Enough of this parliamentary privilege hogwash

 

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 exceedingly 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 were prepared to abrogate their duty – not merely 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 a willingness to cover up a grave crime with catastrophic psychological consequences for its victims, and not for nearly 20 years does anyone show the faintest interest?

Video: Theresa May launches Westminster child abuse inquiry

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 enquiry won’t be able to find the precise figure. But as it 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.

React Now

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

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Teaching Assistants needed in Chester

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teaching Assistants needed in Cheshire...

Male PE Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside  

Autumn’s subtle charm is greatly enhanced by this Indian summer

Michael McCarthy
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits