Like many people, I have moved through a variety of emotions about Operation Yewtree since the arrest of Jimmy Savile.
Shock, sadness, fury, philosophical mumblings, gallows humour, further anger and long periods of turning a blind eye. Currently, my mood is “hoping whoever is in charge of Yewtree is working with complete precision” and “reconsidering my position on male anonymity in sex trials”. No, I didn’t see that one coming either, but these are very peculiar times.
Rolf Harris, and yesterday – although not part of the Yewtree operation – Bill Roache. I found myself thinking last week – in spite of my usual hard line on abuse allegations – that monstering Harris, 83, over historic allegations feels – as a gut instinct – quite wrong. And they are allegations. We don’t know what Harris has or has not done, but what we are seeing right now is the modern-day phenomenon of a visit from the police plus the beauty of Twitter which has nigh-on dispensed with an actual legal process.
Within an hour of the police visiting one’s door, one can kiss goodbye to prime-time telly for the forseeable future. No more poodles with poorly paws for Rolf, no more singing “Two Little Boys” for Her Majesty. The didgeridoo can go into storage.
Then, as Bill Roache – Ken Barlow from Coronation Street – was arrested, I was struck how this whole chapter reminds me somewhat of England circa-1644, the era of Matthew Hopkins, The Witchfinder General, and the gathering up for hanging of all the peculiar and troublesome women of east-of-England counties. Altogether, 344 “witches” were dead by the time Hopkins had finished, with no one entirely sure what he’d achieved. The other reminder was of Monty Python’s re-enactment of The Spanish Inquisition – sketches brimming with a heady cocktail of duty, jurisdiction and chaos, the joke being they were possibly causing more harm than good.
I’ve had this terrible sense with Roache. There was the awful joke that circulated around men’s mags that the legend of his seduction techniques earned him the name “Cock Roache”. A thousand women bedded, allegedly. That mingled with memories of how years ago he tried to sue The Sun for branding him “Boring Ken Barlow”, so confident was he in his charisma and charm.
Recently there were his inflammatory statements about sex abuse, which appeared to suggest that sex-abuse victims were being punished for past sins. “If you accept that you are pure love, and if you know that you are pure love and therefore live that pure love, these things won’t happen to you,” he said, not sounding entirely modern in his thinking about sex. But why would he be – he’s 81.
Roache also called for anonymity for those accused of child sex offences because of the stigma they faced even if innocent. “There’s been a pendulum swing after the Jimmy Savile situation. All I am saying is that if you’re accused, you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty but if you’re a celebrity you’re pilloried. There should be anonymity for both the accuser and the accusee until such time as there is evidence and then it should come out.” I remember at this point thinking, Bill Roache really needs to stop giving interviews. Gods of entertainment could once say and do what they wanted, but the worm is turning.
And here we are, right in the thick of Operation Yewtree, which should be a small victory for women, but I don’t feel remotely victorious. I do want to believe – as a woman – that Yewtree is a force for good, that what we are witnessing is a shift in the national moral compass towards allegations of sex abuse against minors. I want to think that we are changing our views towards sex crimes against the vulnerable. And that what older men classed as unofficially OK to do to under-age girls even as recently as the 1990s, they know is not OK now.
I want to think that what we have is a nation that will no longer tolerate the power play involved in sex between the rich and the poor. Or that the well-connected can no longer take what they want sexually whenever they want it, like Jimmy Savile did. I hope that Yewtree has put a stop to a minority of celebrities feeling that they have free rein with young women not merely because of their glow of fame, but also because they knew that when young women complained they would share culpability for putting themselves in harm’s way – for spoiling the party.
But I can’t help feeling that what is actually happening with Operation Yewtree is some of the above; some force for good, and some real victims among the complainants, and some notorious types among the accused, and some complete red herrings and ruined lives, and a lot of Twitter excitement while we all warm our hands on the big Yewtree bonfire.
Maybe they’re all a bit too integrated
The family of Marco Cereste, the leader of Peterborough City Council, came to Britain from Italy in the 1950s to work in the local brickworks when locals couldn’t be found to do the dirty jobs. Now as the man with much control of the “city the Poles took over” – 24,000 have arrived in the past decade – he is faced with fielding complaints from not just white residents but many members of Peterborough’s large Asian community, who complain that Eastern Europeans simply don’t integrate.
The story itself sounds like an Aesop’s Fable. The idea of “integration” fascinates me because the more I hear people yearn for it, the less I know what the indigenous and new fold of “integrated people” actually wants. What is this magical level of integration?
When I moved into my house seven years ago, in the heart of a Polish immigrant community, my first reaction was that these people looked weirdly similar to a lot of the Cumbrians I’d grown up with. Pale skinned, capable-looking, hardy, and lacking in airs and graces. They went to Asda after work in married couples, often with a visiting mother-in-law in tow and a baby or two in a pram.
When it comes to living a traditional British life, I remember thinking, these Poles were living the sort of working-class British values – striving not skiving, family focused, women being women and men being men, having a charming family close by and living within your means – which keeps David Cameron and Ukip warm in bed at night. In fact, they were doing a better job than I was.
And just like Cereste’s family plugged a job gap that we Brits didn’t want to do or couldn’t do – unpalatable though it is to hear – the same thing is happening now. Maybe the truth is that, in spotting a job gap and grabbing it with both hands, they’re a bit too bloody beautifully integrated for a lot of people’s liking.