“Trust me, I’m a politician. Now, you’re really having a laugh” was how Andrew Rawnsley put it in the Observer (13/7/14). Never before have the institutions of British capitalism been so distrusted. The media, bankers, and the church: support for all has been dramatically undermined. Capitalist politicians, however, top the list.
Just before the local elections one poll asked voters what word best described their feelings about Westminster politicians. Almost half answered ‘angry’.
The latest poisonous scandal – relating to charges of child abuse – leaking out of Westminster will do further profound damage to the capitalist parties. When the expenses scandal first broke we raised a comparison with the gigantic corruption scandal in Italy in the early 1990s. It resulted in the disappearance of whole parties and a complete restructuring of the Italian electoral system in the ‘clean hands’ operation.
The ongoing expenses disgrace in Britain, against the background of the worst economic crisis in 80 years and a prolonged fall in incomes for the majority, have enormously corroded the authority of parliament, but have not yet led to the kind of meltdown that took place in Italy.
Depending how the current child abuse cover-up story unfolds it is not excluded that a crisis on an Italian scale could now be posed.
Back when the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal first broke the outpouring of anger that took place was not only against the abhorrent actions of one individual, but of the systematic cover-up of those actions by different capitalist institutions over a period of decades. All the attempts of individuals, including individual police officers, to take action against Savile were blocked because he was an ‘important’ person close to Margaret Thatcher.
And as Brian Caton’s interview graphically reveals, he assisted Thatcher’s government in attempting to carry through privatisation and to break the unions.
In the weeks and months following the Savile disclosure there was an attempt by the representatives of capitalism to divert this mood into concentrating on dealing with individual predators like Savile, while emphasising that they are rare aberrations. Unfortunately, however, while the scale of Savile’s abuse may have been exceptional, it reflects a deep-rooted problem in capitalist society. One UK study, by Child and Women Abuse Studies, estimated that one in 20 women and one in 50 men have experienced childhood sexual abuse.
The latest allegations surfacing in the press show that Savile was not alone, not only in society but also in the corridors of power. The Sunday Mirror quotes a former Tory party activist who says that in the 1980s he: “helped procure the youngest and prettiest” boys for several cabinet ministers after being told to find “entertainment”.
The Sunday Mirror also reports that the Tory activist told Thatcher what had taken place. He also alleges that Michael Havers, the brother of Baroness Butler-Sloss who was originally heading the government inquiry into the issue, was present at at least one such “entertainment”.
Regardless of whether this is true, Havers was attorney general from 1979 to 1987. If, as is claimed, a dossier of evidence relating to a paedophile ring at Westminster was deliberately destroyed, it was likely to have happened on Havers’ watch.
We do not know whether there was an organised paedophile ring at Westminster, or whether all the revelations currently appearing in the press are accurate. It is no surprise to socialists, however, to learn of child abuse by MPs or other powerful figures. Capitalism is a system built on exploitation and power. A tiny minority have enormous wealth and power while the vast majority is exploited. The capitalist parties’ role is ultimately to rule in the interests, not of the people who elected them, but the tiny capitalist elite that hold power in British society.
Capitalism warps and distorts human behaviour, leading to all kinds of horrors. Child abuse takes place in all classes of society, most often within the family. But given that the sexual abuse of children is fundamentally about power, it is to be expected that it is more common among those who hold powerful positions in society (as is domestic violence) and that it is often carried out against those with the least power.
All children are largely powerless, but as the Savile, care home, and grooming scandals have all shown those children who suffer abuse are often selected because they are in especially vulnerable and powerless situations.
It is sickening but not unexpected, if members of Thatcher’s government – whose day jobs were carrying out crimes against the working class – the miners’ strike, anti-trade union laws, the poll tax, introducing the anti-gay Section 28 legislation, to name a few – were also abusing the powerless for ‘entertainment’. Nor were the crimes committed limited to the Tory Party as the accusations against the Liberal Democrat Cyril Smith show.
By announcing a judge-led inquiry into what took place, the government hoped to be seen to be taking action, while in reality kicking the problem into the long grass. Once this might have worked, but today, when suspicion of capitalist politicians runs so deep, it will not be possible to prevent the further deepening of public anger at the cesspool of Westminster.
Even if, with the collaboration of the majority of the capitalist press, they manage to pull off the difficult task of largely postponing the issue until after the general election, they will not prevent it further damaging Westminster’s authority.
The initial choice of Butler-Sloss to head the inquiry shows again the arrogance and stupidity of the current government, imagining that a woman at the very heart of the establishment, with a long history of acting in its interests, would be a credible choice.
The ranks of high court judges are not packed with anti-establishment figures, to put it mildly, with almost 70% having been privately educated and almost 80% having gone to Oxbridge. Butler-Sloss, nonetheless, seems to have got a particularly distinguished record for whitewashes.
Even the Pope has admitted that 2% of the Catholic clergy are paedophiles. But it has been revealed that, when investigating cases of child abuse in the Church of England, Butler-Sloss explained to one victim that she was not intending to refer to a Bishop in her final report. This was not because he was innocent, but because she did not want to undermine the Church of England!
To have continued to insist on Butler-Sloss heading the inquiry would have completely discredited any report the inquiry produced. They have been forced to search for a seemingly more ‘independent’ figure.
Inevitably, any inquiry in the hands of representatives of the ruling class will attempt to consign whatever it finds to being a problem of the distant past. However, the Sunday Mirror’s report suggests that some of those involved in the 1980s are still active in politics today. More generally, child abuse remains endemic in society. It is true that there has been progress, particularly in the form of laws and regulations to protect children.
The Savile and Rolf Harris revelations will undoubtedly have given greater confidence to other victims of abuse to speak out. But the huge cuts and privatisation that this government is carrying out, and which began under Labour, are tearing apart the limited safety net that previously existed.
At the same time, we live in a world where inequality is growing, where more and more workers are in insecure low-paid work without any trade union representation, in a world in which whistle-blowing against abuse is much more difficult and it is easier for abusers in powerful positions to get away with it. It is also a world where workers’ organisations with the power to defend services and challenge abuse, are under vicious attack. The fight against cuts and for workers’ rights is an essential part of combatting child abuse.
Socialists demand a genuine, democratic, workers’ inquiry into child abuse involving Britain’s establishment, past and present – including Westminster and the Church of England. Such an inquiry would be conducted by democratically elected and accountable representatives of the trade unions, community organisations and abuse survivors’ groups. It could provide the working class with the truth.
The Mirror’s revelations will add fuel to the burning anger that already exists with the establishment parties. In the short term this can contribute to the ‘anti-party’ mood and even to votes for Ukip, who are just another pro-cuts party of the 1% but are widely presented as the best stick with which to beat the establishment.
The need for a new party of a completely ‘different type’ is more urgent than ever. A mass workers’ party would stand for the powerless against the abusers of power. It would stand, as Brian shows the POA did, against all cuts in public services. It would also fight for a massive extension of democracy – including a real right for constituents to recall their MPs and for MPs to only receive the salary of a skilled worker.
Socialists would also argue for such a party to stand for an end to capitalism – a system built on exploitation – and a democratic socialist society. Such a society would be built on an entirely different set of relationships, free from the power, coercion and inequalities that are fundamental to capitalism. Only then would it be possible to begin to completely eradicate child abuse.
Savile: a Tory weapon against the working class
Brian Caton, former general secretary of the POA prison officers’ union and Barnsley Socialist Party member, spoke to the Socialist about his time as national officer for special hospitals. At that time serial abuser Jimmy Savile had a key position in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, granted by Edwina Currie, then a Tory junior health minister.
According to the Guardian Currie was “supportive of Savile’s promise to confront unionised prison officers.” Currie told an NHS inquiry that Savile had looked at “everything he could use to blackmail the POA”, and she thought this approach was a “pretty classy piece of operation”.
This interview contains some disturbing details.
What was the union’s approach to Savile at the time?
The staff were saying this man being on this ward is unhelpful at best and downright disruptive at worst. It was disruptive to staff and actually prevented them from doing the work that they needed to do. If he was on the ward these people didn’t go to therapy sessions, to treatment, or to sit down with psychiatric social workers or their nurse.
I was making lots of noise about him being there. Firstly the POA central committee determined that we would not allow for Savile to expand his influence into any other of the special hospitals. Further we set out to create a media campaign not purely about Savile but also to put the real case to maintain the values of special hospitals keeping their unique status.
The government’s views remained unchanged and Broadmoor management embarked on an attack against POA members using unwarranted and unnecessary disciplinary cases against prominent branch officials and members.
Many years later Savile was at Tory conference and spoke to me a couple of times. He was constantly bobbing up and wanting to talk to me about the POA. I found him creepy beyond belief. He ended up appearing in this Chinese restaurant in Bournemouth – I gave him very short sharp shift.
What was the context of Savile’s presence at Broadmoor?
We’d had the Olliff report which sought to move special hospitals into the mainstream NHS and away from the very special and necessary administration held jointly under the Department of Health and the Home Office. The government was saying it’s nothing to do with the union – but of course it was.
There were a lot of things that I was unhappy about to do with special hospitals – the way in which patients were seen as prisoners, the way in which staff were seen as prison officers. They weren’t. And we knew that there were lots of people that shouldn’t be in there – it was just that we had nowhere to send them.
The government’s proposals were all about changing everything – people’s conditions of service, the way in which they worked, their pay scales, the uniforms, the level of qualified staff, to exactly the opposite, instead of having two-thirds qualified and a third unqualified it went to two-thirds unqualified and a third qualified.
And of course Savile was in that context but, to be honest, I never put the two things together other than the complaints I got regularly that the workers didn’t want this man in Broadmoor.
I am convinced now that when the Special Hospitals Service Authority took over in the early 1990s, there was an overall strategy to have fear and intimidation in the workplace to stop workers and the POA responding to the proposed changes. It was clear to us that these changes would threaten the safety and security of staff and patients and the public.
In 1991 the POA took strike action against the proposed changes and was quite successful. Many parts of Olliff were abandoned.
But the Tories’ and senior management’s view was, push it closer to the edge until someone falls over the precipice – then we know where the boundary is and we’ll not go past that. Until ten years later they’re pushing against it again until someone falls off.
What has been the impact of these Tory changes to the prison service?
There’s no greater number of dangerous people in society then there was many years ago – they’re just in different places. They used to be in special hospitals getting psychotherapy and special treatment – they’re now in prison not getting it.
There’s only one addition to that correlation – it costs £110-£115,000 a year to keep someone in a high security hospital or a regional secure unit. It costs £38,000 to keep them in prison. Albeit that when they come out of the system having received psychiatric care they’re usually less likely to re-offend. So there was a bigger picture if you like.
I’m not exaggerating when I say 50%, in female establishments it’s as high as 80 and 90%, of the prison population are wrongly placed, should be in psychiatric supervision and care. But that’s not happening – we’ve lost community psychiatric nurses. We haven’t got a system or a process to allow people to be cared for in the community.
The ethos was, so long as these people were out of sight, they’re out of mind. But POA members were dealing with these people the best they could, given the financial limits on the service.
I’ll give you one example – I met two drunken psychiatric nurses in a high security hospital club. I said why are they soaked? They said they’d just had a 14 year old have his teeth removed. So bad was his self-harming that he’d been ripping the veins out of his own arms and legs with his teeth. The only way these guys could cope with dealing with these kind of problems day in, day out, seven days a week, 12 hour shifts including overtime, was by getting drunk every night.
The Tories were insistent that everything had to change. And the only stumbling block was the POA. Because there was no successful alternative being put forward other than the POA must change its ‘culture’, you can’t wear a uniform, you can’t put these people at night where they should be, which is in their rooms sleeping – sleep was a great stabiliser to these people.
What role has the POA played in the prison service?
The POA has changed and the change goes on. We decided that, every racist that we found, we didn’t take them to a disciplinary – we threw them out of the union. Then we said to the prison service this bloke is a racist and we constantly did it. It took us at least ten years to get the prison service to bring in a system where if they know that someone’s in a racist organisation of any description they will throw them out of employment. We forced them to do that.
We were the ones who forced the prison service to end slopping out. I took the motion in the late 70s to conference. They took the toilets out so they could get more prisoners in.
It all comes down to brass.