The news for dead politicians has been grim. Over the past weeks, evidence has emerged to indicate a number of dead politicians were involved in child sexual abuse. The former PM Edward Heath is the latest to be named. Since the news broke, the mainstream press have been consistent and vociferous in defending him. Despite the Mirror presenting the stories, the Telegraph, and others have defended him. Many of his defenders are former and current politicians who have defended his reputation. They decry the apparent “witch hunt” and the character assassination. They want to protect their dead friend.
On the surface, this is an honourable task. Honourable men and women will defend a friend’s memory. They honour their friendship by protecting their reputation. Even though the dead cannot be defamed, their living friends can feel the injustice and work to protect their reputation. As Edward Heath had no children, it remains to his friends to defend him. However, if we explore the depths we start to consider something that is potentially suspect about the surface especially about politicians.
Beneath the surface lies a vicious culture.
To look beneath the surface, we need to consider the review published by Wanless and Cottam. They referred to Tim Fortescue’s public statement about whips. He was a senior Whip, 1971-1973 in the Heath administration. He explained his work.
“For anyone with any sense, who was in trouble, would come to the whips and tell them the truth, and say now, I’m in a jam, can you help? It might be debt, it might be… a scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal in which, erm er, a member seemed likely to be mixed up in, they’d come and ask if we could help and if we could, we did. And we would do everything we can because we would store up brownie points… and if I mean, that sounds a pretty, pretty nasty reason, but it’s one of the reasons because if we could get a chap out of trouble then, he will do as we ask forever more.” [Emphasis added]
Politics is nasty and brutish, does it have to be that way?
Politics is indeed nasty. Although the statement describes practices from 40 years ago, the issue remains. Are political parties compelling their politicians today? If blackmail decides political outcomes, then democracy is diminished. If the effect is wider, then the public domain is at risk. Does such control extend to relatives who wish to protect their family’s reputation? However, we have to know whether the politicians who have defended, publicly or privately, Heath, Brittan, and Morrison been compelled to defend them.
Can the UK ever escape a political culture of blackmail?
Some might argue that the question is unfair. However, it remains undeniable that the statement was made. No one has disavowed the statement or the behaviour it reflects. If a politician cannot answer the question or finds the question objectionable, then they need to explain Fortescue’s statement. In a decent society, would we have to ask this question?
At every stage where the child sexual abuse scandal intersects with the UK political culture, we see an immoral culture. The Leveson Inquiry into the press and politician behaviour only caught part of the issue. It would appear that the regime works on political blackmail as it uses secret information to stay in power. What can we say about a political regime that relies on political blackmail? Who would consent to such a regime? Who would defend such practices except those who benefit from it? Therein we see *the* question that has to be explored. Who has benefitted from being able to exploit the knowledge that senior politicians and public figures engaged in child sexual abuse?