Saturday, 10 November 2012


What is going on? The last week's events have been surreal. Channel 4 News, most night's of the week, have carried stories about the North Wales child abuse scandal, including lengthy interviews with Steve Meesham as well as Council officials; Phillip Schofield, on ITV's “This Morning”, presents David Cameron with a list of names, he says took him 3 minutes to research, on the Internet, and, on one camera angle, these names were visible; Twitter has apparently been awash with names of people supposedly involved, including that of Lord McAlpine. But, at the end of this week, it is none of these that is in the firing line, but “Newsnight”, which did not name any names! The question is why?

On BBC News today, BBC Director General, George Enthwistle, was asked when he was aware that it was Lord McAlpine, as the senior Tory, from the Thatcher era, that was being referred to. He said, only after it was being referred to in the newspapers, of the last few days, following on from the mass of tweets in which he was named. But, then, if the BBC DG, after the Newsnight programme had gone out, a week ago, did not connect that programme with Lord McAlpine, how was anyone else supposed to do so? I watched the programme, and had no idea who was being referred to. He is not, after all, the only Tory associated with the Thatcher regime. There are any number of people, from that time, who could have been the person concerned.

So, why is Newsnight taking the rap for this rather than Twitter, where actual names were published? Why not “This Morning”, which spent 3 minutes researching the names, and then allowed those names to be seen, on the paper handed to Cameron? Why not Channel 4 News, whose coverage has been more extensive? Why has the BBC been so quick to allow Newsnight to take the rap? Why have they been so quick to apologise, when they actually did not name names, and some of these other organisations did?

It is being presented as though this event is the reverse of the Jimmy Savile affair. Then Newsnight was criticised because, having run an inquiry into Savile, its Editor pulled the story, at the last minute. Now it is being criticised for running a story without getting its facts straight first. But, in fact, it is not the case that one is the reverse of the other. In both cases, what Newsnight did was to undertake an investigation into the Establishment. Because there is no doubt that Savile was connected to the Establishment. The Newsnight journalists who did that investigation were furious that their story had been pulled. We have yet to find out the truth of why the Newsnight Editor pulled it. It is being suggested that one reason could be that the BBC were going to be running a Xmas Special on Savile, and the story would kill that programming. More likely, is precisely what is coming out now, which is Savile's connections with the murky underbelly of the Establishment.

Savile, after all, was not just a TV celebrity. This was a man who hobnobbed with all of the leading lights of the Establishment, including the Queen, other members of the Royal Family, and Thatcher and her regime. This was a man who was literally given the keys to the State, not just at the BBC, but at HM Prisons, the NHS and so on. It is a classic manifestation of what is wrong with British society and its feudal remnants. Here was a man, unelected by anyone, given free rein, by the Establishment, whose upper reaches themselves are elected by no one, to literally rape and plunder. It is reminiscent of how the feudal aristocracy, until a couple of hundred years ago, had the “Right of The First Night”, with the maidens of their Manor, and how, even into the 20th Century, it was quite common for members of that class to lift the skirts of their domestic servants, when they felt the urge. Far more likely that the original Newsnight investigation was pulled for coming to close to the Establishment, than that it might affect the BBC's programming. They are not averse to filling the schedule with other repeats after all!

And the reason that Newsnight is under attack now, rather than these other channels, is also likely to be because, as a State funded organisation, whose upper echelons are appointed by the State, it is far easier to nobble than privately run organisations, whose profits depend on readership, viewing numbers, and traffic. Newsnight can then be used as a battering ram to kill the story, and nobble these other outlets, who will be scared off further revelations.

That can be seen already. Lord McAlpine was not the person they were looking for. But, Newsnight did not name him. I have never bothered with Twitter. I have always felt it was a waste of time; full of mindless, meaningless chatter, and unsubstantiated gossip. So, I was unaware of any of the names being referred to on it, and the events of the last few days have confirmed my view of that medium. But, there clearly was extensive and prolonged abuse in North Wales, and some of the people responsible have already been sent to gaol. The question is why only some of the people involved were gaoled, and why the investigation stopped at a certain level, rather than looking into all those named, at the time, as being involved. It is now being portrayed as though the whole burden of proof rests on the word of Steve Messham, and a few others, and their word is now being called into doubt, as it was at the time. But, it is not just a matter of only the word of a number of abused people. For one thing, Channel 4 News has interviewed council staff who were involved in the review undertaken at the time, and in the Waterhouse Public Inquiry in 2000. There is also the matter of the dozens of photographs taken by the abusers, and provided by Steve Messham to the Police, which identified the abusers, and their victims. Those photographs have been destroyed along with the copies of the report commissioned by Clwyd Council. Why?

According to the BBC,

He (Messham) said that in the 1990s he was shown a photograph by police of his abuser but was incorrectly told it was Lord McAlpine. On Friday, he was shown another photo - and realised it was not the peer.”

But, in that case surely the question is why the Police in the 1990's showed this photograph to Messham, and wrongly identified that picture as Lord McAlpine!

It is being said that, Newsnight should have contacted Lord McAlpine, for comments, before they ran the story. But, they could not have asked him for comments, to be included in the programme, unless they also then named him as the person in question! They should, probably, have shown Steve Messham a photograph of Lord McAlpine to verify it was him, but, given that the Police had already showed Messham a photograph, that Messham says they identified as being Lord McAlpine, back in the 1990's, its understandable why they didn't. Why would Newsnight have any reason to believe that the Police had identified the wrong man, a very prominent man at that, at the time?

Channel 4 News interviewed local Council official Sian Griffiths, who has kept documents on the abuse from the beginning. She has been convinced that some of those involved have not been brought to book. She confirmed that the photographs referred to by Steve Messham, are recorded as having been destroyed. She also confirms that she has no idea why Waterhouse called a halt to the naming of names to the Inquiry in 2000.

The basis of the attack on Newsnight is itself weird. It is essentially that a Twitter thread ran with a hashtag “Newsnight”, and that in these Tweets, McAlpine's name was given. But, any medium could run a story on anything, and it be picked up by social media, where all sorts of unjustified comments and links could be made! For example, the BBC and others are running stories about the Ash Dieback disease. If someone were to start a Twitter thread with hashtag #DailyMail, and in that thread someone were to tweet that it had been deliberately caused by some named individual for commercial gain, would that individual be looking to sue the Daily Mail??? Yet, that seems to be exactly the basis upon which Newsnight is being attacked.
What gives the establishment real cause for concern here, I believe is three things. Firstly, that this scandal is closely linked to one of those moral panics that has the capacity to anger and mobilise vast numbers of people – paedophilia and child abuse. Secondly, those involved, in one way or another, for example, as with Savile's ties to the Royal Family and the Thatcher regime, the role of the police and judiciary charged with investigating it and so on, are at the very pinnacle of the Establishment. Thirdly, the more these revelations extend, not just in this case, but as has been seen with the Expenses Scandal, the LIBOR scandal, the phone hacking scandal, Hillsborough and so on, what we see is not just wrong doing by a few individuals but systemic corruption and failure.
The way bourgeois democracy works is wholly based upon the use of scape goats. Real power resides with a handful of very powerful Capitalists; not the 1%, but the 0.001% of the population who have a dominant ownership and control of the means of production. It is they, and their permanent State bureaucracy that run things. Governments and Parliaments are there just for show. When things go wrong, or the natives become restless, one set of politicians are thrown out, and another set take their place in endless succession, without the real reins of power ever having changed hands. It is the way things should work, according to the political theory of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes argued in favour of a single Sovereign, preferably a benign Monarch, or Philosopher King. If not, he argued, then an elected Sovereign, including a parliament, should be elected once and then choose its own successors. It is this latter, which constitutes the way the Capitalist State works. Each generation of State bureaucrats appoints its successors.
So long as this real power behind the throne can continue, it will gladly throw a few of its visible representatives to the wolves, to guarantee its own survival. That was what it did with the Expenses Scandal, for instance. But, the scandals and their revelations are becoming endemic. That is why the Establishment opposes an all encompassing Inquiry. But, it is also why civil society cannot allow that State, and the Establishment to place such limits on the revelations, and why we cannot trust any section of that State, or of the Establishment to conduct any such Inquiry. We need a Workers Inquiry, backed up by professional advice and assistance from lawyers, journalists and others, we can trust.
We should also defend the journalists at Newsnight, and oppose the attempts to close the programme down. Friday's edition of Newsnight was bizarre. Eddie Mair, who has only been brought in, to front the programme, in recent times, has a quirky style, and a dry sense of humour. But, was it really necessary to begin the programme by asking “Is Newsnight toast?” When the audio feed, from one contributor failed, was it necessary to comment that not only had the journalism failed, but now the sound had failed too? Then, when a segment on the Government's attempts to fiddle the borrowing figures, by taking back interest payments, on Gilts bought by the Bank of England, was run, it was full of apparently in-jokes about graphs not being available because the budget had been used up on investigations. Finally, in closing Eddie Mair commented, “Newsnight will be back on Monday – probably.”
This could just have been black humour – though you would have thought under the circumstances any kind of humour was misplaced. But, it had the ring of a gauleiter having been brought in to kill the programme off.   That would be an effective means for the Establishment to close off investigation by other media outlets.  That is why we should oppose any such move, and defend the Newsnight journalists.

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