Rotherham: a case study in the laws of political mob dynamics

by Ian McKenzie

I recently wrote of my terror at the prospect of a mob in full flow. On Wednesday I witnessed one first hand. It wasn’t as terrifying as a gang of religious thugs stoning to death a gay man who’d had the temerity to survive being thrown from a seven-story building, but it was frightening in its own context nonetheless.

Seven decent, honourable people doing righteous public service for very little reward were hounded out of office in Rotherham, by a mob whipped up by a partial government report that has condemned the very people who had finally started to get a grip on the chaos and confusion that has hurt so many in that town.

Over the last 30 years, I suppose it’s possible I’ve met a braver politician with more integrity than Paul Lakin but I can’t recall one and I’ve shaken the hand of Nelson Mandela. If you think that’s hyperbole you’ve never had a friend who suffered sexual abuse from the age of eight and seen her shake uncontrollably at its mere recall many years later, or heard her scream out in her sleep, as I have. If you believe I don’t take sexual abuse seriously enough then stop reading now, I can’t help you and you will learn nothing here.

Paul Lakin and his team rolled up their sleeves when many others headed for the hills, and they were making good progress. Lakin was the leader of Rotherham Borough Council from 10 September 2014 until Wednesday 4 February 2015. It was the interregnum between the Jay report and this week’s Casey report, shall we say? During those 146 days he put his heart, soul and considerable personal capital into serving the people of Rotherham who are today worse off for his absence as their council leader. Among their number are many survivors and victims of child sexual abuse.

Of course, on Lakin’s brief watch, child sexual abuse in Rotherham did not come to an end, South Yorkshire Police did not start functioning properly, and Rotherham Borough Council did not suddenly shake off all the shackles of its decades of political corruption and complacency and enter the modern age. Municipal Rotherham wasn’t rebuilt in those 146 days.  But solid foundations were laid and work was proceeding apace.

On Wednesday, I witnessed the shock and palpable distress of many members and officers, liberated for less than five months from their version of the ancien régime, unable to comprehend that the leader who had brought them some fresh air at last with his accessibility, honesty and integrity, was no longer in post. Tribute after tribute was paid, some publicly, many more privately. I tweeted this,

Even the Rotherham MP who had been so excoriating in Parliament sent him a personal text message of kindly support. It is for shame that the laws of mob dynamics prevented her expressing those sentiments on the Floor of the House of Commons so that we could all have heard them, especially the ill-informed editor who put together yesterday’s front page of the Times, and Nigel Farage of course.

I met Paul Lakin for the first time on Friday 5 September 2014 shortly after he became acting leader of Rotherham Council following the resignation of Roger Stone. (Stone was one of only two people who refused to be interviewed by Louise Casey for her report, and whose picture, inexplicably, did not appear on the front of yesterday’s Times). A few days days later, and under Lakin’s stewardship, the Chief Executive and the Director of Children’s services had both departed without the lottery win pay-offs common in some other authorities, the council had approved a new slimmed down cabinet and had voted through emergency support for victims, the largesse excesses of the previous leadership had been culled (including a moratorium on foreign travel by councillors) and an independently chaired improvement board of experienced outsiders to oversee council activity was in place.

Not long after that, an interim Chief Executive with experience of turning around failing authorities and a new Director of Children’s Services had a grip of the official reins. It was laudably rapid.

At the full council meeting on 10 September when Paul Lakin was elected as Leader of the Council, he made a statement accepting the council’s responsibility for the events and making a truly heart-rending apology. It is worth reading. When he had finished speaking the entire room applauded, including the UKIP packed public gallery, and the Mayor afforded all the other political leaders  – UKIP, the Tories and Independents – a brief opportunity to comment.

All of them welcomed the measures outlined and the motion that put them into practical effect was later carried without a single vote against. That reveals today’s political opportunism from Nigel Farage as all the more disgusting. Earlier, until corrected, he’d said that the outgoing cabinet had been complicit in the abuse.

Of course, this all came much too late for many survivors and victims, years so, in many cases, and the pace of change since September was not as fast as we would all like. But then Louise Casey taking four months to come to her conclusions probably wasn’t fast enough either. And the pace of both Casey and the Council was much faster than progress now, which, thanks to the political upheaval, was effectively stalled for a couple of weeks at least.

Eric Pickles sent in Louise Casey, no doubt expecting the worst. But by the time she arrived, some time after the events I have described took place, the Council was moving forward in fresh air and light for the first time in decades.

She took a lot of time and spent a lot of money, and “it’s been crap for years but Paul looks like he’s put it on the right road at last” wouldn’t have made very good headlines and would have blunted the edge of Pickles’ party political broadcast on Wednesday in the Commons. The man’s a pro, mind, with a brass neck that would take a South Yorkshire foundry to cast. He even managed to take others to task for using child sex abuse as a political football and keep a straight face.

The leadership were given less than a couple of hours’ notice and only about an hour or so with the actual text before Pickles stood up to deliver his Commons statement.

By then I, and others, had told Paul he had to resign. Despite everything he had done, the enormous efforts he had made, the political reality created by Eric Pickles’ statement meant there was no alternative.

To his eternal credit Paul not only accepted the situation with grace and dignity, more than I could muster on his behalf, but reminded me that he’d foreseen this back in September when I had dismissed his pessimism. That’s why he’s a better politician that I would ever have been. Hilary Benn conveyed news of the cabinet’s resignation to the House of Commons.

I have only skim read the Casey report, but it seems to me that Casey may actually understate the scale of the political mayhem before September 2014 almost as much as she traduces the progress made since.

But the laws of political dynamics are laws nonetheless. Her report was welcomed without question, as it had to be, by a political class in terror of the gathered 4th Estate, encircled for a political stoning. It was leave the circle or be pounded to a bloody pulp. That’s how these things have to work. The Maxwellisation process for at least two of those mentioned by name was a sick joke. Those criticised by Chilcot have had weeks or months to respond. In Rotherham it was about 24 hours at the end of four months of enquiry. And their line-by-line rebuttals were effectively dismissed with glib blunderbuss accusations of being “in denial”.

This latest chapter of Rotherham’s appalling recent history has set back the cause of local public service some way. The next time a local authority scandal breaks and the old guard is swept aside, I warn you not to be an untainted local councillor there, nor to have a sense of civic duty or, if you do, not to put yourself forward as part of the solution in the service of your fellow citizens, for if you do that, you will find yourself at the mercy of political fluid dynamics you cannot comprehend. The ensuing torrent will recognise neither your integrity nor your industry as the sheer force of the current sweeps you away. Foaming outrage does not separate problem from solution. It leaves only a levelled landscape.

But above all, I warn you not be a survivor or a victim of child sex abuse when this mob flows. Do not expect that the political tsunami has your interests at heart. There are newspaper front pages and manifestos to write, public forums with leather benches to fill with the sound of fury, and decent, hard-working public servants to flush away.

Paul Lakin, Mahroof Hussain and the other members of his cabinet will become, hopefully, the transitional executive authority that will in time turn out to have insulated Rotherham’s civilised future from its dark past. I hope they are all now on holiday far away from Rotherham. After those 146 days, they deserve a break. They did not deserve their monstering at the hands of the mob, a mob in which I played my own reluctant part, when I advised them that they had to resign.

Self-loathing doesn’t cover my current mood, even though I believed it was the right thing to do and I still believe I had no choice. Especially because I believed I had no choice. I know the thump of political force majeure when I feel it.

I am just sorry that it took a nasty little slur from Nigel Farage to shame me out of my cowardice and into saying something sooner; I have corrected that now.

I am very proud of my association with former Councillor Paul Lakin, even though it was for just a few days over a few months. I am proud of his work as the leader of Rotherham Council and I am honoured to be able to count him as my friend.

Ian McKenzie was engaged to give freelance strategic communications advice to Rotherham Borough Council.

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16 Responses to “Rotherham: a case study in the laws of political mob dynamics”

  1. It doesn't add up... says:

    Here are some other Rotherham opinions and reports about Paul Lakin:

  2. John Reid says:

    There was mob law in Rotherham today, Nigel Farage turned up to open the Ukip office, protesters made such a show, the police said they didn’t have the numbers to protect him if it turned violent, ao his democratic right to open his office was stopped, by those who preach Liberty,but infact are the biggest bigots of all, the UAF

  3. “I’ll see your Thatcher Government 30 years ago, and raise you Rotherham Council today,” said Eric Pickles. But he was missing the real point. That point is not race. Nor is it Islam. It is class.

    The 11 or 12-year-old daughter, indeed the daughter several years older than that, of a Councillor, a social worker or a Police Officer would not be allowed by such figures to stay out all night with older men.

    But the attitude of those white stalwarts to these white girls was, “You came from the gutter, anyway.” This was, and throughout the country tonight it still is, an internal white thing. And that thing is class.

    Pakistani taxi drivers join Catholic priests as the only people who can expect any media disapproval if they have sex with 13 and 14-year-olds. Even in the case of teachers, that is extended only if the perpetrators are male and the victims are female.

    Sex between men and teenage boys, especially, is otherwise the stuff of acclaimed television drama and of the novels of a National Treasure. Sex between women and teenage boys is treated as a joke even when it goes to court, as it almost never does.

    On Rotherham, meanwhile, what says the valiant trio of Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk and John Mann on the question of whether this is primarily about “Pakis” or what have you, or primarily about middle-class white neglect of working-class white girls?

    Whether or not the inhabitants of Rotherham blame the Labour Party, as sections of Twitter would have them do, will be as evident on the day after the forthcoming General Election as it was on the day after the Police and Crime Commissioner Election that had resulted directly from these events.

    Alas, the doomed UKIP candidate at Rotherham is not the PCC one, who had failed to notice anything remotely amiss throughout his several decades on the Force.

  4. Tafia says:

    Seven decent, honourable people doing righteous public service for very little reward were hounded out of office in Rotherham, by a mob

    You do know that any officials (including police and social services) or councillors that can be shown to have known what was going on are going to be prosecuted don’t you, with conspiracy offences related child trafficing, child prostitution and a myriad of the conspiracy offences.

    So what will you say of any of the seven end up there?

    Then there’s the former Deputy Leader refusing to apologise, Shaun Wright saying he no longer has to answer any questions as he no longer is employed by the authority, etc etc

    Wake up and smell the coffee. Everyone who knew what was going on and did nothing is going to jail and rightly so.

    And just in time for the election will come more stuff on Rochdale, Halifax which started to become public a couple of days ago, and more.

    And you should be cheering that on.

  5. james says:

    I’m afraid that’s life and a rule of politics – good people are pushed out or not elected for the sins of their `fathers`.

    Mounds of good even great LD cllrs have been kicked out due to Clegg – not sure why the special pleading here.

    At the end of the day Labour had it coming to them – protecting the vulnerable is their broadbrush meme yet in Rotherham they completely failed them. There’ll be a political price to pay (UKIP win the Council sometime) – the govt may have done Rotherham Lab a favour by perhaps kicking that can down the road and allowing Labour some sort of breathing space.

    Then, of course, St Sarah goes and fucks it up the next day.

  6. CD13 says:

    Is this an effort to get Private Eye’s OBN?

  7. Bob says:

    Lakin and his cohorts are very damaged goods, they have been involved in local politics for years. If he did not know of the activities of heritage Pakistani RAPE AND CHILD ABUSE GANGS, then he is at best a fool. Shaun Wright who was head of children’s services is the same. Remember the criminal McShane stated ‘he did not want to rock the community boat’ so implicitly he must have had knowledge, Anne Cryer bravely stood up and publicised the RAPE AND CHILD ABUSE. She was vilified and denigrated.

    You Sir, are trying to protect a council whose politicians and senior council officers plus the police senior and line management that in reality should be facing criminal charges in the order of ‘conspiracy to pervert the course of justice’ and ‘misfeasance in public office’ just as a starter.

    SYP were more than happy to deploy a multitude of officers to search a house of an older white British male in the south and invite the BBC along to watch. This goes to picking low hanging fruit and an easy target not targets that may cause trouble or attack their politically correct attitude.

    I have yet to hear, in fact, the silence is deafening from Miliband on this subject, but yet again his councillors in Rochdale, Manchester, Oxford, Birmingham, Halifax, Newcastle upon Tyne and the West Midlands do not appear to have spoken out about Pakistani Heritage RAPE AND CHILD ABUSE GANGS. Remember Miliband’s and Flint’s constituencies in Doncaster have a social services department that is utterly dysfunctional and has been contracted out. Notice a pattern here !!

    Do you indeend support UAF in their ‘protest’ in Rotherham yesterday, in fact the suppression of free speech and politics.

    I say again Sir, that you are an apologist for at least incompetence if not far far worse, and I suspect a disgrace as a member of the Labour Party.

  8. Tafia says:

    John Reid – the demo consisted of 35 people, mostly students.

    It’s a pretty piss poor show when yorkshire copper – the scourge of Scargill’s piquet lines, can’t sort out 35 students, hippies and other sad-arses.

    Good job AFA or Red Action weren’t there or South Yourksires finest would have probably run away to mummy.

  9. Dave Roberts. says:

    I have never been to Rotherham but I have to take into account the comments and the links they give as to Mr Lakin.

    I also look at the last paragraph of the article and the explanation, such as it is, of who Mr McKenzie is and what he does.

    Is Mr McKenzie a freelance giver/purveyor of strategic communications advice or is he involved in the provision of freelance communications advice? I’m confused. Can anyone help, including Mr McKenzie?

  10. Ex labour says:

    If Lakin was the new messiah as you seem to regard him, why did the government kick him out ? Possibly because he was already part of the Labour fiefdom who had systematically ignored allegations and silenced whistle blowers – according to blogs, media reports and now Casey ? I dont know, but guess that is probably the reason. These allegations had been circulating for years so one question for you ; what did Lakin do to address the allegations before he became leader ?

    The only option for the government was a total shake up of those Labour politicians who were in place when this was going on – anything else would be seen as a lack of courage and not addressing the issue. Your essay is full of faux outrage and crocadile tears. If you felt he should be in place then dont tell him to resign !!!

    However I’m puzzled as to why the ‘boys in blue’ of South Yorkshire Constabulary seem to escape any punishment. It would seem they are knee deep in this PC cover up as much as Labour councilors.

  11. John P Reid says:

    Tafia,yes he probably would have ran off if Red a tion were there, left wing fascist, tend to get violent, regarding the police not being able to stop, the students, all the police from the miners strike retired at least 3 years ago, and the’s been massive cuts,if the EDL were there picketing a Modque, the police through fear of political correctness, would have turned out in droves

    I agree with a James, about Sarah Champion,disgracing herself, gloating about Farage not having the freedom of speech to open, the shop, due to protesters

  12. Giles says:

    Lakin was cabinet member for safeguarding children before Jay. That’s all you need to know.

  13. craig says:

    I would trust you corrupt nepotistic lying bunch of bastards ..ever again it sums it all up how you lot work with you head up the unions arses to learn how the disgraced Labour last Police commissioner was selected and elected to elucidate exactly what you set of bent bastards have been up too in Rotherham for years. And then to almost deny it happened to add insult to the victims injuries is just disgraceful. hang your heads in shame Labour i would never vote labour again.

  14. craig says:

    would let Labour run a bath never mind local government !!

  15. Bob says:

    So Mckenzie, you still defend these people who it looks, may have been complicit in the cover up of CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE AND RAPE, by as defined the Jay and Casey reports, of Pakistani heritage male rape gangs.

    Maybe, unfortunately, Griffin may have been right, to the disgrace of the Labour party and its officers including MPs and councillors.

    Sir, you disgust me!!!

  16. Tom Roberts says:

    IIt is a considerable time since I have read some badly informed rubbish.
    But that’s what we have come to expect from anyone remotely involved with the Labour Party, especially at local level.

    It would take me many, many pages, and more time than this nonsense is worth, to tear it to pieces asw ill-informed garbage.

    Isn’t it sad to witness that even now, despite a drubbing at the election, the Labour Partyis still full of self-congratulating idiots.

    No, my mistake – it’s obvious, since they just elected a leader that’s even more of an electoral liability than Michael Foot . Who would have ever thought that possible ?

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