Simon Danczuk has led the front pages this week with his explosive account of how an MP could hide a lifetime of abusing children.
The Westminster reaction to his Cyril Smith allegations? Embarrassed coughs.
Good on Simon for having the courage to speak his mind. Since his 2010 election, itself a feat of endurance, he’s demonstrated a forensic mind and a canny eye for a story. He represents a diminishing Westminster breed, a ‘character’ who speaks with an authentic voice and with conviction. In the bland world of party slogans and ‘lines to take,’ he stands out. I admire him.
And despite these qualities, maybe even because of them, I hope our colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party are rallying round to support Simon. Because he’s about to realise what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the liberal establishment at its most savage.
Our central concern should always be the survivors of sexual abuse.
Yet the daggers are already being sharpened in the salons of North London. ‘How can he serialise in the Mail?,’ ‘Why is he criticising Labour people?,’ and ‘He’s not a proper journalist’ are just three of the attacks I’ve heard whispered in the last few days.
This is an attempt to undermine the substance of his argument: that career child abuser Cyril Smith covered up his activities with the collaboration of colleagues in Westminster and beyond. Since then the fog of collective amnesia has enveloped his party and anyone ever associated Smith.
I’ve not yet read Simon’s book but I saw the report of television journalist Liz MacKean, who was one of the first to highlight that Special Branch intervened so that Cyril Smith died avoiding the justice which his victims deserved.
As Simon pointed out on Radio 4 yesterday, Smith is not the first MP to be named as a child abuser. Two former ministers have named Sir Peter Morrison as a ‘well-known pedarast’.
There are three things that need to happen in relation to these serious allegations.
First, all the child abuse inquires in local authorities, the NHS and other public institutions such as the BBC must be wrapped into one national independent review of historic abuse cases. In Australia, they’re having a Royal Commission. We could adopt the same practice. MPs of all parties have written to the PM urging him to make a decisive move in the right direction.
Secondly, let’s acknowledge what the police privately admit: investigating child abuse is hopelessly under-resourced. Worse, whistle-blowers in the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre tell me their work is being diluted as the National Crime Agency (NCA) absorbs them into the new organisation. Recent parliamentary questions have yielded obfuscated answers on how many dedicated specialist investigators with arrest powers are working full-time on abuse inquiries. One whistle-blower told me that a very senior director at the NCA said child abuse is ‘not their priority.’
What also needs to happen is for political parties to unite on child abuse. They need to work with campaign groups who wish to see the law changed so we have mandatory reporting of suspected abuse in regulated settings such as private boarding schools. There’s a remarkable man called Tom Perry who runs the organisation Mandate Now- he needs our support.
I’ve already documented my reasons for asking the Prime Minister about an historic case of child abuse in October 2012.
Since then, there have been numerous arrests and people are facing charges, so I have to be careful what I write.
But I can say there have been some shocking claims made, many of which police are investigating.