Even as Michael “Oiky” Gove was telling Andrew Marr yesterday that there would not be anything like a public inquiry into allegations of historic child abuse, and the possibility that a paedophile ring had operated in Parliament, his position had already been undermined, after former Tory cabinet minister Norman Tebbit admitted that there could have been a cover-up of previous improper behaviour.
Of course, Tebbit also left open the possibility that there could not have been a cover-up, but by the time Gove came on later in the programme, the message was already winging its way round the web. Elsewhere in right-leaning circles there was a mood almost of panic, as Labour figures kept the pressure on, from backbenchers like Tom Watson to shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper.
The panic was typified by the serially clueless Tim Montgomerie (now writing leaders for the Murdoch Times, not that it’s a Tory supporting paper, oh no), who flapped “Why do we need to know that Leon Brittan was interviewed about an ALLEGED rape? He hasn’t been charged. This is ugly trial by media”. Monty was nowhere to be found when the press was champing at the bit to identify Rolf Harris.
And, in any case, all the talk about Brittan is to miss the point: the Police interview had nothing to do with child abuse, the complainant being over 18 at the time of the alleged offence. Brittan, as his statement demonstrates, followed correct procedure in passing Geoffrey Dickens’ dossier to his officials, there was an investigation, and he reported back. Dickens then thanked him for his help.
But the panic exemplified by Montgomerie shows that a nerve has been touched here, and that in turn makes one wonder why any one party should become defensive about historic child abuse. There are two straightforward points to make: one, the likelihood of this following party lines is next to non-existent, and two, all parties should be agreed in wanting to stop this happening in future.
You remember – thinking of the children. In the meantime, Theresa May has appeared before Parliament to tell that there will be a panel inquiry – as with that which inquired into the Hillsborough stadium disaster- which may, in the future, be converted into a full public inquiry. Norman Tebbit’s wording was not an admission, but it has had an equivalent effect.
So at last there will be action. “Our priority must be the prosecution of the people behind these disgusting crimes”, Theresa May has said, also signalling that the Official Secrets Act may not prevent testimony: “It's only if people can speak openly that we can get to the bottom of these matters”. And remember, Leon Brittan is peripheral to this, as far as is known.
He’s just the bloke who carried the can for Mrs T on Westland.