Blogging is passé. Even cats have blogs now. And theirs are more popular than yours. Go and do something else instead.

I had this blog once. It was pretty good, but not many people read it… ah yes, it’s time to reflect (briefly) on the great project that was this blog.

The point of this blog was to explore answers to the question ‘what can I do about it?’ As in, what can I – a normal person with normal powers and influence – do about the issues affecting society and the people stuck in it. At the beginning it was partly a response to the Savile scandal, but not wholly about that.

While I might have had some aspirations at the start about influencing other people through this blog, what I came to realise was that the real (possibly only) impact was on me.

Sure, you can contribute to ongoing campaigns, and you can put things ‘out there’ which are counter-cultural, but mostly you’re just sending stuff into a social media bubble of people who already agree with you.

Every guide to increasing your blogs readership tells you to post regularly. But the world is already far too full with information and commentary on information and commentary on the commentary – why put more stuff out there (is that dilution or radiation?) There’s a lot to be said for just shutting up.

What sometimes happens is that a blogger’s work fuels a story in the mainstream media. This is generally on the MSM’s terms – the bloggers work fitted their agenda at that time. The MSM drops them as soon as they have stopped being useful and the blogger goes back to their social media bubble, albeit with a few more followers, but most of them will drift away over time.

I contacted the Yorkshire Evening Post after I’d published my first post about West Yorkshire Police’s treatment of sex workers. The journalist said it was an interesting post but I’d only have a story for the YEP if one of the sex worker support agencies I was setting up interviews with criticised the police. As it happened there was some very forthright criticism of WYP. But at the same time I also picked up on how much the YEP was in WYP’s pocket. They rely on them for their sensationalist, usually crime-focused headlines (and don’t forget the videos on their website). That’s the mainstream media – especially local media for you. The YEP had been very much part of the problem here – whilst failing to cast any sort of critical eye over WYP they’ve also demonised sex workers, perpetuated myths and spurred on unhelpful reactions from the community. As if they were going to pick up this story.

There’s probably an analogy between the ineffectiveness of consumer activism – the idea you can change things by joining a few other well-meaning but misguided people in saying (it is mostly words) you’re going to boycott Amazon and believing that it will make any difference, and the idea that the way to challenge a biased and hate-filled media is to throw a few words of love onto the lower-slopes of its odious mountain.

Citizen journalism, or more specifically doing the journalism that all journalists should be doing but only a small percentage do is a real challenge. You have no training, no credentials, some people (the BBC) refuse to acknowledge you exist, and you have lots of other things to do at the same time, like keep your paid job. But actually doing it teaches you a lot about yourself. You can blag it by phoning the press office (be courteous, don’t forget you probably know more about the story than the guy from the YEP); your persistence will take you through any barrier; you can get West Yorkshire Police to talk to you even though they don’t normally talk to anyone outside the circle; you can get your MP to give you a straight answer (sometimes); you can get the Police Crime Commissioner to respond to you (eventually); you can research well enough and be courteous and professional enough to get people to give you candid interviews that no one else has done. A pat on the back, well done. Now apply this to the other areas of your life! Don’t forget though that only a few hundred people read that stuff. And you have no idea of any impact it might or might not have had on anyone except you.

Going out into the world and doing actual stuff has to be more effective than blogging, and that’s what I’ve been doing a lot more of over the last couple of years. Independent Visitor, school governor, being involved type stuff.

Probably the greatest letter anyone has ever written was the one Kurt Vonnegut wrote to some high school students who’d written to ask if he would visit their school. Mr. Vonnegut urges them to practice their art – any art – not to become rich and famous, but to become and find out more about themselves as humans. I think blogging can be that, but if it ceases to be that then it is probably time to stop.

Thanks for reading.



A letter from Kurt Vonnegut

Why does no-one want to be an MP?

Emma Spriggs:  Leeds Central Liberal Democrat candidate (and superwoman)

Emma Spriggs: Leeds Central Liberal Democrat candidate (and superwoman)

I recently published an article asking if Leeds Central Liberal Democrat candidate, Emma Spriggs, was some kind of superwoman. I asked this question because I’d spotted that Emma was simultaneously running for MP in Leeds Central and running to be a local councillor 300 miles away in Bucklebury, Reading. I eventually caught up with Emma to discuss her dual campaigning. What she told me came as a surprise and highlighted the difficulties ‘ordinary’ people have in making it into politics.

Emma will not be visiting Leeds to campaign for this general election despite being the candidate for the party who came second here in the 2010 General Election. Instead she is putting all her resources into standing against the Conservative seat-holders in Reading where she lives.

Emma has no connection to Leeds and acknowledges she is not the ideal candidate to stand in Leeds Central, but she is doing so because the Liberal Democrat party asked her to at short notice and she wanted to make sure that everyone in the area had the chance to vote Liberal Democrat (so for local Lib Dem voters – and there were nearly 8,000 in 2010 – Emma probably is a superwoman.)

Emma says the Lib Dems are not a wealthy party and so have to carefully identify their priorities. Even though they came second with 23% of the vote in Leeds Central in the 2010 General Election it is still a Labour safe seat and, under First Past The Post, they have less to gain from prioritising this seat. Emma was keen to stress that this was not ideal – her party would like to contest every seat with candidates who are able to run a strong campaign locally. Emma says other parties make these kinds of decisions too, but because of their resources it isn’t as noticeable when Labour or the Conservatives do it.

The Yorkshire & Humber Liberal Democrats were the ones who asked Emma to stand here. They won’t talk to me about the reasons, but one thing seems certain – there are not enough people in the area willing and able to go through the process of becoming an approved candidate and then taking on an election campaign.

I asked Emma why there weren’t enough people wanting to become MPs. She thinks it is because the process to become an approved candidate is long and arduous, and then when you are approved it takes many months of canvassing, night after night, to fight an election. This puts a lot of people off, but many people with a family and a full time job simply cannot do it. It can be different for Labour or Conservative Party candidates because they have safe-seats. If you’re high up in those parties you can be put into one of those seats and you’re practically guaranteed to win (Boris Johnson is a current example of a Conservative MP dropped into a safe-seat) – the amount of canvassing you’ll have to do is much lower compared to the minority party candidates who have to put their lives on hold to campaign.

Emma wants to see the processes change to help more people who have had lives outside politics get into politics. She thinks she is the sort of person that the public would like to see as an MP. She’s not a career politician, instead she has run her own business for 20 years and has brought up two children. She has worked to support her community and says she knows what can make a difference to people’s lives.

The First Past The Post system is another big factor according to Emma (I discussed the current voting system with all the Leeds Central candidates in this article). It stops the smaller parties developing and building up their base, and it discourages people from a safe-seat area from campaigning because they know the votes they’ll win will count for little.

The Conservative candidate for Leeds Central, Nicola Wilson (also a business woman with two children) told me she had also found it a difficult journey into politics. She wants to see more ‘ordinary’ people like herself becoming MPs but thinks people are put off by the stigma associated with being a ‘politician’, the difficulties of combining campaigning with family and work, and the situation where you cannot win if you run against a safe-seat candidate.

What’s the point in voting when Hilary Benn is bound to win?

Leeds Central MP candidates for the 2015 General Election. L to R: Michael Hayton (Green), Hilary Benn (Labour), Luke Senior (UKIP), Liz Kitching (TUSC), Emma Spriggs (Lib Dem), Nicola Wilson (Conservative)

Leeds Central MP candidates for the 2015 General Election. L to R: Michael Hayton (Green), Hilary Benn (Labour), Luke Senior (UKIP), Liz Kitching (TUSC), Emma Spriggs (Lib Dem), Nicola Wilson (Conservative)

Bookmaker William Hill is so confident of Hilary Benn winning the Leeds Central seat again that they are only offering odds of 1/100 on his victory – you would have to wager £1,000 just to win a tenner.

Where does that leave me on Election Day? Is it a choice between throwing one more voting slip onto Hilary’s safe-seat mountain, or sending a message of consolation someone else’s way in the hope they don’t lose their deposit? Or perhaps it would be better not to vote at all – a record low turnout (which is on the cards thanks to single voter registration) could be the catalyst for electoral reform.

To help me with this conundrum I asked the electoral candidates for Parliament in Leeds Central what they thought the result would be, why they were standing, their thoughts on electoral reform, and what they see as the main issues in Beeston where I live…

First up was Michael Hayton from the Green Party. Michael is the first Green Party candidate to stand in the constituency since David Blackburn in the 1999 by-election.

Michael feels it’s a stretch to say the Green Party might win here, but with big support from the student population and dissatisfaction among traditional Labour voters, he predicts the result could  be a shock to Hilary Benn. His hope is that the Labour party will change their policies when they realise people are looking for real reform in politics – a vote for his party would help achieve this. Michael says people are telling him they want a change and don’t think they’ll get it by voting Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem – so it’s a choice between Green and UKIP (Michael feels that a lot of people are thinking of voting UKIP as a protest rather than out of genuine identification with the UKIP manifesto).

Michael believes that Beeston and Holbeck is one of the areas hardest hit by the financial crisis and austerity. He says marginalisation spurred on by benefits changes and target-driven job centres has made life really difficult for many people and that the quality of some of the rental properties in Beeston is among the lowest in Leeds. He’d love to see more investment in the area because “it’s so vibrant and there are some amazing communities here”.

To Michael and the Green party, the current First Past The Post electoral system is not truly representative or democratic – he says we live in a 21st century society, ruled by a 19th century institution using 15th century procedures. Instead we ought to  have fully proportional representation – we have the technology to deliver this. He also believes that young people are far more engaged and knowledgeable than most people realise and, in line with Green policy, the voting age should be lowered to 16.

Labour’s Hilary Benn doesn’t want to make any predictions about the election, but he hopes everyone will exercise their right to vote. In fact he says we have a moral duty to vote.

Hilary voted for the Alternative Vote system in the 2011 referendum and was sorry that it did not pass (AV is not to be confused with proportional representation – an explanation here) – he confirms that Labour have no plans for another referendum on the voting system, but they do pledge to lower the voting age to 16.

Luke Senior from UKIP isn’t under any illusions about being able to defeat Hilary Benn but hopes to exceed the vote share achieved in the 2014 local election.

He believes all elections should be contested, and that UKIP are doing their best to present themselves as a viable alternative – something the Conservatives haven’t been able to achieve here.

Luke thinks a lot of voter apathy is due to people not feeling they can make a difference, or not having found a party they believe can represent them. He says his party have great support in areas such as Beeston and senses an appetite for real change.

Luke identifies housing as a key issue in Beeston and believes current provision of social/affordable housing is inadequate – he would like to see empty properties put to use to ease the demand.

With regard to the ongoing debates about the Aspiring Communities development on Barkly Road and Asda on Old Lane, Luke feels that strong local opposition is not being listened to and issues are dragging on longer than they should. He wants to work with local people and councillors to implement the wishes of local people – if UKIP fail to deliver then they should be removed from office. Luke says UKIP want to stop the complacency of sitting councillors and MPs – if the electorate are dissatisfied, they should have the right to force a by-election.

Luke says that UKIP’s long-term strategy is to gain representation on Leeds City Council, providing a springboard to success in the general elections of 2020 and beyond. UKIP lost by just 600 votes in the Heywood & Middleton (Greater Manchester) by-election last October, which, according to Luke, proves UKIP can succeed in Labour heartland.

UKIP support the introduction of proportional representation. They have no manifesto pledge to lower the voting age.

Liz Kitching of the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition (TUSC) thinks Hilary Benn is certain to win, but believes he will face a strong challenge from the Greens and TUSC. Liz is concerned that UKIP will gain, but is confident that the student population will not give them much support.

The main objective for TUSC in Leeds Central is to let people know there is an alternative to austerity and a world which continues to be at war. Liz says TUSC are supporting the fight of oppressed people, including those experiencing racism, on zero-hours contracts, or facing redundancy.

TUSC is an anti-war, anti-racist (Liz says the movement ‘finished off’ the BNP and weakened the EDL) and anti-austerity movement. Liz believes ‘austerity’ is a political choice, not an economic necessity, with the objective of taking wealth out of society and giving it to what is commonly referred to as ‘the 1%’.

Liz sees the election as an opportunity to publicise the successes, such as equal pay, maternity leave and  sick leave, of the trade union movement – these changes are made law in Parliament, but they came from the movement first.

Liz understands the position of people who say they support TUSC’s policies but plan to  vote Labour to get the Conservatives out, but says a vote for TUSC is especially important here because in her view Hilary Benn is a career politician and not a campaigner (TUSC are not opposing Labour MPs they see as supportive of their cause such as John McDonnell and Dianne Abbott).

Liz highlights that Hilary Benn voted in favour of the Iraq war and to say there is no more money for local services – she says he has a very different philosophy to his father (Tony Benn). She concedes Hilary Benn has been of help to some constituents, but argues there are many others he has failed to help. If TUSC were to win here they would open a dedicated office in the constituency offering support and legal advice to anyone who needs it.

On electoral reform, TUSC endorse a reduction in the voting age to 16, but Liz believes other reforms need more thought – she sees proportional representation as being good for left-wing politicians, but it can also let in the far-right (as has happened in Greece, Hungary and France).

Liz says TUSC’s priority is “building confidence among communities to stand up for themselves” and sees the key issues in Beeston as housing and schooling. While new houses are being built, they are PFI houses and the ‘affordable’ rents are not affordable to all. Liz thinks we need a mass council house building programme on brown field sites and says TUSC would bring back the Fair Rent Act. On schooling, TUSC will campaign for local authority provided schooling for all, with no privatisation, and no testing of younger children.

Emma Spriggs of the Liberal Democrats says that although the party received 23% of the constituency vote in the 2010 general election,  they have no realistic chance of beating Labour here, but like Hilary Benn, she feels it’s vital for people to exercise their right to vote and participate in democracy – many people around the world don’t have this choice.

Emma believes this year’s election is all about the party who comes third, as they will likely make up the coalition – this further highlights the need for electoral reform. People end up voting tactically rather than for the party they really believe in.

Emma and the Lib Dems are passionate about changing the voting system, and despite their previous attempts at reform being thwarted, they want to renew this fight in the next Parliament – this includes lowering the voting age to 16.

The final candidate I spoke to was Nicola Wilson of the Conservative Party. Nicola is realistic about her chances of winning but, in common with her Labour and Lib Dem rivals,  she firmly believes that everybody should vote. She thinks everyone should have the chance to vote for whichever party they want. She says her experiences growing up in Northern Ireland had helped her appreciate the importance of politics and democracy.

Nicola wants to see what happens in this election before seriously considering reform – neither electoral reform or lowering the voting age are in the Conservative manifesto. But she does think that we need to look at the political system because a lot of people don’t feel politicians represent them and they want more ‘ordinary’ people like Nicola herself in Parliament (Nicola has two children and works full time running her business).

Nicola echoes Liz Kitching of TUSC’s criticisms of Hilary Benn, describing him as the archetypal career politician – “if you want to know about politics ask him, if you want to know about real life ask me!” – and thinks ‘ordinary’ people don’t stand for election due to the stigma associated with being a ‘politician’, the difficulties of combining campaigning with family and work, and the situation where you cannot win if you run against a safe-seat candidate.

For Nicola, the big issues in Beeston are jobs and role models for young people. She wants to help businesses grow so they can employ more people, and she wants to make sure work pays more than benefits. She also wants good role models for children to help them and the wider community.

…So, has talking to the candidates changed my mind about voting in Leeds Central when Hilary Benn is bound to win? I wasn’t expecting it to – but it has. The non-Labour candidates are under no illusions about their chances of winning the seat, but they are all passionate about why they are standing and the changes they want to see. I don’t agree with every candidate’s policies of course, but I do respect them all for going out and campaigning in Leeds Central when they know they cannot win the seat. So while I might not have a super-vote, I’m convinced that my vote does matter to them – so I will use it.

But while my engagement has improved this year through talking to the candidates, I now feel even more strongly that we need to tackle the issues of safe-seats and First Past The Post.

It can’t be right that it takes 120,000 votes on average to get a Lib Dem MP while it only takes 34,000 to get a Conservative or Labour MP. Many people in Scotland will vote Labour on May 7th, but there probably won’t be any Scottish Labour MPs on May 8th.

Proportional representation helps smaller parties to develop and politics to broaden and strengthen. Under these circumstances more ‘ordinary’ people might be encouraged to run for election. They might still lose to Hilary Benn in Leeds Central, but the votes they do win will really count.

While the pros and cons of different voting systems are complex (something the big parties exploited in their bad-tempered and ill-informed public debate during the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum), we can at least be clear about the principle. Do we want Parliament to proportionately reflect public opinion, or do we want it to distort public opinion to the advantage of the Labour and Conservative Parties?

If the big parties really do love democracy then perhaps it is time they set it free.



Footnote: the interviews are presented in the order they took place.

Q: How do you sit on 2 different seats which are 300 miles apart at the same time?

Leeds Central Liberal Democrat candidate (and superwoman?) Emma Spriggs

Leeds Central Liberal Democrat candidate (and superwoman?) Emma Spriggs

The Leeds Central Liberal Democrat candidate, Emma Spriggs, might be some kind of superwoman…

Emma Spriggs is not only campaigning to be your MP in Leeds Central, but she is simultaneously campaigning to be a councillor in Bucklebury, Reading. That’s over 300 miles away. The train from Reading to Leeds takes just under 4 hours, plus it takes another 30 minutes to get the bus to Beeston & Holbeck where I live. There is nothing illegal in standing for an MP and council post at the same time, but how is this feasible?

The Lib Dem Central Office confirmed this is true, and indeed you can see it’s the same Emma Spriggs by comparing the home address on the Berkshire Council website (page 2 of the pdf) and Emma’s page on the Liberal Democrat site.

The Lib Dem Central Office even has a standard line for callers with this question. I know this because I rang them twice and two different people gave me the same answer. They say it is “not unusual” and give the example of Boris Johnson who is the current London Mayor and is also standing for election as MP on 7th May in the Tory safe-seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. But Boris Johnson is not running simultaneous campaigns – he is already the Mayor. When I pointed this out the Lib Dem Central Office admitted it was not a fair comparison. They were unable to give an example of another MP running simultaneous campaigns many miles apart. Incidentally, while Boris Johnson claims he will be both MP and London Mayor until 2016 when his tenure as Mayor ends, David Lammy says this would be a conflict of interest and leave him as a lame-duck Mayor.

So what are Emma Spriggs’ chances?

Bucklebury is a Tory safe-seat in J R R Tolkein country – the kind of place Bilbo Baggins lived. The Duchess of Cambridge’s family have a home there, and Chris Tarrant lives there too. Tories Graham Pask and Quentin Webb are standing for re-election, and I guess they’ll win again, with Emma taking the place of one of the losing Lib Dems (Benjamin Morgan, Philippa Harper) in the 2010 election.

Leeds Central is a very safe Labour seat, but the Lib Dems came closest in 2010 with 21% to Labour’s 49%. Yes, everyone expects the Lib Dems to take a bashing because of the Coalition, but isn’t the best way to deal with that to come out fighting with a dedicated campaign in Leeds Central?

The Lib Dem Central Office didn’t want to speculate on how Emma would deliver two campaigns simultaneously, instead pointing me to Emma herself or the Leeds Lib Dems. Emma has not responded on two different email addresses, and the Leeds Lib Dems say they only really look after North East Leeds and don’t know much about Leeds Central. They suggested I ring Emma, but they have no number for her, and there isn’t one on her profile, so they suggested I try the Yorkshire & Humber Lib Dems – but they don’t have a telephone number, and frankly, I think I’ve done enough.

So come on Emma, tell us what your priority is – Leeds Central MP or Bucklebury councillor? What are the top 3 issues in the area that you want to tackle? There is a serious question here of whether the Lib Dems are throwing the Leeds Central election – potential Lib Dem voters (of which there were 7,789 in 2010) really need to know if that’s the case.

Historic Abuse in Children’s Homes – The Management Context by Wally Harbert

Originally posted on cathyfox blog:

Wally Harbert writes from his  personal experiences about the wider context in which child abuse was allowed to happen in the Social Services Sector. This is valuable not only so that we can understand how child abuse was allowed to happen, but also so that we can learn from this and prevent child abuse occurring in the future from the same reasons- IF we learn the lessons from the past.

This is even more valuable because it is available for the public to read and also for free, not stuck in academia or a report that needs to be paid for and thus the readership is limited. If we are to learn the lessons of the past, people must be able to access information to hold authorities to account. The sooner Wally and other knowledgeable professionals are able to give evidence to child sexual abuse inquiries, the better. An inquiry…

View original 4,173 more words

Unity, fear and hopes for a better society

Sarah Champion MP addresses attendees of the 3rd White Flowers Campaign vigil opposite Parliament

Sarah Champion MP addresses attendees of the 3rd White Flowers Campaign vigil opposite Parliament

Ian Pace live tweeted yesterday’s (14 January 2015) White Flowers campaign meeting in the House of Common’s here. My summary of the meeting, plus the meeting I had afterwards with Hilary Benn MP is below.

Committee Room 14 – the largest committee room in Parliament – was packed with survivors, campaigners, whistle-blowers, charities and concerned members of the public for the White Flowers Campaign Group meeting aimed at kick-starting the Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry. A number of MPs were there as well, including John Mann, Simon Danczuk and Sarah Champion who all addressed the audience (it wasn’t clear how many more were in the room, or how many had engaged outside the meeting).

Dr. Liz Davies (whistle-blower and reader in child protection) explained to the audience that the White Flowers name comes from the Belgian campaign which remembers the children who were abducted, abused and murdered by a paedophile ring involving members of the Belgian establishment. The idea has spread internationally (e.g. Australia).

Photo of white flowers, The 3rd White Flowers Campaign Vigil, opposite Parliament.

The 3rd White Flowers Campaign Vigil, opposite Parliament. (

The first White Flowers vigil was outside Elm Guest House; the second at Grosvenor Avenue, Islington honoured victims from Islington Children’s homes. The third vigil took place before yesterday’s campaign meeting in Parliament and was very well attended by survivors, campaigners, MPs and members of the public and press.

The campaign group meeting was chaired by Phil Frampton who is a survivor from Southport Barnados (his story is here). He opened by saying that survivors have been called treasure hunters, publicity seekers and now even conspiracy theorists. In Phil’s experience, the only thing that stopped abuse from happening was people coming together and acting – unity is needed. This was the main theme of the meeting and something echoed by all the speakers. The meeting was the first time that MPs, survivors, whistle-blowers and charities had come together in a public meeting. The media were there too, and Phil said they were essential in getting messages to survivors and driving for the truth. But they mustn’t exploit or exaggerate survivor stories to sell papers – this undermines the cause.

Phil said the group would not respond to the Inquiry until it was transparent and had a drive for justice, and when it safeguards and protects those coming forwards. The Inquiry is only one tool to do the job though. More whistle-blowers need to come forward, and journalists must be true to their profession and uncover the truth.

Actress Samantha Morton, a survivor herself, was unable to attend the meeting due to her filming schedule, but sent a message of support to the meeting. She said survivors must not be quiet. Abuse is happening right now to children – we must all come together for justice.

Nigel O’Mara spoke about the long-term effects of sexual abuse. It affected the individual deeply, but also those around them, and society as a whole. He had rebelled against his abusers and ended up being sent into care in the 1970’s. He lost his chance of education and as a result ended up homeless and destitute, not emerging from prostitution and hard drug use until his mid-20’s. Forty years on from his abuse he is still unable to find work – partly because of education – but mainly because he experiences difficulty in situations where people have power over him, such as in the workplace. Survivors can only ever learn to live with effects – there is no cure. He asked the Government to put proper support in place for survivors.

Chris Tuck, a survivor who runs the Survivors of Abuse Network, also spoke about the long term effects, which include PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Chris said we need a body that supports victim’s needs and helps them through the criminal justice system. At the moment, no-one knows what is happening – this has a negative impact on survivors. Chris also called for mandatory reporting of abuse – something which has strong support across government, and proper sex and relationship education in schools so children understand what is a good and a bad relationship and learn to set boundaries. Chris said it was controversial, but we also need help and support for paedophiles.

Andy Kershaw – a survivor of Forde Park – shared some of his experiences, including how the authorities had consistently failed to deal with reports of abuse. Whistleblowing had built evidence against 190 people but only 4 were ever convicted. Andy reiterated the White Flowers Group’s call for the cut-off date of the inquiry to be pushed back to 1945. Andy said the Group had confidence this was going to happen.

John Mann MP speaking to the press by the 3rd White Flowers vigil

John Mann MP speaking to the press by the 3rd White Flowers vigil

John Mann MP spoke of the symbolism of holding the meeting in a parliament committee room. He said how in his Nottinghamshire constituency people had now come forward from every single care home to report abuse. But the police and social services need the resources to deal with this – at the moment they don’t. He said that if those in the room couldn’t be united then they would be handing power back to the abusers. We must stand together.

Liz Davies said we’d moved from whispering about abuse and cover-ups from dark corners during the early 1990’s to shouting it out loud today. However, the stakes are very high for those trying to stop the organised abuse because it relates to so much power and money. Evidence of the abuse was being used to manipulate the abusers, so there were vested interests in seeing the abuse continue. We are challenging the establishment, so people are trying to undermine us, spread disinformation, attack us – academics are trying to justify paedophilia – but we will continue to fight them off every day. With the cross-party support we have we will move forwards. Personal testimony was so important when evidence is routinely ‘destroyed’ – not just the Dickens dossier, but on many investigations, including Liz’s in the past.

Liz said she rejected the NSPCCs move to medicalise paedophilia, and said we need to reinstate the definition of ‘organised sexual abuse’ and the guidance to deal with it that this government had removed from the statute.

Ex-chief constable of the Lancashire Police Force, Pauline Clare, sent a message of support to the meeting say she understood how abuse has wrecked the lives of so many and it was time that abusers were brought to justice – stronger measures needed to be put in place now to protect children. She offered to work with the campaign group.

Whistle-blower Peter McKelvie recounted how, 21 years after his investigations were closed down, he went to MP Tom Watson who then raised his concerns about a paedophile ring going to the heart of government with Prime Minister David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions. Peter said that, regardless of some people saying ‘don’t go to the police’, things were changing and survivors should now go to the police with their evidence. This was a very contentious point for some members of the audience who spoke of their terrible experiences when doing this in the past – not being believed, or even being punished or prosecuted themselves as a result. Sarah Champion MP later said she was unimpressed with changes to policing following the Rotherham Inquiry, and others had expressed resourcing and capability concerns. Ann Coffey MP’s report into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester documented many similar experiences of policing. There is clearly a long way to go to build up trust. Sarah Champion MP said she didn’t want to politically point-score but the Coalition policy of police budget cuts and probation privatisation was the opposite of what we need.

Simon Danczuk MP, co-author of ‘Smile for the Camera’ which exposes the detail of the Cyril Smith scandal, said there were far too few meetings about child sexual abuse in parliament. MPs needed to connect with the mood of the nation on this. He said the factor that linked the scandals of the past to the slowness of progress today was ‘fear’. Frontline child protection workers, social workers, nurses, all say they are scared to speak out – scared of losing their livelihoods, being blacklisted, being prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. Fear protects the abusers. We must introduce practical measures such as mandatory reporting and properly protect and celebrate whistle-blowers. He said people wanting to whistle-blow had contacted him to ask ‘who will protect and support me?’ Although the law had been strengthened recently, Ministers were paying lip service and not driving home the culture change. We must stop gagging public servants. This is a sophisticated cover-up. People in the frontline must be empowered to come forward.

Andy (a survivor) then spoke about how the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse was dealing with the issue in a much more robust way than our CSA inquiry was – it ensured that survivors were treated appropriately, and had the power to make people come forward. He also said that Ireland had set up an agency to support victims of the church – if Ireland can manage it then why can’t a country as rich as ours do it? Andy said he saw widespread denial about what was going on in this country. This plays to the sublime arrogance of the paedophile.

Phil Framptom said that a demand had been sent to the Tony Blair Government in 2001 for a national inquiry, but all they got was the North Wales Children’s Homes Inquiry which was limited by William Hague to looking at abuse that happened on the premises, missing out the abuse that occurred as children were trafficked around the country.

Alison Millar from Leigh Day Solicitors who represents CSA clients and has been very critical of the CSA Inquiry’s process for involving survivors, highlighted the issue of civil redress where survivors pursue legal action against the institution that failed them. She said there was currently no legal power to compel institutions to apologise to victims. Later on, Tim Hulbert talked about how insurance companies pressure Local Authorities into not apologising to victims.

Ian McFadyen – survivor and campaigner – made a point echoed later by Stuart Syvret: the CSA Inquiry is not actually about child abuse. It’s about the failure of government and institutions. Ian said many of the people in the room had been failed – for them the damage had been done and it was too late – but we can hold the people who failed us to account and make sure it doesn’t happen in the future to our children.

Tim Hulbert, ex-Director of Bedfordshire Social Services, said that missing files were not important – the most important thing was whistle-blowers coming forward. Tim talked about the malignant influence of insurance companies who, in wanting to minimise their liabilities, instruct councils not to apologise to victims. They try to narrow terms of reference and insist that the names of those involved are not released. When he resisted this the insurer started talking to the Chief Executive and councillors. They implied the threat that the council would not be underwritten if they did not comply. A statutory inquiry would have the power to tackle this. (The Jillings Report was compromised by the Municipal Mutual Insurance Company). Tim urged whistle-blowers from the institutions who had failed children to come forward.

Phil Frampton said he’d asked Barnados why they wouldn’t support victims in their quest for justice; their response was that their insurance companies wouldn’t let them. Phil said a FOI had been submitted to find out which insurers were underwriting the CSA inquiry.

Whistle-blower and ex-Jersey senator, Stuart Syvret, recounted how he had been jailed twice for whistleblowing. Jersey was further down the line in this process and could pass on some valuable lessons to the new CSA Inquiry: What do we want the CSA inquiry to investigate? And what does success look like? Stuart echoed Ian McFadyen’s point that this was not about child abuse but rather the abuse of power and the absence of real accountability of those in public office. He suggested a successful CSA Inquiry would result in properly enforced law, an independent prosecution service, and the removal of corruption from the police. He said it was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, but we still did not have the properly enforced rule of law.

I left the meeting at that point (missing the last few speakers) to meet my MP, Hilary Benn (who had signed the call for the inquiry) to discuss the White Flowers meeting and the CSA Inquiry. Hilary said he and Labour fully supported the Inquiry, but he voiced some scepticism about whether there was, or had been, a paedophile ring operating through parliament. Where was the evidence? Hilary said he’d only followed the mainstream news reports on the Inquiry and related events, so I showed him some of the recent evidence reported via Exaro provided by new witnesses coming forward, and summarised some of the things said in the White Flowers meeting, in particular by the whistle-blowers and by his peers Simon Danczuk and John Mann, the latter having recently handed further evidence to the police (and said it was inconceivable that police would not now arrest and interview some of the politicians he has named). We discussed Simon Danczuk’s co-authored book which showed how, time and time again, the police knew what Cyril Smith was doing but were prevented from acting – things were never allowed to go through the proper CPS process – I’m not sure if Hilary had entirely appreciated this. Politicians – Hilary’s peers – knew what was happening but put party success before justice and children’s well-being, as in the case of David Steel. To countenance the idea that members of the establishment are above the law, Hilary Benn cited the example of the expenses scandal which led to MPs being jailed (Hilary was one of the tiny minority who emerged with a perfect record on expenses). My view was that this was only a handful, with relatively small sentences, and then only after huge and sustained public and media pressure. When it comes to the sexual exploitation and rape of children we only see entertainment figures being convicted, or revelations properly emerging after the criminal has died.

I would have liked to have seen Hilary Benn at the White Flowers meeting so he could hear the speakers himself, but he did meet me and genuinely debate the topic; some attendees MPs wouldn’t meet them, and a lot of MPs refused to sign the call for the Inquiry. The CSA Inquiry will need to make some serious progress before Hilary Benn and other’s faith in Government and the criminal justice system is shaken. Hopefully the White Flower’s Campaign will be a catalyst for that progress and, in the long-term, we’ll have a better society as a result.

Je ne sais pas

We naturally want to make sense of horrible events as quickly as possible, but despite a clear narrative from politicians and the media there are lots of things I’m uncertain about at the end of today. One of the few questions I am sure about is whether there is any justification for the murdering, hostage-taking and spreading of fear in Paris today. The answer to that is, without a doubt, no.

Outside of that question lies a lot of uncertainty. I can’t read French and so I can only understand the Charlie Hebdo magazine covers on a very basic level. Yes, I think freedom of speech is important, but how does Charlie Hebdo taking the piss out of all religions in their ‘dumb and nasty’ style help anyone? Je ne sais pas. It’s being referred to as satire – is it like Private Eye? I understand Private Eye – it’s written in English (the one language I’m proficient in) and I’ve read enough copies to know that they do proper investigations into areas the mainstream press often won’t, that they uncover a lot of failings and wrong-doing by people in power, and that they’ve been sued countless times for trying to tell the truth. Is that what Charlie Hebdo does? Je ne sais pas. Or are Charlie Hebdo more like Richard Dawkins than Private Eye? Je ne sais pas.

When I saw the footage of a group of young Muslim people living in poverty on the outskirts of Paris saying ‘we were offended by the Hebdo covers but we would never want to kill someone because of that’ I thought, why is this magazine offending some of the poorest, most disenfranchised people in France – what does that achieve? Je ne sais pas. What recourse do those young Muslims have to lampoon the middle class liberals lampooning their God? Je ne sais pas.

All the talk is of intelligence failings and freedom of speech – we need to snoop more, read more emails, intercept more phone calls – we must re-publish the cartoons and continue to satirise and lampoon. But when do we talk about the conditions that can foster terrorism? Of how we allow multiple viewpoints to co-exist in a terror free world? Or even more straightforward questions like, if prison is a hotbed of radicalistion then why do we cut the budgets for prisons and allow them to become so overcrowded that no-one has any idea what is happening inside? When do we talk honestly about history?

Maybe none of that matters. Perhaps the politicians answers are the right ones… Je ne sais pas.