The whips can no longer maintain Westminster's shroud of secrecy

They've long been the secret-keepers of politics, but privilege can't protect them now

Share

On Monday’s Newsnight, archive footage from an old Michael Cockerell documentary cast some sort of light, however shady and gloomy, on the potential cover-up of political paedophilia.

As brief as it was chilling, as tonally casual as it was factually astonishing, it involved a Conservative MP, now dead, who served as a senior government whip in Edward Heath’s early 1970s administration.

What Tim Fortescue had to say about the whips’ delicate handling of miscreant colleagues, in Cockerell’s 1995 film Westminster’s Secret Service, deserves to be quoted in full. “Anyone with any sense who was in trouble would come to the whips, and tell them the truth,” explained this urbane, slightly diffident old buffer. “They’d say ‘Now listen, I’m in a jam, can you help?’ It might be debt, it might be scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal in which...”

The Newsnight report ended the snippet there, though Mr Fortescue continued: “ … in which, erm, er, a member seemed likely to be mixed up, they’d come and ask if we could help, and if we could we did. And we would do everything we can, because we would store up Brownie points... And if I mean, that sounds a pretty, pretty nasty reason, but it’s one of the reasons, because if we could get a chap out of trouble, then he will do as we ask for ever more.”

There is so much there that is mind-achingly, stomach-turningly surreal, even to those well aware of the mafiosi tactics and omerta that has always governed whipping, that it’s hard to know where to start.

With the blithe equivalence of one MP’s financial worries with another’s commission of exceedigly serious crime? With the candid public admission that whips routinely used information that obviously belonged with the police as the leverage with which to blackmail colleagues into lobby fodder obedience? Or with the failure of the police, parliamentary authorities, media and any other supposed guardian of public morality to react in any observable way to what Mr Fortescue said?

What he effectively said is that, on behalf of Her Majesty’s government and in pursuit of parliamentary advantage, he and his ilk not merely abrogated their duty – as politicians, but far more than that, as human beings – to report the sexual abuse of small children. They were accessories after the fact of previous crime, and by ignoring it almost certainly accessories before the fact of future offences.

Once again, as with Savile, the reflex is to splutter with anguished disbelief, and ask yourself what sort of country you have been inhabiting. A former government whip appears on the BBC brazenly confessing to having been an enabler of a grave crime with catastrophic psychological consequences for its victims, and not for nearly 20 years does anyone show the faintest interest?

God alone knows how many children might have been spared if the abuse of others had been deemed more than a minor local difficulty to be confined within the Palace of Westminster, and adapted for us as blackmail.

Decades later, Theresa May’s inquiry won’t be able to find the precise figure. But as to its central question of whether or not there was a cover-up, Tim Fortescue has answered that one from beyond the grave.

One assumes that the Metropolitan Police will immediately want to interview every extant whip, of every party, and to examine any secret files that have survived the shredder and fire grate. No doubt those concerned will squeal the catch-all defence of parliamentary privilege.

Somehow, one suspects, public opinion will be that those concerned have had more than enough of that, and abused it as wickedly as some of them abused children.

READ NEXT:
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Rumours of sexual misconduct can no longer be brushed beneath the carpet
Is Ian Thorpe gay? Does anyone care?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map