An Idiot’s Guide to the Westminster Bubble

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Charming and disarming, a not too critical critic of Heretic TOC wrote on another blog recently that “There comes a point when even the best argument becomes too well written, too well researched and too learned. An Idiot’s Guide to both Stephen Hawking’s and TOC’s theories would be appreciated….” It must be admitted that the “punitive state” piece last time was a bit relentlessly heavy on the theory, although the number and quality of the comments, plus over 300 hits per day, suggests there is interest.

This time, then, for a little light relief (relatively speaking!), TOC brings you a taste of his adventures last week inside the Westminster Bubble, an experience more akin to Alice in Wonderland than to other phenomena with which it might be confused, such as the South Sea Bubble.

American readers will be familiar with the bubble concept from their own expression Inside the Beltway, or the Washington Bubble, denoting an intensely political world, peopled almost entirely by politicians, government officials and media folk who spend so much time incestuously preoccupied with each other that they lose touch with the realities of life outside their privileged zone.

Or so it is claimed. The real truth, though, is that these clever people have sharp political antennae, which is how they keep their power and influence: they need to stay alert in all sorts of ways, paying attention not just to opinion polls and focus group research but also to those who turn up in person to lobby them, from corporate interests (especially!) to activist groups of every hue.

Which is where my London trip comes in. I was there for a whole bunch of personal lobbying, networking and media reasons, and also to participate in various rallies, protests and debates.

Two of these events were in the Palace of Westminster itself, aka the Houses of Parliament, starting with Challenging the Campus Censors. Held in the Grand Committee Room with a panel of speakers, this saw the launch of the Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) by the journal Spiked. What FSUR devastatingly demonstrates, sadly is the extent to which freedom of expression is being eroded in the very institutions where it is most vitally needed if any sort of heresy – including but not limited to the Heretic TOC variety – is to survive the onslaught of hegemonic political correctness.

Back in the 1970s I appeared by invitation at a number of universities, mainly to address student gay societies on paedophilia and children’s sexual freedom. There were neither objections by the university authorities nor any attempt by students to No Platform me*. After speaking at Cambridge University, I was treated very hospitably by the organisers: they took me to hear (and of course see!) the choirboys perform evensong at King’s College. Those were the days!

In my case, the high watermark of this openness to heresy was a prestigious invitation from the president of the Oxford Union to address that august debating society, possibly the world’s most famous; its speakers have included three US presidents, top scientists from Einstein to Hawking, and celebrities of all kinds from Michael Jackson to Kermit the Frog. Ahead of the event, though, the university was subjected to heavy media pressure against my appearance, and the invitation was withdrawn.

We all know how the sorry saga has played out since then in terms of paedophilia as a There Is No Debate (TIND) issue. What I discovered to my horror, though, from FSUR and related revelations last week, is the extent to which free speech is now being denied on campus across a whole range of issues. As Ian Dunt told us in the Guardian:

“In recent months, Oxford University cancelled a debate on abortion because protesters objected to the fact it was being held between two men; the Cambridge Union was asked (but refused) to withdraw its speaking invitation to Germaine Greer because of her views on transgender issues; officials at London Southbank took down a “flying spaghetti monster” poster because it might cause religious offence; UCL banned the Nietzsche Club after it put up posters saying “equality is a false God”, and Dundee banned the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children from their freshers’ fair. The Sun is banned on dozens of campuses because of Page 3. Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines song has also been banned by many student unions.”

Note, especially, the relevance here of this last one: the lyrics are about sexual consent.

The curious thing, to someone of my generation at least, is that the censorious spirit is not coming from above, from heavy-handed political or administrative quarters. It is not state censorship. Rather, TIND reflects what seems to be a new fragility among the students themselves, who are arriving at university from a school culture in which they have grown used to seeing themselves as in need of protection, reflecting a wider cultural background in which child protection is seen as a priority. It reflects specifics of their cultural environment, such as school anti-bullying policies, and also their exposure to what is admittedly sometimes a brutally obnoxious scene of social media trolling. Feeling (with every justification) that being subjected to violent threats and venomous defamation online is just plain wrong and unacceptable, these youngsters are turning up at university believing they are entitled to remain shielded from “offensive” views of all kinds. They do not seem to realise that new but potentially important ideas are often shocking, and that a university is a grownup place whether intellectual debate needs to be unfettered.

The following day I was back in the palace, this time supporting Hacked Off, which Spiked muddle-headedly presents as a group lobbying against free speech. Hacked Off, as British heretics will know, was set up in the wake of revelations that newspapers including the now defunct News of the World, and the Sun, both owned by global media baron Rupert Murdoch (whose other crimes against humanity include Fox News), were engaged in illegal phone hacking and libellous smear tactics – including the infamous Fake Sheikh’s sting operations which have resulted in innocent people being jailed and many other lives shattered. As heretics here may remember, I was among those on the receiving end.

Where Spiked gets it wrong is in confusing the “right” of a handful of mega-rich media moguls to trash people as viciously, mendaciously and unaccountably as a Twitter troll, with the right of all of us to legitimate (non-libellous, not inciting violence) freedom of expression. The latter right, in Hacked Off’s view and mine, will be advanced, not retarded, by such means as giving a strengthened right of reply to those who are traduced in the press, and encouraging wider media ownership. Hacked off also supports the recent Leveson Inquiry report, which recommended measures aimed at securing a more independent press complaints body than the toothless Press Complaints Commission.

Hacked Off’s rally was in Committee Room 14, which turned out to be an even grander venue than the Grand Committee Room. When I think of a committee I have in mind no more than about 25 people, but about ten times that number were present for Hacked Off’s big day, packed along two sets of opposing benches like a miniature version of parliament itself. When I arrived, slightly late after an appointment with my MP, I was lucky to get the last seat before my attention turned to a distinguished-looking, silver-haired old gentleman who was holding forth as one of the panel speakers.

The voice seemed familiar. Then it struck me: John Cleese! Goodness, it was a face I probably hadn’t seen since The Life of Brian over thirty years ago. Anyway, he was on good form, blasting the new Independent Press Standards Body (IPSO) as anything but independent, saying it was designed to be a puppet of the big corporations, with editors given a key role, like setting foxes in charge of the henhouse. Actually, he had his own comparison, a rather good one:

“Of course they want to regulate themselves, we’d all like to regulate ourselves wouldn’t we?” he said. “Builders, accountants, murderers, they’d all like to regulate themselves.” He added: “The murderers would make a very good case – they’d say we murdered a lot of people, we know people who have murdered people. We really are best qualified to regulate.”

Dramatically, these remarks led within just a few minutes to the verbal murder of a particular journalist present in the room, one Mr Alex Wickham. Allow me to announce it Cluedo style: he was attacked by the chairman, in the committee room, with some very blunt accusations!

Wickham, as the chairman revealed, is a sleazeball sting artist working with political blog Guido Fawkes. The scurrilous scribe had immediately tweeted what Cleese said, in a message falsely implying the comedy actor had seriously compared the newspaper bosses to murderers. In a trice, news of this tweet got back to the committee room, where the chairman outed and admonished Wickham, saying he didn’t know how he could sleep at night, doing what he did. There were calls around the room for the malefactor to stand up and be seen.

The pressure must have got to the hounded hack, because he meekly stood up, as he had been ordered, and tried to explain himself. He didn’t get far before he was slapped down by the chair, who said, “Sit down, I don’t want to give you a platform as you have a megaphone”.

I didn’t feel sorry for Wickham, who is a double-dyed shit. I did, however, find myself a bit uneasy over the kangaroo court I had witnessed. And I noted, also, that one of the later speakers was a dreary feminist of the most humourless kind, who spent her allotted time at the mic grinding out a litany of demands for new press standards including a requirement that the term “under-age sex” should be replaced with “child rape”. Alarmingly, she was given a substantial round of applause.

Maybe Spiked has got it at least half-right after all.

Looking beyond Westminster, it has been another extraordinary week in Britain’s disastrous post-Savile Cultural Revolution, worth half a dozen separate blogs at least. Sadly, I’ll have to settle for a few brief news items with links.

* I tell a lie. The relaxed atmosphere changed once PIE hit the headlines in a big way. After that, in 1977, PIE speakers, including me, were No Platformed a lot. In Liverpool, for instance, I was not only prevented from speaking at the university, I was also banned by the Liverpool Hoteliers Association from staying in any of their hotels!  

 

JAIL EVERYONE IN THE LAND, DEMANDS PM

Well, not quite everyone, but British prime minister David Cameron made a giant leap towards outright insanity by insisting it’s not good enough just to jail “abusers”; now he wants to put teachers, social workers and local councillors behind bars if they fail to meet his stringent witch-hunting targets. Coming in the wake of a report on the “grooming” of teenage girls Oxfordshire by ethnic minority males , the move is a blatantly populist piece of pre-election gesture politics. As letter-writers to the Guardian and others have pointed out, the main result will be to further discourage anyone from working with children in professions already suffering from low pay and low prestige. On the Oxfordshire situation, these reports are very revealing, although not necessarily in the way their writers intended: see professionals and kingfisher.

 

TOUCHING IS WORSE THAN TORTURING

Glam rock star Gary Glitter was jailed for 16 years for under-age sex with three girls. His offences, though serious, appear to have been essentially of a “statutory rape” kind plus lesser intimacies rather than truly violent: the three girls in question were his fans. The youngest was eight. A mother who tortured her eight-year-old daughter to death received a lesser sentence, of 13 years. The court heard that her lesbian lover convinced her that the child was possessed by demons and had to be “destroyed”. The women would give the little girl cold baths, force feed her until she was sick and make her scrub the bathroom floor to rid her of “evil spirits”. She died from a blow to the head at her home. What does this contrast say about our society’s values?

 

RACCOON WRESTLES WITH ‘ALLEGATORS’

The indefatigable Anna Raccoon has again been wrestling the ‘allegators’ in the Savile case on her wonderful blog, exposing the paucity of allegation after allegation. See her Home Page and scroll down for five recent blogs with Savile in the title. To my mind, though Anna’s most devastating recent piece was Alphabet Soup and Paedo Hysteria. which looks at the work of Kevin Harrington, the author of Serious Case Reviews on real child abuse, ranging from Child ‘A’ in London, through Child ‘C’ in Portsmouth, onwards to Child ‘K’ in Southampton and beyond. These are ghastly cases like the torture/death one above, most of which never even make the national headlines. As Anna points out, instead of pouring in resources to prevent these cases, money, effort and attention is wasted on paedo hysteria instead.

 

ONE THAT FLEW UNDER THE GAYDAR

To finish on a pleasanter note, Wendy Fenwick in the March/April edition of Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, reviews Craig Johnson’s recent film The Skeleton Twins, which sounds good, although way too gay for my taste. Anyone seen it? She writes:

[Milo’s] first sexual experience was with a high school teacher when the lad was only fifteen. It was a huge deal when it happened – things were settled quietly, we learn – but Milo isn’t completely over the relationship and in fact seeks out the teacher, named Rich, with thoughts of reviving the affair. Thus has the movie entered that radioactive territory of “intergenerational sex,” otherwise known as pederasty. What’s surprising is that the film doesn’t indulge in the usual hand-wringing over Rich’s turpitude or dwell on how Milo was traumatized for life by the affair. In fact, Milo wasn’t traumatized at all and insists that it was not only consensual but a positive experience in his early gay life. …I’m surprised it didn’t trigger more controversy than it did, including threats of a boycott.

Even Daily Mail critic Brian Viner allowed himself to like it, perhaps because the overall context is a gentle romcom not a fiercely challenging drama.

Paedophiles to be treated like terrorists

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Guantanamo Bay here we come! Brace yourselves, oh heretics of Britain; pack away your remembrance of freedom to the size of a crushed dream; it’s the only personal property we’ll be left with when they take us away: a war against paedophilia has now been officially declared, along the lines of the war against terror in the wake of 9/11.

Paedophiles are to be treated like terrorists. In his forthcoming legislative programme, prime minister David Cameron “wants to close a loophole that allows sexual predators to produce and possess ‘manuals’ giving tips on how to identify victims, groom them, and evade capture”, according to the Guardian. In future, they will face the same kind of sanctions as extremists who download guides to bomb-making. The issue came to light, we are told, after GCHQ and the National Crime Agency found examples of the guides online in the “dark web”. GCHQ, it will be recalled, is the UK’s electronic spying headquarters, whose Big Brother surveillance of entire populations has become globally notorious thanks to the work of Edward Snowden.

The new law is expected to be in force by the time of the general election next year, and could be implemented in an amendment to the Obscene Publications Act 1959, the Guardian said. The Terrorism Act 2000 outlawed terrorist training manuals.

Now, “virtuous” paedophiles of the “nothing to fear if you are innocent” persuasion, or delusion, may believe the measure targets only those who are up to no good. If you show people how to become engaged in illegal acts don’t you deserve whatever is coming to you? Why oppose such a law and thereby identify yourself with the “bad guys”?

Nothing could be more dangerously naïve. The proposed measure is a threat even to those of us who are not denizens of the “dark web” and have never seen the alleged “manuals”. I can say this with some authority, having personally been collaterally damaged in a previous attack on a so-called “how to” guide. Some here may remember the fuss over a book briefly listed on Amazon in 2010, called The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct, by Phillip R. Greaves II. Amazon quickly withdrew it after taking flak for allegedly facilitating child molestation.

I do not know the author and have not read his book, which may or may not have encouraged readers to break the law. But I do know what happened next. Under pressure from a mounting campaign against selling books that had anything to do with paedophilia, Amazon caved in, withdrawing several other titles, including my own Paedophilia: The Radical Case, despite the fact that it has scores of citations on Scholar Google. Other writers of entirely legal and scholarly books who found their works de-listed were David Sonenschein, once a researcher with the Kinsey Institute, and David L Riegel, whose papers grace the peer-reviewed academic literature.

My suspicion is that even Greaves’ book was falsely demonised as a molester’s charter. Interviewed by CNN, he reportedly said: “True paedophiles love children and would never hurt them… Penetration is out. You can’t do that with a child, but kissing and fondling I don’t think is that big of a problem.”

What’s not to like about that? As an opinion it is fine, I think, and one many here would share, provided the author was describing what would be OK if it were legal, rather than recommending anyone to go and do it. One has to wonder whether some of the supposedly evil material on the ominously named “dark web” is really that different to Greaves’ rather charmingly artless – innocent, even – candour.

Not that it was deemed innocent in law. The unfortunate Greaves, based in the United States, was charged with “distributing obscene material depicting” (merely in words?) “minors engaged in harmful conduct”. He pleaded no contest and was put on probation for two years.

So, if writers can be silenced and punished even in the land of constitutionally protected free speech, how much more threatened should we feel in the UK? Much will depend upon how tightly the wording of the proposed new law is drawn. Previous legislation aimed against paedophilia affords scant cause for optimism, especially in view of the present enfeebled state of civil liberties campaigning in the UK: there will be little public pressure to amend any clauses that could be applied too broadly. At least Spiked has come good on this occasion, though. I blasted Frank Furedi recently, but his latest piece is positively excellent: The war on paedos: grooming the public’s fears.

Maybe my “open letter” to him had the desired effect!

Even somewhat overbroad legislation against “how to” manuals ought not to impact Heretic TOC legally, as this blog definitely does not incite law-breaking. Indirectly, though, it would have a very chilling effect. What worries me far more is the potential for yet another measure, because they never stop coming, do they? And what would it look like, this further laceration in our slow death by a thousand cuts? Now that we are to be firmly yoked together with terrorism it’s obvious, isn’t it? Glorifying terrorism was made illegal by the Terrorism Act 2006. So logically the next step would be to ban the glorification of paedophilia – a “crime” that could well be framed to include saying anything whatever in its favour. This could spell trouble for Heretic TOC, and possibly for any advocacy aimed at lowering the age of consent, even by only a year. Now, that would really be a scary prospect for democracy.

Overshadowed by the sensational terrorism rhetoric, meanwhile, another appalling measure crept under the radar recently. How many, I wonder, are aware of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which is now the law of the land, having received the Royal Assent a couple of months ago? The Act both covers and commits a multitude of sins, and our interest in the latter takes us to Part 9, Protection from sexual harm and violence, sandwiched between Part 8, Firearms, and Part 10, Forced Marriage. This measure has an important and complicated history, though, so it will have to wait for another time. If there are any lawyers here who would like to do a guest blog on this I would be mightily relieved!

An open letter to Frank Furedi

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Many heretics, including myself, have been impressed by the online magazine Spiked on account of its vociferous support for free speech, distaste for state oppression, and its robust backing of civil rights, including for paedophiles.

So when one of its leading contributors, sociologist Frank Furedi, recently joined the media chorus of those attacking paedophilia, the virulent hostility of his diatribe came as a shocking disappointment. The context was an article, “What PIE and the NSPCC have in common”, which was fine up to a point. Its central theme was actually a rather interesting argument in defence of parents against the concept of “children’s rights”. Bizarrely – but, as I say, to interesting effect, Furedi presented the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) back in the 1970s and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) as improbable ideological allies. Both organisations, he said, claimed to speak on behalf of children but neither was as benignly disposed or as well placed to secure their best interests as parents.

My reaction was to fire off a counterblast. I submitted an article to Spiked that focused on defending children’s rights – not the right to be protected from various ills, real or imaginary, which is the NSPCC’s stock in trade, but the right to exercise real autonomy and to experience real freedom. Editor Brendan O’Neill emailed me on 25 March to say he was travelling in Europe and Australia and “I will be in touch very soon, I promise”. That sounded, well, promising, but over two weeks have passed since then and despite me sending a reminder I haven’t heard from him again.

So I have decided to answer Furedi here instead, in what amounts to an open letter. The text is a slightly edited version of my original draft article for Spiked.

WHY CHILDREN REALLY DO NEED RIGHTS

As a champion of parents over the years against “experts”, and the insolent intrusions of a busybody state, Frank Furedi is to be admired. He is right to castigate the NSPCC, too, for going far beyond its legitimate brief.

But when he says children are not moral agents, and on that basis attacks the concept of children’s rights, he is just plain wrong. Children become moral agents during childhood, not at its end; and even before that stage they may have non-trivial wishes and interests that require independent representation through robust rights-based action. Proper rights, that is: rights to real liberty of personal choice, not just protection from harm.

To begin with moral agency, has Furedi never heard of Gillick competence? In 1986 the House of Lords rightly accepted that “the authority of parents to make decisions for their minor children is not absolute, but diminishes with the child’s evolving maturity”. The highest court in the land in the case of Gillick v. West Norfolk & Wisbech Area Health Authority ruled that those under 16 could consent to medical treatment as long as they had sufficient understanding and intelligence to appreciate what was proposed and to express their own wishes. The context was the child’s right to advice on contraception for sexually active youngsters, a right which, were it more widely known and supported through sex education, would do more to bring down Britain’s high rate of teenage pregnancy than ineffectual attempts to suppress youthful sexuality.

For present purposes, though, the salient feature of the Gillick ruling is not the sexual aspect but rather the judgement’s recognition of an important reality: adult competences do not suddenly begin at an arbitrary age of majority; they grow over time. Good parents know this and allow their children to “spread their wings” as they grow older, and even take off: they understand that the occasional crash landing is a possibility and can be a valuable learning experience. It is all part of an apprenticeship in life.

Like Furedi, I believe that in general no one is better placed than parents to make judgements as to what their own children are ready for; no one knows them so well, nor will anyone else be more strongly disposed to secure their best interests. I have never been hostile to parents, either when I was Chair of the much traduced Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) long ago, or since. At the risk of setting off a fresh spate of tabloid excitement, I can honestly say some of my best friends have been parents.

That does not mean, though, that I would defend particular family structures to the last ditch, especially the all-too-explosive nuclear family, forged in relatively recent historical times not out of high purpose and dignity – an Englishman’s home is his castle, and all that – but from the grim necessity for a mobile labour force, detached from wider family and community, as the Industrial Revolution took hold.

Indeed, the tensions inside the nuclear family, and its frequent breakdown, constitute a fair proportion of the need for children to have rights. Parents do not all have their children’s best interests at heart. Step-parents, especially, who now make up such a substantial proportion of the whole, have much to answer for. The “wicked” step-parent is no myth. Frequently they resent their newly acquired brood; their hatred may even be murderous. Stepchildren are 60 times more likely to be killed than genetically related offspring [Daly & Wilson, 1994]. Not that this lets biological parents off the hook: taking parents as a whole, the latest figures show they kill on average over one child per fortnight in the UK, often in the context of a relationship breaking up, when one of the adult partners (usually a father) murders his children to spite his former partner [Office for National Statistics, 2013].

It is an ugly reality, so grim we cannot bear to face it; which is probably why these horrible cases tend to be dismissed in a paragraph or two in the media and described as a domestic “tragedy”, rather than in the more floridly anathematising terms (“evil”, “vile”, etc.) reserved for even the most mild and non-coerced paedophilic encounters. I recall one case somewhere in the West Country a couple of decades ago in which the father impaled the decapitated heads of his three children on spikes, leaving them for his ex to see. Even that spectacularly ghastly case disappeared from the news after a day or two. The vanishingly rare murder of a child in a sexual context, by contrast, is kept alive for a decade or more, such is the public’s need to project its own darkest feelings onto a monstrous Other.

Of course, the criminal law applies in the case of murder. Children do not need any rights in this regard beyond the human right to life. But there are many circumstances in which distinct rights for children would help enormously, both as regards invoking Gillick competence and, for children who are not yet competent to assert their own just claims, rights which can nevertheless be enforced in law on their behalf. These rights should take account of their wishes, not just their (adult defined) “best interests”. This, too, already has some standing in law. The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child acknowledged the right of children to be heard. This principle was incorporated into the Children Act of the same year, which said that while the children’s welfare should be paramount, courts should take into account “the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned”.

This formulation was far too wishy washy: wishes can be heard, but may still be ignored. The move towards a more effective measure is inhibited by confusion. The law will be deficient as long as we remain in thrall to the classic, albeit weak, argument that rights imply responsibilities, and that young children, before they become Gillick competent, cannot have truly enforceable rights because they are incapable of discharging the responsibilities that go with them. But as philosophers, including, most famously, John Rawls, have acknowledged, this is misconceived. As human rights lawyer Paul Sieghart put it:

In all legal theory and practice, rights and duties are symmetrical. It is a popular fallacy to believe that this symmetry applies within the same individual: that if I have a right, I must also have a correlative duty. This is not so: if I have a right, someone else must have a correlative duty; if I have a duty, someone else must have a corresponding right [Sieghert, 1985].

Children “in care”, may have significant rights claims against a range of professionals who act in loco parentis as teachers, etc. Having said that, the family is the most obvious locus of children’s claims, just as Furedi asserts. This is because, famously, most abuse, whether in terms of outright neglect and cruelty, or unwanted sexual attention, takes place in the home. This is a robustly quantified reality, not a feminist myth: in the most authoritative study to date, regression analysis indicates that dysfunctional family background is nine times as predictive of adult psychological harm as “child sexual abuse” (CSA) [Rind et al., 1998]. Had it been possible to separate non-coercive so-called CSA in the figures from coercive molestation and rape, the ratio would probably have risen dramatically, to infinity, because CSA thus defined would emerge as, on average, not psychologically harmful at all.

As for what distinct children’s rights might be needed, probably the most compelling cases are those concerning the right of children (1) to make medical decisions on their own behalf, especially when the issue of life and death is engaged; (2) to decide on their own custody in the event of parental separation and divorce; (3) to “divorce parents in the event of incompatibility. In all three areas considerable progress has been made in this century: we are not talking about a dead 1970s concept.

In the United States, for instance, it is relatively routine now for older children to have access to the law and to divorce a parent in the event of serious incompatibility, as for instance in the case of a gay teenager subjected to constant disparagement by a disappointed and unsympathetic father. It happens. It’s serious. These kids die by their own hand way disproportionately to their peers when they cannot find a supportive environment. As for medical decisions, doctors are moving towards the view that even quite young children can make rational and (given professional advice) informed decisions in difficult cases, such as whether or not to accept dangerous kill-or-cure surgery, or whether they wish to accept therapy inevitably committing themselves to years of pain and distress. And who could doubt that parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses act against their children’s best interests when they refuse to sanction blood transfusions for a child in an emergency? This cries out for a child’s right, if they wish, to override their parents’ views.

The case for children’s sexual rights is a more complex matter, so I’ll close with a brief response to Furedi’s flaying of PIE’s “self-interested” stance. I look forward to him now denouncing his own self-interested lack of credibility: he campaigns for the rights of parents rather than children. Well, he would, wouldn’t he: he’s a parent!

Seriously, Frank, this essentially ad hominem way of shutting us up is a cheap shot, and unworthy of you. It makes you look like the politicians and judges who have been in such a hurry lately to publicly renounce their previous support for the basic civil rights of paedophiles: with their careers under immediate threat they appear to have panicked. One reason this has happened in such a big way, incidentally, is the failure of Liberty to defend liberty. The former National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) did a better job. Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill is to be congratulated for his staunch and principled recent defence of the NCCL’s former affiliation with PIE.

Daly, M & Wilson, M; “Some differential attributes of lethal assaults on small children by stepfathers versus genetic fathers”, Ethology & Sociobiology, Vol 15(4), Jul 1994, 207-217.

Office for National Statistics (2013); Focus on: violent crime and sexual offences, 2011/12 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_298904.pdf

Rind, B, Tromovitch P Bauserman R (1998); “A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples”. Psychological Bulletin 124 (1): 22–53.

Sieghert, P; The Lawful Rights of Mankind, OUP, 1985, p.94

Paedogate puts the past in the pillory

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You know when a scandal has made it to the news big league when it gets the “gate” tag, like Watergate. Well, the last ten days or so in the UK have given us Paedogate, in which the rabid right wing Daily Mail launched a sustained campaign to expose left wing support for the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) when I was its Chair back in the 1970s.

The aim was clearly to embarrass and undermine three leading figures in the Labour party. It worked. Initially dismissed as old hat because the story had been around for years as vague internet gossip, the Mail’s detailed trawl through publicly accessible archives and their own newspaper cuttings library paid off. At last, the rest of the national media finally sat up and paid attention in a big way. The Labour trio who were under fire, thanks to their work for the National Council of Civil Liberties (NCCL), to which PIE was affiliated, were forced to respond publicly. Harriet Harman, now Deputy Leader of the Labour party, angrily denounced the Mail. She had been an NCCL legal officer. Patricia Hewitt, a former cabinet minister in Tony Blair’s government, had a tougher hand to play because she had been NCCL’s General Secretary and had been closely associated with the organisation’s own very radical policy on the age of consent. She was forced into an apology in which she disowned this policy and also wrote:

“As general secretary then, I take responsibility for the mistakes we made. I got it wrong on PIE and I apologise for having done so. I should have urged the executive committee to take stronger measures to protect NCCL’s integrity from the activities of PIE members and sympathisers and I deeply regret not having done so. In particular…Tom O’Carroll should never have been allowed to join the gay rights sub-committee.”

This did not stop The Sun from running a devastating front page the next day:

Sun-Hewitt-Front-533x680What struck me as most interesting, though, was how the other member of the trio reacted. This was Jack Dromey MP, formerly Treasurer of the Labour party and now a Labour shadow minister. He is also Harriet Harman’s husband. He chaired the NCCL for a while during a decade on its executive committee in the 1970s. After I spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said:

“It is no surprise that a convicted paedophile, the like of whom I took action against during my time in the NCCL, should choose to smear me.”

Smear him? Moi? I was doing my best to exonerate him and the other two, not smear them. I was clearly reported on the BBC as saying none of the trio supported PIE or paedophilia. I have been a Labour voter all my adult life, albeit with little enthusiasm in its recent, increasingly authoritarian, years. I had no wish whatever to back the Mail’s savage attack agenda, which really has been a smear campaign.

But Dromey insisted no one would believe a “convicted paedophile” like me.

He was wrong. The words were hardly out of Dromey’s mouth when Melanie Phillips, famous as a fiercely conservative commentator on all things moral, appeared as a panellist on BBC 1’s Question Time political TV show. She said:

“The Paedophile Information Exchange gentleman, Mr O’Carroll, has said, perfectly correctly, the problem was not that Harriet Harman supported paedophilia or PIE… the problem was that it was mixed up with the whole gay rights agenda.”

I did not see any “problem” and her use of the word “gentleman” was no doubt intended as ironic. Nevertheless, at least she very sensibly preferred to take my word over that of a politician desperate to wriggle his way out of a tight spot. Indeed, what thinking person wouldn’t, especially those who know that many of my misfortunes, and PIE’s, can be attributed to an abundance of openness and honesty, not a lack of it. PIE never sailed under a false flag: paedophile was in our name, hence giving an unmissable clue to what we were about. Even the judge, when I was tried for conspiracy to corrupt public morals, told the jury “You may feel Mr O’Carroll has come remarkably clean in his evidence, if that is the phrase for a trial such as this.”

I dwell on Dromey’s attack on my integrity not out of personal pique but because it highlights the reflexive assumption of so many people that being minor-attracted means you must be morally deficient in every conceivable way. Question Time provided another striking example of this when Conservative defence minister Anna Soubry said:

“The other thing we now know about paedophiles is how wickedly cunning they are…I don’t like to stereotype but I think we can with paedophiles. The things they do are bad and evil enough in themselves but their wickedness and cunning, the way that they will inveigle their way into the affections of a child or a mother…”

Note that emotive word “inveigle”. Whereas ordinary, decent, folk become friends and win each other’s affections in a presumptively benign way, the paedophile is assumed to be devious and manipulative, with almost superhuman powers of deception – powers hard to reconcile with the claims of researchers who seek to dehumanise us in the opposite direction, writing us off as mentally deficient, with low IQs, implying we are subhuman.

This “inveigling” allegation, or something very like it, was also used in the context of PIE’s relationship with NCCL. PIE did not merely affiliate with the civil liberties body, oh no. We were said to have “infiltrated” it, as though by stealth, and as though we could not possibly be entitled to take part in the democratic process like any other properly constituted democratic body, which we were, putting forward our policies in proposals presented to government, lobbying members of parliament and so forth. We were even bad-mouthed for having tried to forge alliances with other radical groups, as if this were not part and parcel of ordinary political life. It was implied, indeed asserted openly, that we were so “vile” (definitely the adjective of the moment) we should not have been allowed to take part in this process.

This orgy of shunning and anathematising has had its opponents though. Brendan O’Neill, in Spiked, came up with a classic defence of civil liberties, backing the stance NCCL took all those years ago in allowing PIE to affiliate. He wrote:

“If civil liberties organisations won’t defend the freedoms of speech and association of unpopular groups, then what is the point of them? Respectable groups don’t find their freedoms curtailed. The Women’s Institute is not prevented from publishing its ideas; Labour Party members aren’t arrested for what they write in private letters. It is only the moral outliers of a society who have their right to propagate their beliefs hammered by the authorities, whether it’s gay pornographers, the hard left, Nazis or self-confessed paedophiles. It is the freedom of speech of these deeply unpopular causes that true civil libertarians must defend, firstly because we recognise that freedom of speech means nothing unless it extends to everyone; and secondly because if we allow the state to define a certain outlook as so foul that it ‘corrupts public morals’ and thus must be extinguished, then we set a very dangerous precedent that might one day reach to us and call into question the acceptability of the views we hold, too.”

Germaine Greer, the now venerable and ancient pioneer of Second Wave feminism in the 1970s, was also strikingly forthright in her support for NCCL on Any Questions?, BBC Radio 4’s equivalent of TV’s Question Time. She defended Harriet Harman and said the press appeared to have forgotten what a civil liberties organisation actually does. She defended PIE’s right to put itself forward just like other groups. Revisiting her own stance in the 1970s, she pointed out that the age of consent issue was not just about paedophiles but about young people’s right to a sexual life, which was why she and others had supported changing the law. Remarkably, others on the panel also defended the NCCL and a straw poll of the studio audience (at the Bath Literature Festival, so perhaps a more sophisticated bunch than your average) revealed nearly unanimous support for Harriet Harman. They thought she should not be obliged to apologise for NCCL’s relationship with PIE.

After the best part of a fortnight in which imprecations such as vile, perverted, depraved, disgusting, etc., have been spat out endlessly over the airwaves against me and other former PIE members with perhaps even more venomous, in-your-face force than comes across in print, I hope I will be forgiven the indulgence of quoting a rare comment that perhaps can be seen as putting me in a slightly better light. It was in a local paper near the Open University, where I was a press officer until 1978 when I was sacked after my role in PIE had become a high-profile embarrassment. The Milton Keynes Citizen quoted a former colleague of mine at the university as saying, “Tom O’Carroll was a bit of a charmer. He was a handsome man and an eloquent talker. I can see how people may have been hooked in to support his cause.”

I’d love to know who that was so I could give them a hug! But, of course, being charming etc. is all part of how demonically cunning we are, isn’t it?!

Finally, it might be an idea to give links to some of the stories that were either particularly effective in giving Paedogate momentum, or strikingly bizarre, or even in a few cases informative and insightful. See below. The links are roughly in chronological order, earliest first.

Now say sorry! Ex-Yard chief calls on Labour trio to admit backing paedophilia was a ‘huge mistake’

The ‘right’ to sleep with children was one ‘civil liberty’ that NCCL supported

‘Harman did not want to rock the boat over links to child sex group’

MP Jack Dromey denies paedophile group ‘smear’

‘Paedogate’ Gets Worse For Harriet Harman As PIE Leader Tom O’Carroll Reveals New Details

Harriet Harman rejects claims from paedophile campaigner Tom O’Carroll

Lobbying by paedophile campaign revealed

Harriet Harman, paedophilia and sexual norms: the past seems like another country

Looking back to the great British paedophile infiltration campaign of the 1970s

How did the pro-paedophile group PIE exist openly for 10 years?

Labour chiefs: It’s OK to have sex with 10-yr-olds

Labour’s paedo problems: no reason to gloat

The NCCL was right to affiliate with PIE

Allen Ginsberg, Camille Paglia and the literary champions of paedophilia

Huge sums of TAXPAYER’S cash ‘handed to vile child-sex pervert group’ by Home Office officials

EXCLUSIVE: ‘Paedogate’ storm has its roots in MK

Hail, an improbable age of consent heroine!

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Heroes, or heroines, do not come much more improbable than lawyer Barbara Hewson. Who would have thought that this champion of women’s rights, with a reputation to protect as a successful, high-profile advocate in leading cases, would suddenly throw caution to the winds and call very publicly for the age of consent to be lowered to 13, as she has done this week?

It’s a British story, and it has been all over the media here, replete with predictable reactions, including “shock” at the large London law firm where she is one of many barristers, who are all self-employed members of the “chambers”, or law practice team. It all kicked off with an article by Hewson in the lively libertarian online journal Spiked, to which sociologist Frank Furedi is a regular contributor: see After Savile: Policing as entertainment, mentioned here recently.

Hewson’s article, like Furedi’s, arose from the Savile “scandal” last year and Operation Yewtree, the massive police attention to “historic” so-called child sexual abuse that has been going on ever since, with seemingly almost daily arrests, especially of aging celebrities such as the entertainer Rolf Harris, the former pop star Gary Glitter, the DJ Dave Lee Travis, the comedian Jim Davidson and the PR guru Max Clifford, all of whom deny any offence. TV legend Stuart Hall, by contrast, recently pleaded guilty to offences which Hewson, with an admirable sense of perspective, dismissed as “low-level misdemeanors” involving teenagers.

She began her article in a starkly combative fashion:

I do not support the persecution of old men. The manipulation of the rule of law by the Savile Inquisition – otherwise known as Operation Yewtree – and its attendant zealots poses a far graver threat to society than anything Jimmy Savile ever did.

She goes on to compare the present moral panic with the one in Victorian England which led to the age of consent being raised from 13 to 16 in 1885. Turning to the present scene, she says the so-called abuse relates to relatively trivial matters routinely exaggerated by pressure groups such as the NSPCC.  The NSPCC and the Metropolitan Police Force, as reported here at Heretic TOC, produced a joint report into Savile’s alleged offending in January, called Giving Victims a Voice. It was noted here that this report outrageously treated the allegations as proven facts. Now Hewson lends the considerable authority of her legal standing to this point:

Note how the police and NSPCC assume the roles of judge and jury. What neither acknowledges is that this national trawl for historical victims was an open invitation to all manner of folk to reinterpret their experience of the past as one of victimization.

Quite. She says that the acute problem of proof which stale allegations entail also generates a demand that criminal courts should afford accusers therapy, by giving them “a voice”’, an infantilizing function that undermines judicial impartiality and fair hearings.

Hewson concludes with a trio of proposed law reforms: remove complainant anonymity; introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions; and reduce the age of consent to 13.

Typifying the mainstream media response, the Daily Telegraph ran a column by another lawyer, Malcolm Underhill. Regarding the proposed age of consent reform, he wrote:

This suggestion must rate as one of the most foolish proposals on the issue of child welfare that has been laid before the public. If the proposal is adopted by Government, such a change would be a green light for paedophiles, sending the completely wrong message.

I love the “If the proposal is adopted by Government” bit, don’t you? Ha! We should be so lucky! Alas, one maverick lawyer’s speech does not a government policy make. But it’s a start. Meanwhile, the reality is that the craziness in the UK goes on, and is getting worse by the day. Remember, this from If cardinal sinners and lordly lotharios float your boat… , a Heretic TOC blog in March?

… can it really be…yes, it’s one of the nation’s favourite TV soap opera stars, charged with “child rape”. Plus one, two – no it’s three – God it’s gone up to four; bloody hell it’s FIVE musical maestros from one of the most famous music academies in the land: all of them facing the music for vilely fiddling with their violin students!

Guess what the figure is now for those music teachers? I was shocked by five of them being in trouble. Well now (or at the latest count), there are thirty nine, yes, THIRTY NINE, music teachers under investigation at that academy, Chetham’s school of music, plus one other, the Royal Northern College of Music, both in Manchester.

Enough already! Enough of this lunacy for one day!

Enough, too, in a way, for Heretic TOC, who now finds himself obliged to make an unwelcome but very necessary announcement. I love writing this blog and if I had the time I would gladly post a thousand words or more every day rather than roughly twice a week, which has been the usual rate since this “not the dominant narrative” started just over six months ago. Sadly, though, my time is coming under more and more pressure. I have a variety of other projects in hand which are too frequently being left on the back burner. This cannot go on. Accordingly, I have decided to post only once per week, or possibly only twice per month, from now on. This might even be a relief for readers struggling to keep abreast of all this heresy! With posts becoming somewhat less regular, though, it will become harder to know when a new post has arrived. Accordingly, for the benefit of those who have not already done so, I would suggest becoming a “follower” of the blog, so that you get an email each time a new piece is posted. All you need to do is press the “Follow” button in the brown bar across the very top of the page, just to the right of where it says Heretic TOC.

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