It is perhaps understandable to see those with Tory-ish sympathies enjoying the post-Savile problems of Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman, MP Jack Dromey, and ex-health secretary Patricia Hewitt - a trio currently fending off accusations that during the 1970s they were a little too close to a group lovingly called the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). After all, those of a left-ish, Labour-supporting hue have been long intimating, and in the case of the late Lord McAlpine alleging outright, that senior Tories might have been involved in an (in fact unproven) conspiracy to abuse children at some point from the 1970s onwards. And yet, as it turns out, senior Labour figures seem to be just as tainted with the proverbial red stuff. As one Daily Mail columnist feels the need to let these Labour lags know: ‘It has never been acceptable to molest and sexually abuse children - whether or not paedophiles and their friends have convinced themselves the poor children consented.’
The right’s sense of Schadenfreude can certainly draw on deep reserves of irritation. Back in October 2012, with the Savile scandal dominating public life, Harman herself was at the forefront of the calls for some sort of wide-ranging public inquiry into the existence of endemic child abuse. Having told parliament that the so-called culture of abuse spread far beyond the BBC, she then declared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ‘if ever there was something that needs an independent inquiry, [it is] serious sexual offences against many, many children across a range of institutions. If that’s what an independent inquiry is not for, I don’t know what is.’
Labour-supporting commentators joined in this allegation-as-fact spreading. One thoughtlessly resurrected the dark tale of the Bryn Estyn care home in north Wales, telling Independent readers that this was little more than a ‘rape factory’ in which countless young boys were systematically ‘buggered’ (a tale rigorously dismantled by Richard Webster in The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt). Elsewhere, crime writer Val McDermid indicated in the Daily Record that alongside Savile and Cyril Smith, the Lib Dem MP posthumously accused of raping young boys, there ‘was a prominent Conservative politician whose name I can’t mention because he is still alive. The establishment has got a long track record of protecting their own but I think that when he dies, everybody will open up the same as has happened with Savile and Smith.’ Others flitted from the particular rumours to what these surely hinted at, that is, ‘an environment of abuse [that] flourished in plain sight’ during the Seventies and early Eighties.
And then of course there was Labour MP Tom Watson, the man responsible for prompting an on-going police investigation - Operation Fernbridge - into child abuse potentially involving politicians. During Prime Minister’s Questions in October 2012, he demanded that the police investigate the ‘clear intelligence’ of ‘a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and Number 10’. Later that month, he warned of a continued cover-up that would guarantee that ‘many sickening crimes will remain uninvestigated and some of the most despicable paedophiles will remain protected by the establishment that has shielded them for 30 years’. Given the long-standing rumours - see this edition of the now defunct Scallywag magazine here - there seemed little doubt that this establishment conspiracy was Tory at its dark heart.
But there was always going to be a problem with this determination to root out past wrongs, this contemporary eagerness to fight 1970s evil. Of course, it no doubt felt wonderfully righteous for the likes of Harman to talk of doing battle with the ‘culture of abuse’, and to talk grandly of confronting the ‘environment of abuse’ that allowed Savile to flourish. And it certainly made this particular brand of history-bestriding crusader feel especially brave to talk of an establishment cover-up, as if they were they were starring in their very own version of The Parallax View.