Like many others, I was deeply disappointed to read Jeremy Corbyn’s interview with Der Spiegel published two days ago (Jörg Schindler, ‘Interview with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn: “We Can’t Stop Brexit”‘, Spiegel Online, 9 November 2018). This was published right after the news of transport minister Jo Johnson’s resignation and calls for a second referendum on Brexit, since which he has said it would be a ‘democratic travesty’ not to have another Brexit vote. Corbyn’s statement seemed to make this impossible, as a new referendum bill or amendment to that effect of an existing bill could not happen without Labour support.
The 2017 General Election produced 317 Tory MPs, 262 Labour, 35 SNP, 12 Liberal Democrats, 10 DUP, 7 Sinn Fein, 4 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green, 1 Independent and the Speaker. There is no likelihood at all of the Sinn Fein MPs ever taking up their seats, whilst the Speaker remains nominally neutral. Neither he (John Bercow (Conservative)) nor his three deputies (Lindsay Hoyle (Labour), Eleanor Laing (Conservative) and Rosie Winterton (Labour)) vote, by convention. The meaningful total is therefore 639 rather than 650, and so the government needs 30 seats for a majority. Following the Confidence and Supply agreement with the DUP, the government can count on their support in motions of confidence and various aspects of their legislative agenda, thus producing effectively 326 (316 Tories, without their Deputy Speaker, plus 10 DUP) MPs, as against 311 in the Opposition. Since the General Election, 2 Tories and 5 Labour MPs have either been suspended from their party or have resigned the whip, so there are a total 8 Independent MPs, whose loyalties in confidence or crucial Brexit motions may be unknown.
But assuming the suspended/resigned MPs continue to vote according to type, the government has a working majority of 13 votes. This means that if seven Tory or DUP MPs vote against them, they could lose a vote if there is also 100% opposition from the other parties.
It is now looking possible, even perhaps likely, that Theresa May will fail to get any deal through Parliament, with a range of Brexiteer Tories and the DUP warning they will vote against, while the deal is also opposed by some Remainer supporters of a second referendum such as Justine Greening. Representatives of the government have been allegedly attempting to woo some Labour MPs to support them on a deal. The Mirror suggested as many as 30 may be prepared to do this, but this may be too few, though the consequences of last-minute pressure from whips in both parties should not be underestimated.
But if the government fails to get a deal through Parliament, it is highly unlikely that they themselves would introduce a second referendum bill, having repeatedly ruled it out (though, as has been noted, Theresa May as repeatedly ruled out an early general election, then called one). However, there are various means by which such a thing could be triggered, either through primary legislation or amendments to existing bills; a UCL paper details five possible scenarios (Jess Sargeant, Alan Renwick and Meg Russell, ‘The Mechanics of a Further Referendum on Brexit’ (London: The Constitutional Unit, UCL, 2018), pp. 23-28).
The major question is whether a parliamentary majority could be found for this option. As the DUP are firm supporters of Brexit, there is little chance of their supporting any second referendum motion. At present, The Sun counts eight Tory MPs supporting a second referendum: Johnson, Philip Lee, Justine Greening, Anna Soubry, Guto Bebb, Amber Rudd, Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston. They do not list Dominic Grieve oddly, but he has made clear his support for this for some time. There are plenty of suggestions that a variety of other Tory MPs would support this if it came to it, despite not having yet said so publicly. The Liberal Democrats and SNP are likely to vote solidly for such a measure. As for Labour, in June The Independent counted 42 MPs backing a second referendum, to which there are probably a few other names to be added. But almost none of the Corbynistas, nor many of the Brownites/(Ed) Milibandites are on this list. Then there are the pro-Brexit Labour MPs, including Grahame Stringer, John Mann, Kate Hoey, Dennis Skinner and (formerly holding the Labour whip) Frank Field, while others such as Caroline Flint and Stephen Kinnock appear opposed to a second referendum. The 2018 Labour Conference saw a motion passed keeping a second referendum option open if MPs are deadlocked, but this does not firmly commit to anything. That said, Corbyn’s statement to Der Spiegel would appear to be in direct contravention of conference policy.
A second referendum will only get through with relatively solid Labour support, and a significant number of Tory MPs voting for it. My guess is that between 10 and 20 Labour MPs will definitely oppose even if the party institutes a three-line whip, so this requires 20 to 30 Tory MPs to vote for it and against their own government, a tall order. However, if the country looks to be heading for no deal (and Theresa May has set a date of this week, as Parliament returns from recess, for the government will begin to set into motion many emergency measures to deal with this), all sorts of new options are possible.
So, in light of Corbyn’s statement, a second referendum may seem impossible. Or is it? Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was interviewed on The Andrew Marr Show this morning (42’27”-56’22”). After Marr brought up Corbyn’s statement, apparently ruling out a second referendum, Thornberry began by saying that ‘the results of the referendum need to ought to be abided by’, but then immediately afterwards said ‘We do need an injection of democracy in between the results of the referendum and us going any further’. She then said that Labour wanted a ‘meaningful vote’, which was not what Theresa May was giving them in offering the choice between her deal or no deal, ‘the devil and the deep blue sea’. Thornberry said that instead, there should be a general election, but if that did not happen, then ‘yes, of course, all the options remain on the table and we would, you know, campaign for there to be a People’s Vote, but there are several stages before we get there’. Pushed further on Corbyn’s statement, Thornberry attempted to diffuse this by claiming context, need to be democrats, etc., and went onto discuss staying in the Customs Union, trying to produce ‘a Brexit which is good for the country’ (with no details of what this might be) and so on. When brought back to what is Labour’s procedure, Thornberry said ‘First stage is we demand a general election and that is what the proper thing should be. If we don’t get a general election then what we have said is all options remain on the table, and we will…’ then Marr interrupted to point out that Parliament has passed statute and so there are no options for overturning that. Thornberry then said ‘The difficulty is, our system is such that we are in opposition. You know, there are many ways in which we would want to have proceeded over this period of time, and we have a government…’, when Marr interrupted again to point out that they had a general election last year. Thornberry continued to say ‘But we have been doing our best to try to keep this government honest, try to keep this government focused on what’s good for the country, and we have been entirely consistent about that. She knows what it is that…. and like everyone else, vacillating backwards and forwards. We have said: six tests, we will vote for it, bring back a deal we will agree to. If she’s sensible, what she’ll do, is she’ll negotiate properly and bring back a deal which means that we’re in a Customs Union, and that we’re in a free market agreement with the European Union, based on free market rules, and if she brings back something like that, then it may well be that she’ll get sufficient support, but she won’t [attempt from Marr to interrupt again], hang on hang on, let me just, because this is really important, she won’t do that, because she’s more interested in saving her own skin and the Tory Party, because what she will rely on is Labour votes and some Tory votes, and she doesn’t dare do that. She ought to, because she’s the leader of the country. That is not leadership.’ Marr then noted that Kier Starmer had said that the six tests would be in the next Labour election manifesto and asked Thornberry to confirm this, to which she asked when the election would be, pointing out that an election manifesto in the next few weeks would be very different to one in a year’s time. She then said ‘In the next few months, what we would have in our manifesto is we would say: we have a vision for this country, we have a vision for Brexit. We know that the best way to proceed on this is to try to get a deal which is, as I’ve said several times, the model that I’ve put forward [Marr: ‘Six tests’] and with the six tests, and which is the six tests, and that’s what we would be working towards. And we would go in as pragmatists, and we would say to the European Union: the grown-ups have arrived and we’re no longer shouting at you, we’re going to sit down pragmatically and sort out something which is good for our economy and your economy.’ Marr pushed Thornberry further on one of the six tests , that which requires the ‘exact same benefits’ as membership of the Customs Union and Single Market, asking if there was a shred of evidence that the EU would contemplate that. Thornberry avoided this question, just saying that they had had meetings with the EU, who knew their position, but couldn’t negotiate with them as they were not the government. Marr pushed further, quoting Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Junker on how third countries can never have the same rights and benefits as full members. Thornberry again had no real answer other than to say that these were negotiating positions, and that May had put down unrealisable red lines and ‘ridiculous tests’, unlike Labour. She continued to reiterate the same stuff, then Marr claimed Labour had a ‘fantasy prospectus’ and there was no way of getting anything like what they wanted. After more vacillation from Thornberry, the interview turned to Trump and some domestic issues.
But I think this interview may be significant in many ways, notwithstanding the waffle and false claims about being able to obtain a deal (in reality, Labour would end up in a very similar situation to Theresa May, save for accepting the Custom’s Union). Thornberry is probably the sharpest politician on the Labour front bench, and clearly knows exactly what the brief is and what needs to be said. The fact that she mentioned a People’s Vote early in the interview is vital, even though she was careful not to return to the issue. The official Labour line is to want a general election. The chances of this are very slim (though not impossible if the government truly alienate the DUP over a border in the Irish Sea, to the point where the DUP would no longer support them in a confidence motion). But Labour have to stick to this line, which would be easily dismissed if they were vocal about supporting a second referendum. But Thornberry said that failing to get an election, they would campaign for a People’s Vote.
So I believe that Labour are talking down a second referendum in order to maintain their line, but do have plans to support it when it becomes inevitable. This could be soon – if a confidence motion is put and the government wins it, thus precluding an election. Of course it is also possible that Thornberry, Starmer and Corbyn are all putting out different lines publicly. I just hope this may have been co-ordinated.
There are many practical complications in bringing about a second referendum, which are explained in the UCL paper, but as this makes clear, it is possible, regardless of what Corbyn says. Labour could be acting more shrewdly than some imagine.
A lot has been made of the fact that Labour under Corbyn gained many votes in the June 2017 election, enough that some think the party has full victory (in the sense of an overall majority) in its grasp. I wanted to look at some comparative figures, so compiled the following chart of votes (not seats) and percentages in each UK election since 1979:
Year Conservatives Labour Lib Dems SNP UKIP
1979 13.7m/43.9% 11.5m/36.9% 4.3m/13.8% 0.5m/1.6% (Liberals)
1983 13.0m/42.4% 8.5m/27.6% 7.8m/25.4% 0.3m/1.1% (SDP/Lib Alliance)
1987 13.7m/42.2% 10.0m/30.8% 7.3m/22.6% 0.4m/1.3% (SDP/Lib Alliance)
1992 14.1m/41.9% 11.6m/34.4% 6.0m/17.8% 0.6m/1.9%
1997 9.6m/30.7% 13.5m/43.2% 5.2m/16.8% 0.6m/2.0% 0.1m/0.3%
2001 8.4m/31.7% 10.7m/40.7% 4.8m/18.3% 0.5m/1.8% 0.4m/1.5%
2005 8.8m/32.4% 9.5m/35.2% 6.0m/22.0% 0.4m/1.5% 0.6m/2.2%
2010 10.7m/36.1% 8.6m/29.0% 6.8m/23.0% 0.5m/1.7% 0.9m/3.1%
2015 11.3m/36.8% 9.3m/30.4% 2.4m/7.9% 1.5m/4.7% 3.8m/12.6%
2017 13.6m/42.3% 12.9m/40.0% 2.3m/7.4% 1.0m/3.0% 0.6m/1.8%
So Labour under Corbyn did well, gaining 3.6m votes, but the Tories under May did even better. Two factors are of primary importance: (a) the collapse of the Lib Dem vote in 2015, following the Tory/Lib Dem coalition (see my earlier blog putting this in context); (b) the collapse of the UKIP vote in 2017, following the EU referendum, after having done exceptionally well in 2015, quadrupling their vote from that in 2010.
Labour certainly did manage to benefit from getting more young people to vote, but they also gained from the UKIP losses, which were threatening them in various traditional constituencies. But the Tories gained more, though the first-past-the-post electoral system threw up the bizarre result by which May gained 2.3m more votes than Cameron did in 2015, but won 13 less seats than the latter. The Conservative vote has not fallen, far from it (May won more votes than any Tory leader since John Major in 1992, and more than Thatcher in 1983), it is really just a question of how it is distributed.
The widespread tactical voting generally believed to have occurred from 1997 onwards, which helped the Lib Dems more than double their seats in 1997 (from 20 to 46) and go onto peak in 2005 (with 62), must be assumed to have disappeared, unsurprisingly as Labour voters are disinclined to vote for a party which spent five years in coalition with the Tories, even where they are the primary alternative in some constituencies to the latter. But the current voting system still works against Labour, and it should not be forgotten that they only won 262 seats in 2017; to win an overall majority by one seat they need another 65, whereas for a workable majority (not too vulnerable to backbench rebellions over contentious legislation) they need at least 85.
I cannot see this happening, certainly not with Corbyn as leader. The electoral landscape has changed fundamentally since the pattern between 1997 and 2010. The Lib Dems and UKIP have collapsed, the Tories have swung to the right (though could move further right still) while Labour has swung to the left. Brexit has changed a lot; the good result for Labour and Corbyn this year came about in part through triangulation on this issue, managing to convince both Leavers and Remainers that they supported them. I cannot see this holding up further, and without a major and clear shift of policy, I believe Remainers will move away – though many, like me, feel politically homeless at the moment (a reason why a new centre party would be no bad thing).
On Tuesday Parliament will reconvene, and will start to debate the EU Repeal Bill. There has been talk of the government being defeated on this, which I would hope for greatly, but am not too hopeful, again for reason of numbers. There are four Tory MPs identified by John Rentoul as possible rebels – Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Kenneth Clarke and Dominic Grieve – and possibly a few more, but nine Labour MPs who supported Leave in the referendum – Ronnie Campbell, John Cryer, Frank Field, Roger Godsiff, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer – while Caroline Flint indicated this morning that she is not prepared to help obstruct the bill. The Tories and DUP together have 327 MPs, whereas the opposition (not including the seven Sinn Féin MPs who will not take up their seats, nor the Speaker) have just 315. Even if all the four Tories listed above voted against the government, and the DUP abstained, they would still have 313 votes and could comfortably beat the opposition if just the nine Labour MPs vote with them. If things got tighter, May could take the same course of action as John Major did twice when facing defeat, and turn a vote on legislation into a vote of confidence. With no parliamentary majority, it is hard to imagine many Tories (most of who, when in the last parliament, voted for Article 50, including Soubry) voting against the government then.
Labour have proved themselves utterly incapable of proper opposition on Brexit. The Michel Barnier/David Davis press conference on Thursday was quite farcical, and it is clear the talks have hardly progressed, yet there was hardly a squeak from Corbyn and Keir Starmer until Starmer’s ineffectual interview this morning, which only served to muddy the party’s Brexit policy further. Never has there been a time during which proper scrutiny of the government and their approach to negotiations was more important; never has Labour proved so inept at providing this.
Where I have some hope, paradoxically, is in the possibility of a large-scale grassroots Tory revolt following acknowledgement that the government is preparing to pay a large Brexit divorce bill (with some leaks in the press today suggesting a figure of €50 billion). A recent Guardian/ICM poll suggested that two-thirds of voters would find a figure of €10 billion or more unacceptable, and the government has done nothing to try and explain the reason (not even clamping down on Boris Johnson over his ‘Go whistle’ remark). While the legal obligation to pay such a bill has been questioned, Barnier has made it clear that without the government coming clean on their position on this issue, they cannot proceed with trade talks. With time ticking down until Article 50 expires in March 2019, the UK government cannot really afford to keep delaying this, when the chances of even coming up with a workable transition arrangement – which all the other EU nations will accept – are slim in the time available.
So I think we will hear the sum confirmed soon, despite the denials. May will try to wait until after her party conference in Manchester, 1-4 October, but this may be difficult. The Tory membership have already indicated their wish for May to stand down; if she is conceding a major Brexit bill, then the pressure may become unbearable. May appears to be trying to keep Davis and Johnson close, so that they cannot dissociate themselves from what results, and so would go down with her; in that situation, I still do not think it impossible that the membership might make a crazy choice like electing a figure like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Andrea Leadsom, beloved of Conservative Home and the like.
Then, if a new leader was feeling optimistic or simply deluded, they just might call another election. I do think (or hope?) that a lot of decent Tory voters could not vote for a party led by someone so right-wing. But in order for a different government, Labour will have to make a proper case for an alternative in terms of Brexit, and make more overtures to the Lib Dems and others. I cannot imagine the Lib Dems or SNP supporting a Labour government which is going ahead with Brexit. At present I still cannot support Labour because of Brexit, and am sure they are a very long way from being an electorally viable party.
This afternoon (Wednesday October 21st, 2015), the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) will be taking evidence relating to allegations and investigations into the abuse of children committed by VIPs (and in at least one case, alleged rape of an adult woman) from five important people: Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle, formerly of Operation Fernbridge, Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse of the Metropolitan Police, Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and a prominent campaigner on child abuse, and Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions. A report this morning makes clear that the committee have decided not to interview Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and Conservative candidate for London Mayor.
Over the last two weeks, ever since the broadcast on October 5th of the BBC Panorama programme on the alleged VIP Paedophile Ring, there has been a concerted media campaign targeting Tom Watson above all, who has been labelled a ‘witchfinder general’, as responsible for supposedly unfounded claims of high level abuse. I do know Tom personally, vouched for the importance of his work on abuse as part of his deputy leadership campaign materials, and so obviously am far from impartial, but can see in absolute honesty that I do not recognise the figure portrayed by much of the press, and also have very strong reason to believe Tom has acted with integrity and in good faith. I suspect that his conciliatory position as deputy to new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, despised by the right-wing media and many Blairite elements in the party, is fuelling this campaign. Furthermore, there are complicated reasons which may become apparent this afternoon why some conflicts have arisen between various parties all devoted to uncovering and preventing child abuse by prominent persons. Last week I posted a detailed timeline of events relating to Leon Brittan, which I believe show clearly that the decision to pursue further the rape investigation into him, after it had been dropped, came from the Met, not from Tom.
The following are issues I implore all members of HASC to consider before questioning this afternoon.
Allegations of a statement taken by an ex-customs officer about the late Lord Brittan
The distinguished journalist Tim Tate has written what to my mind is the most important piece on the allegations surrounding Leon Brittan (later Lord Brittan). Tate does not accept the claims, printed in Exaro and elsewhere, that a video seized in 1982 from Russell Tricker featured the Home Secretary themselves, but crucially claims that a statement was taken from the customs official in question, Maganlal Solanki, attesting to having seized video tapes from Brittan upon entering the country at some point in the 1980s. If a written statement exists attesting to this, it is of crucial importance in establishing whether there might be any truth in the allegations against Brittan. HASC should ask Settle to explain whether this exists or not. Furthermore, at the time of the 1982 siege of Elm Guest House, a then-eight-year-old boy was found and questioned, later (now an adult living in the US) questioned by detectives from Operation Fernbridge. On at least one occasion, this boy identified an ‘Uncle Leon’ from the ‘big house’ as being involved. It is equally vital that Settle is questioned about this. Furthermore, Solanki should also be summoned to speak to HASC.
Tate sent the following questions to the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (to the best of my knowledge he has not yet received an answer) – I suggest these are equally relevant for HASC:
1. Has the Inquiry yet established direct contact with Operation Fernbridge ?
2. Will the Inquiry be examining documentary evidence held by Operation Fernbridge concerning its investigations into the late Baron Brittan ?
3. Specifically, will the Inquiry secure from Operation Fernbridge copies of all such documents including, but not limited to, formal statements made under caution, officers’ notebooks, internal memoranda and historical documents acquired during its investigation into the late Baron Brittan ?
4. Does the Inquiry plan to require public testimony from the current head of Operation Fernbridge, AND its former senior investigating officer, [NAME REDACTED HERE] concerning the late Baron Brittan?
5. Does the Inquiry plan to require public testimony from the former Customs and Excise officer Maganlal Solanki who gave evidence to Operation Fernbridge concerning the alleged seizure of child pornography from the late Baron Brittan ?
6. Does the Inquiry plan to take evidence from the US Marshall formerly attached to Operation Fernbridge in connection with a visit he made at the request of Operation Fernbridge to a suspected victim of Baron Brittan ?
7. Does the Inquiry plan to publish the documents acquired and/or generated by Operation Fernbridge during the course of its investigation into Baron Brittan ?
Involvement of other MPs
By far the majority of the focus has been on Tom Watson, but other MPs have been equally involved with campaigning on abuse, and some have made more extravagant claims or threats. Specifically:
1. The Labour MP John Mann has handed police a list of 22 politicians alleged to have been involved with the abuse of children. Furthermore, in July last year, Mann indicated the possibility of using Parliamentary privilege to name abusers.
2. The Labour MP Simon Danczuk also threatened to use Parliamentary privilege to name a politician alleged to have visited Elm Guest House; whilst Danczuk did not ultimately do so, it is widely believed to have been Brittan.
3. On October 28th, 2014, the Labour MP Jim Hood did indeed name Brittan in Parliament. The following day, Danczuk backed Hood for having done so.
4. On November 27th, 2014, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith said the following:
We need only consider the Elm guest house in Barnes, which was run by Haroon and Carole Kasir. It was raided more than 30 years ago, back in 1982. The couple were fined and given suspended sentences for running a disorderly house, but at the time there were already questions and allegations around the abuse of young children at the house. Allegedly—we are reliably told this—12 boys gave evidence in 1982 that they had been abused, yet all these allegations simply evaporated at the time, some 30 years ago. They are only resurfacing now.
When Mrs Kasir died a few years after the house was raided, in very odd circumstances, a child protection campaigner from the National Association Of Young People In Care called for a criminal investigation into events at Elm guest house. He said he had been told by Mrs Kasir that boys had been brought in from a local children’s home—Grafton Close, also in Richmond—for sex, and that she had photographs of establishment figures at her hotel. One of them apparently showed a former Cabinet Minister in a sauna with a naked boy. She had logbooks, names, times, dates, pictures of her customers and so on. All that evidence simply disappeared after the raids and no longer exists. That is astonishing.
The Met has since confirmed that Cyril Smith visited the place—the hon. Member for Rochdale has made this point—and at least three other men named in documents as visitors to the Elm guest house were later convicted of multiple sexual offences against children. It is impossible to believe there was not a cover up. This is not sloppiness; there has to be more to it than that.
I was quite surprised when I watched the broadcast of this debate in November to hear these claims, which are thought to be tenuous by many campaigners, presented in Parliament. Questions have been rightly asked about Goldsmith’s source for the claims – the Mail journalist Guy Adams suggests it was like to be either Chris Fay or Mike Broad (Fay has e-mailed me to indicate that he has never met nor had any contact with Goldsmith). Furthermore, Goldsmith participated in an Australian documentary Spies, Lords and Predators, broadcast in July this year and heavily influenced by the reporting of Exaro, which has come under severe criticism.
5. The Conservative MP and HASC member Tim Loughton, who has in the last few days started charging Watson with setting himself up as ‘judge, jury, and executioner’ over individual cases, himself threatened in July 2014 to use what he called the ‘nuclear option’ to name suspected paedophiles in Parliament. He also called for action from the inquiry in November 2014 following allegations from Exaro about MPs throwing sex parties involving the abuse of children, murder, and more.
Many of these are stronger claims or threats than anything by Tom Watson, who in a November 2014 interview with Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead said just that at least one politician had abused children.
HASC needs to speak to Mann, Danczuk, Hood, Goldsmith, and Loughton.
Allegations of a Westminster paedophile ring
It is often claimed that Tom Watson has alleged the existence of a Westminster paedophile ring. This would be truer of Danczuk (I am not absolutely sure if he has specifically used the term, but will check); Watson’s question to the Prime Minister on October 24th, 2012 contained the following words:
The evidence file used to convict paedophile Peter Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if the file still exists I want to ensure that the Metropolitan police secure the evidence, re-examine it and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No. 10.
A network which is linked to Parliament and No. 10 is not the same thing as a Westminster paedophile ring. There is no doubt that a network existed around Righton, at the very least featuring other committee members of the Paedophile Information Exchange, such as Charles Napier, convicted and sentenced last December to 13 years for hundreds of sexual assaults upon young boys, or Righton’s partner Richard Alston, jailed in September for 21 months for child abuse charges, in a trial at which claims emerged of sessions involving Alston, Righton and Napier together.
The link to Parliament and No. 10 rests upon claims made in a document about which I am not at liberty to write now. Tom Watson’s source for his original PMQ was retired child protection worker Peter McKelvie, who last week resigned from the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel to the inquiry.
Scapegoats are being made of McKelvie and Watson in a bid to stop further investigation of a wide range of claims about politicians of which both are aware. It is vital that HASC also summon McKelvie and ask him about this specific claim mentioned by Watson in 2012.
If HASC will deal seriously with these claims, they will be carrying out their proper role, and not serving simply as a front for political point-scoring. The issue of high-level child abuse is far too serious for this, and it would be a tragedy if the cross-party consensus which was previously built on this were now to be abandoned.
Call for All Political Leaders and Leadership Candidates to Pledge Full Co-operation with Abuse InquiryPosted: July 9, 2015
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is now underway. Despite two previous chairs rightly standing down due to some of their connections, and unpleasant politics between some other panel members and other individuals, resulting in the loss of several very good people, nonetheless what is now in place is strong, focused, and has real powers. I am very pleased at the access to intelligence files and also the pledge that no-one who comes forward will face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. And personally, I am especially pleased that the Terms of Reference make clear that music tuition will be an area of investigation, for which I have campaigned qnd lobbied for several years. The website is at:
Some survivors and campaigners have unfortunately expressed grave reservations about the inquiry. I would implore them to at least try engaging with it, difficult though this might be, in full recognition of the fact that they have more reason than anyone to be distrustful of any such venture. But I believe the chair and panel do wish to get to the bottom of this terrible factor afflicting our society for so long, and help to build a better society in its place.
In an interview I gave earlier today for Sky News:
I called for the leaders of all the major political parties to pledge full co-operation with this inquiry (and make all relevant documentation available) and want to repeat this now, and hope others will help with urging publicly not only current leaders, but also leadership and deputy leadership candidates, to do so. Much evidence has come to light suggesting that abuse by senior politicians in many parties was either ignored or actively covered up, and that other politicians had connections to paedophile organisations. It is paramount that this is fully investigated in order to understand better how high-level abuse could go on for so long with apparent impunity.
So I ask people, journalists, campaigners, bloggers, tweeters and others to help keep the pressure on the following politicians in England and Wales to give such a pledge, and if not, explain not.
Leader: David Cameron
Future Leadership Candidates: Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Theresa May
Leader: Nick Clegg
Leadership Candidates: Tim Farron, Norman Lamb
Leader: Harriet Harman
Leadership Candidates: Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn
Deputy Leadership Candidates: Tom Watson, Stella Creasey, Ben Bradshaw, Angela Eagle, Caroline Flint
Leader: Nigel Farage
Leader: Natalie Bennett
Leader: Leanne Wood
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. ]