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.