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.
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).
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 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.
Chapter 13 of Mary Whitehouse’s 1982 autobiography, “A Most Dangerous Woman” discusses her fight to bring in new legislation to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse. She describes how the Home Office (headed by Merlyn Rees), the Director of Public Prosecutions (Sir Thomas Hetherington), and the Attorney General (Samuel Silkin) showed a “consistent unwillingness to take action”, even after 1.6 million signatures had been gathered from the public. It was only through the use of a Private Member’s Bill by Cyril Townsend MP and the campaigning by Mary Whitehouse and her colleagues that the Protection of Children Act 1978 was passed. More information on the Act is available here. The debate is recorded in Hansard here.
At the same time as the Home Office was “unwilling to take action” in 1978, we know that key member/s of PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) were operating from within the Home Office. Continue reading