst in terms of massively disproportionate numbers of the privately educated, over-represented to a huge 964.3%, the worst of any type of over-representation.
Of the 49 Conservative women MPs, I was able to establish the education of 42: of these, one was home-schooled and another had a military education; of the remainder 17 were privately-educated, 23 state-educated, so the privately-educated are less disproportionately represented amongst female than male Conservatives (though still very much over-represented with a figure of around 42.5% privately educated (I will calculate similar figures for female Labour MPs at a later date, when time permits). Only 2 out of 49 (4.1%) female Conservative MPs belong to ethnic minorities (though this is still larger than the representation of ethnic minorities in the whole parliamentary party), however; for Labour the figure is 7 out of 81 (8.6%) (again larger).
There are wider questions to address and more detailed breakdowns of figures to consider (for example, the relationship between representation of ethnic minority MPs and constituencies with larger minority populations, not least in London and other major urban centres). But it is clear that more work is needed on all three fronts of Parliament is to be reasonably representative of the nation as a whole. Labour have gone the furthest to increasing the number of female and ethnic minority MPs, but both categories remain underrepresented; there have been some real moves by the Conservatives to do the same in recent times, which should not be ignored, but there is still a long way to go; as for the Liberal Democrats, their record on both is abysmal. But I have yet to hear of an initiative to redress the balance of state versus privately educated MPs (least of a problem for Labour, though even they should not be complacent); until the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats address this, Gove’s appropriation of the ‘Berlin Wall’ term is hollow and the both parties’ claims to representativeness are wafer-thin. It should be pointed out that it would be possible to have cabinets and shadow cabinets which contained roughly equal numbers of men and women, with members from ethnic minorities commensurate with their representation in the UK population; but if large percentages of these people remain privately educated, then they are still drawn predominantly from a mere 5.6% of the population, and claims to equality are meaningless.
I am not a professional statistician, and do not rule out the possibility that in the above there may have been some miscalculations, or that some of my methodologies might be open to question. I welcome any corrections in these respects; if I feel these to be appropriate, I will happily modify figures and if necessary conclusions as well.