by Peter Watt
Sometimes the political world becomes a parody of itself, and Monday was one of those days. Faced with a barrage of revelation relating to the grim antics of James Savile how did it respond? With glee at another political bun fight and the sight of someone else being brought down in front of a select committee. Congratulations everyone, job well done.
Let’s be really, really clear about what has happened. An iconic figure from the world of the media, a children’s TV presenter for god’s sake, has got away with abusing children over a period of several decades. Hundreds of child victims have been sexually assaulted over decades by this man. And according to the police there appear to have been other perpetrators involved in this tragedy.
Each case of abuse, of violation, is a personal tragedy for the person involved. It will almost certainly have involved shame, secrecy, anger and years of trauma. For many, recovery will have been difficult if not impossible with the consequences of the assault carried into later life and relationships. Savile may be dead but the consequences of what he did will be very much alive for his victims.
And yes, the abuse took place in dressing rooms at the BBC. But also in hospitals and in his caravan and no doubt other venues as well. In other words, this is a human tragedy of immense proportions that spans decades, spans institutions and spans families. The crimes were hidden in public and as a society we must begin to try and understand how this has happened. How is it that over the year’s victims were not believed? Or were too fearful to speak out?
That is something that we must ask ourselves, each and every one of us. It is not a problem of the 1960’s or the 1970’s but it is a problem now. Attitudes may have changed, but when we look at recent events in Rochdale and Rotherham we have to be honest and say that they may not have changed as much as we would want.
A tragedy, a scandal of this size and implication should rightly be taken seriously by politicians. Lessons need to be learned and steps taken to minimise the chance of future victims.
Which takes me back to the response on show from the political system on Monday. Somehow the Westminster bubble seems to have turned this tragedy into a row about the BBC and Newsnight. There may well be serious questions to ask about why Newsnight was canned last year. But Peter Rippon did not cause the abuse to happen. Newsnight did not cause the abuse to happen. And the current director general of the BBC did not cause or allow the abuse to happen.
Savile, and in all likelihood others around him, did. The most important people are their victims; yet to listen to news reports and politicians talking you would be forgiven for thinking it was reporters, producers and officials that mattered most.
It is almost as if our politicians simply cannot deal with the emotion, the pain and the trauma of what has happened. So instead their first response is to fall back on something familiar. A good old political row and a conspiracy theory. The media-political nexus at its best as it chases its own tail, anything rather than deal with what really matters.
Where have been the political demands for zero-tolerance of all abuse? Or the political calls for an urgent inquiry into what support victims need if they are to be able to speak out sooner? If these calls have been made then then they have been drowned out by the sound of political rowing.
It isn’t that the issues raised yesterday are not important. Indeed of greater importance than the BBC surely has to be how the hell Savile was given the keys to Broadmoor and access to children on hospital wards?
But it is a question of priorities. Up until now, the focus for activity after the original broadcast by ITV been those who were abused. It is why the police established an inquiry – so that victims could say what happened to them. So that they were finally heard and taken seriously.
And then the political world decided to act.
Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party