One Rule for Them...
Crispin Blunt MP
It has not been a great day for politicians when it comes to fostering public trust and respect for the law. The two most powerful people in the country, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, have been hit with fines for attending parties during lockdown. The Prime Minister shows no sign of resigning despite the fact that he repeatedly misled Parliament over the affair.
To compound these wrongs, there is the usual parade of apologists demanding that the government be free to 'get on with the job' of running the country, as if flagrantly breaking the law (including the fundamental 'law' of our parliamentary democracy that you don't mislead Parliament) simply doesn't matter. Chief among the apologists has been regular court jester Michael Fabricant, who ill-advisedly and erroneously suggested that public sector workers up and down the country were doing much the same thing. It seems like his attempt to pour oil on troubled waters has more likely poured oil on the fire.
I know lots of nurses and teachers (I am married to one of the latter) and they were not all behaving like this. But even if they had been, it would be no defence for the PM, who made the rules, should have understood them and ought to have had the integrity to make sure he, of all people, was observing them. The 'everyone is doing it, so why can't I defence' is one my children regularly try to use on me without success. It certainly doesn't cut the mustard from the PM or his praetorian guard.
But 'party-gate' knocked another story out of the headlines. Another story of a politician leaping to the defence of one of his colleagues. Today, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt called the conviction of fellow MP Imran Ahmad Khan for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy in 2008 a "dreadful miscarriage of justice". His statement met with widespread outrage and he has subsequently deleted it from his Twitter feed and apologised for it. But the question remains, why did he ever think it was a good idea?
I don't claim to know his motivations. I suspect he considers Khan a good friend and his statement as an act of loyalty. That is the most charitable interpretation I can come up with. But the implication of Blunt's statement is clear. If the verdict is a miscarriage, Khan's accuser is lying. We await any evidence at all from Mr Blunt to support such a suggestion.
And back we come to Boris Johnson. In 2019, he declared that money spent on non-recent child abuse investigations was 'spaffed up a wall'. 'What on earth is that going to do to protect the public now?' he wondered. The implication was that there is nothing to be learned from such investigations.
Bob Boothby and Ronnie Kray
In the last couple of years, I have written two books (Scandal at Dolphin Square and The Peer and the Gangster) that both deal to greater or lesser extents with historical cases of powerful people who abused their status in negotiating sexual engagements with minors. A number of themes kept re-emerging. Among them was the propensity for figures in authority to disbelieve accusers and to either discreetly shield or publicly back the accused public figure. The Peer and the Gangster details how both major political parties, the Met, senior legal figures and the Security Service conspired to protect Conservative Peer Lord Boothby and Labour Party Chairman Tom Driberg from being exposed for consorting with the Kray twins, who provided them with teens several decades their junior for their sexual pleasure.
In Dolphin Square, my co-author and I discuss, among other matters, how Liberal leader David Steel turned a blind eye to the industrial-scale abuse perpetrated by Cyril Smith. Then there is Nicholas Fairbairn, who physically attacked a teenage girl in 1986 but whose case was not followed up by the police. The girl's parents wrote to Downing Street in 1988 when Fairbairn was granted a knighthood. 'We are now wondering if there is one law for MPs and another law for members of the public,' they said. No. 10 responded that the matter was for the police and not for Downing Street. Fairbairn got his knighthood.
Another Dolphinite, a former Minister for Northern Ireland, William van Straubenzee, also enjoyed Establishment protection. In 1982, MI5 received information that suggested he had engaged in 'sexual activities with young boys' while in Northern Ireland. This information was shared with the Cabinet Office, who shared it with the Prime Minister. No action was ever taken.
Today, Blunt implied that Khan is the victim of tired old homophobic tropes. He did not go into specifics but I would suggest that this argument does a huge disservice to the LGBT community. Historically, certainly in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, there seems to have been a reluctance among some in public life to challenge the obvious sexual misconduct of colleagues for fear of seeming illiberal in regard to homosexuality. That conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia was damaging in the extreme, to both victims of paedophiles and to the homosexual community in general. I am genuinely shocked that Blunt has voiced a similar conflation today. Khan has not been found guilty of being homosexual. He has been found guilty of abusing, as a thirty-four year old, a fifteen year old boy. He abused his seniority and power, just as Boothby, Driberg, Smith and Straubenzee did. That was their crime.
If Khan, as Blunt suggests, has been ill-done by, we have a legal system that allows for him to appeal. But Blunt's intervention, casting shade upon his friend's accuser, is unhelpful in the extreme. We are beginning to unearth a long history of Establishment figures putting the reputations of their chums over concerns for the victims of their crimes. This seems to be just the latest example. And it gives the lie to Johnson's 'spaffing' comments from 2019 that we don't have lessons to learn from the past.