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Abuse allegations in British politics… July 16, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Society.

The allegations relating to child abuse and politicians in the UK is a further reminder of a culture of something close to impunity that surrounds such matters in almost every context in which they manifest themselves. We have seen the same in relation to the Catholic Church, other religions, television entertainers and so on. What appear to be men who either individually or with others act with no check, and no sense that they can be checked.

It’s notable how cautious the UK media coverage of the latest child abuse scandal in that state, one that centres on the political area. Andrew Rawnsley was particularly so at the weekend in the Observer. But only to an extent. I was struck by the following:

Well, I like to think I am always on my guard against hysteria. But we can’t put it all down to over-fevered imaginations. There is now too much evidence of sexual predators getting away with it in that era airily to dismiss the idea that it was also happening in the precincts of parliament. We already know – the case of the late Sir Cyril Smith – of one vile perpetrator. I’d be surprised to discover that there was a vast paedophile gang with tentacles gripping every nook and cranny of Westminster, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it is shown that there were cases of offenders among MPs whose criminal depredations were hushed up by whips and other party managers for the usual self-serving reasons.

Rawnsley suggests that the institutions of state and society have been hammered by one sort of scandal or another across decades – interestingly the answer one LP politician gave to the question as to whether there were any that still had ‘public faith’ was the Queen. Not an optimal situation of state cohesiveness.
But this circles closer and closer to the actual politics of the day. This piece in the Guardian doesn’t name the person allegedly involved, but it makes it clear that there appears to be a significant issue.

And the Mirror at the weekend pointed to another problem, that the response to allegations was very likely characteristic of dynamics we’ve seen closer to home. Though I need hardly spell out one massive possible aspect of political fallout if the allegations of abuse and cover-up hold up.

I don’t often quote Norman Tebbit approvingly, but he’s spot on here:

Tebbit said: “At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected, and if a few things had gone wrong here and there that it was more important to protect the system.”

And there it is – despite the gravity of the crimes committed when word seeped out – as it almost inevitably did in whatever given context whether clerical abuse, television or political, not least because of the scale of that abuse, the immediate response was to say and do nothing for fear of ‘damaging the system’. That the fact this could happen within the system and that it would – inevitably – come to light appears to have escaped those who grossly compounded the original crimes. Though, perhaps given the historical record and the time it has taken for many many of those who were abused to get some measure of justice one could make the argument that sense of impunity was near enough based on a cold and callous appraisal of the reality of the time and long after. These men simply weren’t going to be caught then.

That they have is a testament to incredible courage on the part of those who were abused and were willing to put themselves through genuinely appalling processes to see justice. And it only takes a small trip across the internet to see how some simply refuse to accept that these men were guilty.

One other telling aspect to the Savile, Harris and Clifford revelations, reading the responses on the Guardian and elsewhere in comments, on the news of their predation, is a sense that Savile is seen as ‘creepy’ while there’s a sense of disappointment at Harris. I don’t for a second want to suggest people are attempting to exonerate the latter’s actions, more it seems that they find it harder to integrate the information about him with their previous perceptions of him. And so in a single comment we read about people ‘saddened by his downfall’ and how ‘Savile was a different business’.

And yet, the distinction between the two is minimal in functional terms. Both were sexual predators who abused again and again. That the scale of Savile’s crimes is so great doesn’t for a second alter the fact that any one of his crimes was a crime, just as any one of those committed by Harris was a crime. Both left a trail of destruction in regard to the lives of their victims.

But to me Savile and Harris actually seem quite similar, both had external personalities that appear largely to have been shells, or perhaps constructs is a better term. And those were, despite Savile’s propensity for hinting at his nature, taken at face value by the media and those who interacted with them on the public level.

On a human level it is natural not to want to believe that abuse has taken place, but we see a similar dynamic in way in relation to attitudes – if not quite disbelief – a sort of unwillingness to face up to the simple fact that most abuse is carried out by those who are close or related to those being abused (the Liam Adams case most obviously comes to mind in that regard – and that is another case with political implications). And that disbelief has been extant both within families and with those who interact with families.

Either way the allegations from the UK point to depressingly familiar attitudes at the time and afterwards. I’d like to think that this couldn’t happen today, and perhaps it is less likely… but…


1. EamonnCork - July 16, 2014

I also think there’s a sense in which the very naffness of the light entertainment genre where these men thrived makes it easier to condemn them. One thing which strikes me is that exploitative sex with under-age girls wasn’t just an accepted part of the ‘rock ‘n roll lifestyle’ as portrayed by rock journos but was something to boast about. Anyone who’s read anything about the seventies scene in particular will be familiar with the ‘teenage groupies backstage’ trope.
I would imagine it wouldn’t take much digging for the police to have several household names of rock music up in court.
But that’s hardly going to happen because these days some of the guys are practically part of the establishment, Cool Britannia, the new Bourgeois Glastonbury etc, and that in some warped way what they did was viewed as being part of what made rock music so darkly appealing. In reality only a fool could really condone it. You don’t have to be Andrea Dworkin to find the grand old tales of backstage humiliation pretty appalling. We’re in the ‘Ah yes but,’ territory of the Roman Polanski case. People who give Polanski a free pass that (A) he’s kind of ‘one of our own’ and (B) there was a lot of that going on at the time should reflect that some of those who covered up for Saville, Harris et al would have used the same excuse. As indeed would some of the Irish bishops.


WorldbyStorm - July 16, 2014

Can’t plus the above enough times. Particularly re the ‘Ah yes, but…’ stuff. I’d also agree, even a cursory reading of some histories of the 70s would suggest serious troubles for people, but as you say, it ain’t gonna happen.


Michael Carley - July 16, 2014

Somebody did say that Gary Glitter must be wishing he’d made Chinatown.


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