The Daily Mail has been doing what it does best: whipping up hysteria. Their specific target is Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, Harriet Harman, her husband Jack Dromey and Labor MP Patricia Hewitt. All three worked at the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) in the 1970s. In what seems to many to be an indefensible situation, the three stand accused of aiding and abetting, or at least accommodating, the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), by allowing them to be affiliated with the NCCL and colluding with them. One such collusion was to lower the age of sexual consent to age 10.
After taking the tactic of maintaining silence, which did little to calm the storm, Harman has now spoken out. She said the Daily Mail was conducting a smear campaign, and that the newspaper should be the last to take lessons from on the sexualization of children. Harman was referring to the notorious “Sidebar of Shame” on the Daily Mail‘s website, which features scantily clad females of all ages in swimwear and revealing outfits, and makes a great deal of comment as to how they look, with or without makeup, and with a few or extra pounds. One of her tweets showed a recent shot of a 12-year-old girl in a bikini they had posted to illustrate her point. She said she regretted the PIE affiliation and had never liked it, but she did not apologize. This served to aggravate the clamor of voices in opposition.
Now, Tom O’Carroll, who was then the chairman of the now defunct PIE group, and subsequently convicted and charged as a child abuser, has waded into the debate. He says Harman did not try to oust them, because she did not want to “rock the boat” and was more focused on her political career. She “did not even try” to get PIE out because they were heavily supported by others within the organization, such as the Gay Liberation Front.
Dromey, however, has a different take on this. He says he did take PIE on during his stint as chairman of the NCCL, and that this is on the record. He was on the executive committee from 1970 to 1979, and he challenged the convicted pedophile. He says he defeated, by a massive vote, when he spoke at the 1976 NCCL annual conference about an application by PIE for the rights of pedophiles to be supported.
The lingering mystery, to which there is no adequate answer, is why on earth PIE was allowed to be affiliated in the first place. For a group to label themselves pedophiles, expressing themselves as pedophiles, and expecting to have rights as pedophiles, is unfathomable. There is another fire springing up from this conflagration now, with rumors that PIE was possibly financed by the Thatcher government.
To put this into context, however, it was a different time and a different political climate. Putting aside the observation by some commentators that it was an odd period of sexual liberation, it was also a high point, in one sense, for civil liberties, as civil liberties groups genuinely believed in what they were there for: freedom of expression for everyone. Even, despicable though they may be, those who got their kicks from sexually fantasizing about children.
Thirty years later, this seems absurd and contemptible, but it was the principle behind civil rights and it is just too dangerous now for Harman and others to take that tack. They will look like pro-pedophilia apologists, and that is the last thing they can, or would want, to suggest. They were young, idealistic freedom-of-expression defenders, however much they personally despised PIE, but now, in 2014, that just will not wash. The Daily Mail knows this and is having a field day. They have got Harman and the others on the ropes.
The PIE members who went on to commit hideous pedophilic acts soon found themselves recast and incarcerated as criminals. But the ones who belonged to the organization were not, at that stage, doing anything criminal. That is one way of looking at it, and it would appear to be the line that NCCL took, despite the clear objection of people like Dromey in the 1970s. To be a civil libertarian, one must defend the rights of the vastly unpopular alongside the popular.
As an example of this, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) allowed a march by Nazi sympathizers in a largely Jewish town, because it recognized their rights to their own views. They have also defended the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). This is not for a moment to suggest that they were ever pro-pedophilia, but they acted because they felt they had to. The parents of a 10-year-old boy who was tragically raped and murdered said the pedophiles who committed the heinous crime were provoked by pornographic material on the NAMBLA website. The ACLU could not find evidence of this.
Another way of looking at this is to realize there are mindsets we may find flawed, disgusting, foul and even evil, but freedom of speech means freedom of speech for all, not just for “nice” groups. This is the ethos of “Everyone is entitled to a voice” that was so prevalent in the 1970s.
Harman, no doubt wisely, is not taking this line, as it would cause her endless grief. She still maintains she is owed an apology by the Daily Mail. Today, she said at the Oxford Media Convention that she had never met Tom O’Carroll and his opinions about her career were groundless. His group had been pushed to the margins by the time she joined the NCCL. She said that the associate editor of the Daily Mail had admitted they “got it wrong” and that she was not, nor had ever been, an “apologist for pedophilia.”
Meanwhile, the present director of the NCCL (now renamed Liberty), Shami Chakrabati, apologized today for their past link to PIE. Chakrabati is a high-profile figure and was one of the flag bearers at the 2012 Olympics ceremony. Chakrabati said the past affiliation was a source of “continuing disgust and horror.”
The Daily Mail, the “voice of Middle England,” has the bit between its teeth and is out for blood. They are quite demonstrably attempting to destroy Harman and her reputation. “Just say sorry,” their headline has insisted, and she has not. Many feel that the Daily Mail has every reason to say sorry every day for its noxious outpourings and its dreadful stigmatization of women.
This saga is not over yet. Until it is, the battle between the righteous right and what they will always call the “Loony Left” continues. The Daily Mail has stirred up hysteria about pedophilia and its proponent’s past links to a civil rights group. They are a paper renowned for unleashing passions, and Harriet Harman and the other two did indeed work at the NCCL when the vile PIE group were affiliated. As WB Yeats wrote, “The best lack all conviction/The worst are full of passionate intensity.” Harman is feeling the full force of that passionate intensity.
Editorial by Kate Henderson