Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dial C For Conspiracy

The Jimmy Savile revelations were shocking. I can't say I ever liked him much myself, I always thought he was a bit of a weirdo. But I didn't imagine he was a serial sex offender. And, if other allegations are to be believed, a murderer and a necrophiliac (presumably in that order).

How he got away with this for so long became a real focus for attention. The fact that ITV broke the story after the BBC suppressed it last year, was another. We learnt that Savile had access to vulnerable young people in hospitals and schools as well as the opportunities his work for the BBC gave him. All this led, unsurprisingly, to criticism of the institutions implicated.

At no point did I consider that politics might enter this scandal. I had failed to analyse the situation thoroughly enough. Had I reflected on the institutions involved I might have predicted a defensive political reaction. Those institutions being: the BBC, the NHS and a state run school. What was, at times over the top, but justifiably very angry criticisms and questioning of these organisations, was being interpreted by some as a right wing conspiracy to destroy institutions that the left hold dear to their hearts. 

For the most part, the criticism was no such thing. If David Cameron was gunning for the Beeb, as some would have you believe, he would have gone along with Ed Miliband's, by now automatic response to all occurrences, a call for an independent inquiry into Savile and the BBC. He didn't. But this didn't stop the defensive response from the left. Twitter was ablaze with outrage at the "evil Tory" attacks on the BBC. Anybody who generally held views right of centre, that dared opine on the possible failings in the BBC, or any of the other institutions involved, were accused of waging an ideological war. But, apart from in the minds of some of the more paranoid on the left, there genuinely was no political dimension to this. Just outrage at what had happened and at the failure of the BBC to expose a man who many within its employ suspected (even knew) was an abuser, even after he had died and the threat of litigation had disappeared.

As the scandal unfolded, the BBC started to turn on itself. For a little while it looked like it might implode. But then, out of blue, allegations of a Tory paedophile scandal started to emerge. I say emerge, but I mean re-emerge as these allegations have been around for many, many years. There is a mini-conspiracy theorist universe that exists in the darkest reaches of the internet where the same stories are circulated over and over again. Some are wildly fanciful, like David Icke's Paedophile Lizard people. Other's take a more analytical approach (you know like the best conpiracy theorists do in the USA - 9/11 was US Government not al-Qaeda , Elvis is Alive, Obama isn't an American etc etc).

But it was when the deputy chair of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, stood up in Parliament to announce that he had evidence that a paedophile ring had existed with links that went to the heart of 10, Downing Street, that the game changed. I started to question my cynicism at the theories on the net. The separate North Wales care home scandal that involved a "high profile politician from the Thatcher years" fitted perfectly with Watson's accusation of a national Paedophile ring. Indeed, in the rumours and innuendo I had seen on the web, they were part and parcel of each other. Was he on to something? Surely, Ed Miliband would not have sanctioned such an explosive allegation without being certain that his deputy chairman had water tight evidence.

But then the North Wales care home allegations about a senior Tory abuser fell apart. The Guardian reported that the allegations were wrong, a case of mistaken identity. For The Guardian, Tories can only be found innocent when the evidence proves them so, beyond reasonable doubt. Newsnight's decision to run the totally unverified allegation plunged the BBC back into crisis. A crisis that this time cost it's Director General his job (if not a year's salary). With the North Wales allegations against Lord McAlpine in tatters the wider allegations that can be found on the web start to look shakey, as Alastair McAlpine is a fairly consistent character across most of the theories.

None of this deterred the intrepid Mr Watson. His accusations about a "Thatcher era senior Tory" were, he said, separate from the obviously false "Thatcher ere senior Tory" made by Newsnight with back up from the likes of Sally Bercow and George Monbiot. He continued brief newspapers and blog about his concerns, expanding on the allegations, hinting one of the perpetrators was a senior Thatcher government minister who is still alive, even still "powerful". His blog doesn't miss the opportunity to make it clear how brave he's being:
"I’m not going to let this drop despite warnings from people who should know that my personal safety is imperilled if I dig any deeper. It’s spooked me so much that I’ve kept a detailed log of all the allegations should anything happen."
Some say he's an attention seeking egotist acting to further enhance his crusader image garnered from his successful execution of the Gordon Brown initiated war on News International via the phone hacking scandal.

McBride exposed the depths Labour
spin can stoop to
But some might think there's more to it. A party political strategy to sound the "Tory sleaze" klaxon, so successfully deployed against Major's government in the 90's. A similar, unsuccessful attempt was made before the last election with the Damian McBride scandal. Tom Watson worked alongside McBride at the heart of Gordon Brown's spin machine at the time. He denies any involvement in the spin operation to smear Tory politicians with false allegations at the time. But questions are being asked about his approach now to these allegations. While these allegations don't directly smear anyone, they do associate his political enemies with the most heinous and hateful of crimes in the minds of the public. And of course, as Labour's ex-social media Tsar, he would be more than aware of the internet trawling his words would initiate and which names would emerge. I've subsequently seen Facebook status updates and Tweets generally associating Tories with child abuse. Although, of course, he can't be blamed for the stupidity of the likes of Schofield's list*. 

Of course, if there has been a terrible injustice, the most important thing is to investigate and expose any wrong doing of failures in the system. But, if he genuinely wants to uncover widespread wrongdoing involving child abuse, why do it so publicly? Surely, all this publicity is doing more harm than good. It's tipping off potential perpetrators, who now could be nuking their hard drives of any evidence before they're seized by police, or getting out of the country if they really thought their liberty was at risk. And it is swamping genuine victims cases by encouraging scores of false claims from the confused, unwell and even some who no doubt smell a compo claim in the offing. He could have worked with the police to build a case. He could have then emerged, once convictions had been secured thanks to his evidence, in court, as a true hero. Instead he chose to rise, in the midst of a media frenzy around the Savile paedophilia revelations, to ride the wave, dragging the Tories into the mire with Savile, redirecting focus from the BBC and rekindling the "Tory sleaze" tag in peoples minds.

But then, perhaps he's calculated that a public revelation is the only way to get action. Perhaps he believes there really is an establishment cover up so widespread that only by bringing the issue into the public domain can it be broken and the truth exposed.

Only time will tell. At the moment it feels like the most likely scenario from the above scenarios is the attention seeking egotist. The party political strategy to smear Tories sounds as much like a conspiracy theory as the nationwide establishment cover up Watson is claiming.

If nothing does come of his accusation in the weeks to come, or if potential prosecutions are compromised by his actions, serious questions need to be asked about his fitness to be in public office. But, if the information he's provided to police does lead to the exposure of a widespread conspiracy that facilitated child abuse on a grand scale, he may actually be able to justifiably claim to be a crusader for justice, something his loyal band of left wing Watson-ettes already think he is for giving Murdoch a kicking after his papers stopped supporting Labour.

*The opposite of Schindler's list - it is a list of names of people who are to be persecuted.

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