Thursday, 31 December 2015

Despatched in 2015: Politics - Part 1

The popular phase is “hatched, matched and despatched”. I can’t think of any notable births in 2015, not anybody in particular, or for that matter, notable marriages.

On deaths, however, I was browsing the list in “The Week”, and reflecting on those who have died in 2015.

In politics, Leon Brittan, former Home Secretary, died in January aged 75.

A shadow hanging over his closing years of decline was a lost file, handed to him, detailing cases of suspected sexual abuse among MPs, handed over by Geoffrey Dickens MP.

The trouble, as Peter Preston noted in the Guardian in January 2015, is that no one knows what the dossier contained

“Was it, indeed, some forensic, masterfully marshalled dossier of damning evidence – or a ragbag of press cuttings and jottings pasted in an exercise book? Was it a few clippings in a used envelope? Since no one can find it, nobody knows: which is great for headline purposes.”

But in October 2015, John Mann MP was handed a dossier of evidence of an alleged paedophile ring which was believed to have been the one lost. It was provided by the same individual who provided it to Mr Dickens and now said he would be willing to speak to police.

"The files that are there, I know are valuable to their ongoing investigation," he said. "It may lead to new investigations as well. I would be surprised if it didn't, but that is a decision for them to make, not me."

The files contained some background documents and a list of alleged paedophiles in politics, but who they were, John Mann declined to say, as it would be for the police to investigate and bring charges.

That’s probably wise. Much as I think it is very important for people to be called to account, it is also important that people in the public eye are not subject to damaging witch-hunts. It is a very fine balance. There have been high profile prosecutions – Rolf Harris being a notable one, being exposed for a catalogue sexual abuse – and among MPs, it is beyond all shadow of doubt that Cyril Smith was guilty of sexual abuse, and in all likelihood part of a paedophile ring in Rochdale.

But veteran comedian Jimmy Tarbuck was been arrested over allegations that he sexually abused young girls on “Top of the Pops” and the case was dropped, as it was apparent that the allegations were false. He commented that they “claimed I had made inappropriate sexual advances during Top of the Pops in 1963, he said, noting that “Not only have I never met these women, I have never appeared on Top of the Pops – which in any event didn't start until 1964.”

This is a problem which really still challenges the justice system. Naming someone may bring survivors who can corroborate accounts of abuse. But it can also put innocent people through the mill. How do we obtain justice for those who have been victims of abuse, while at the same time, avoid a witch hunt of those innocent of offence?

Charles Kennedy died in June aged 55.

Tributes poured in about him, reminding me of “Yes Prime Minister” where Jim Hacker is berating his predecessor as Prime Minister, until told that he is dead, and then immediately starts to eulogise him.

That’s not to say that there was plenty of scope for eulogy. He led his party between 1999 and 2006 having been elected at the age of just 23. And his steadfast and vocal opposition to Britain taking part in the invasion of Iraq came at a time when it was unpopular to do so. The result of that stand on principle was a return of 62 MPs in 2005, the most successful election for the Liberals since the 1920s.

Despite that, he was toppled with 9 months by those new MPs whom he had helped to get elected. They saw his problems with alcoholism as a liability, and 25 MPs signed a statement calling for him to resign, including Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

Graciously, he mulled over his position, and stood down without making a fuss, without any acrimony. Nothing showed the calibre of his statesmanship more than the manner of his leaving his position as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Unlike many politicians, he didn’t make mud-slinging resignation speeches, or sulk from the back benches.

On hearing of his death, Nick Clegg said that Charles Kennedy was “a totally decent human being” saying that he had “more political talent in his little finger than the rest of us put together” and Vince Cable praised Kennedy's courage and conviction. It’s a pity they didn’t also reflect on their own part in removing him as leader. For once, the Daily Express made a point when it said that “emotional political leaders crying “crocodile tears” over Charles Kennedy were the same men who used his alcohol addiction to destroy him and oust him as leader.”

It is an irony of history that the man who opposed a coalition, and showed principle, was ousted by one of those who became leader – Nick Clegg – who acquiesced in a lack of principle in making a U-turn over rises in tuition fees, and led the Liberal Democrats into the electoral wilderness.

Tim Farron, the current Liberal Democrat leader, said: "Charles Kennedy was very fired up to take part in the EU referendum. It would have been a great waste if he had not continued. I wanted him to be in front-line politics.". It should be noted that Farron kept his seat – and the election manifesto promises on tuition fees. Perhaps we will see a return to politics of principle.

E.J. Thribb, in Private Eye, had this to say, which was read by Ian Hislop at Kennedy’s memorial service:

“So Farewell
Then Charles Kennedy
Decent likable
Principled funny
And yet somehow a

“A man of great
Spirit. Though
Alas in the end
Too much of it.

Kennedy - who said “Politics is much too serious to be taken too seriously; equally, there are many aspects of it so laughable as to be lamentable” – would probably have approved.

1 comment:

James said...

I'm a little surprised you have nothing to say about Reg Jeune...