Tom Watson accuses May of "a cover-up" over child abuse claims

Labour MP says inquiry into allegations involving a senior Conservative politician is "the next stage of a cover-up".

After criticising the BBC for failing to respond adequately to allegations of child abuse by Jimmy Savile, the government is determined not to be seen to make the same mistake in the case of the alleged north Wales paedophile ring.

In a Commons statement earlier today, Theresa May announced the details of two inquiries into allegations of sexual abuse involving a former senior Conservative politician. The Home Secretary told MPs that north Wales police chief Mark Polin had invited Keith Bristow, the director general of the National Crime Agency, to "assess the allegations recently received, to review the historic police investigations and investigate any fresh allegations". He will produce an initial report on the case by April 2013. In addition, May confirmed that the government would ask "a senior independent figure" to lead an investigation into the 1996-2000 Waterhouse Inquiry, which is accused of failing to consider all allegations of abuse. "Given the seriousness of the allegations, we will make sure that this work is completed urgently," she added.

Responding for Labour, Yvette Cooper warned that having more than one inquiry risked causing confusion and called for "a single, overarching review". But it was Tom Watson, who first aired the new allegations at PMQs last month, who made the most notable intervention when he accused May of instituting "the next stage of a cover-up". The Labour MP told the Commons:

The lesson of Hillsborough and hacking is that a narrow-down investigation is the basic building block of a cover-up. To limit this inquiry to north Wales and Savile would in my view be a dereliction of the Home Secretary's duty. It would guarantee that many sickening crimes will remain uninvestigated and some of the most despicable paedophiles will remain protected by the establishment that has shielded them for 30 years.

Whether you were raped or tortured as a child in Wales or in Whitehall you are entitled to be heard. The media may be transfixed by the spectre of a paedophile cabinet minster abusing children, but what actually matters is that thousands and thousands of children, whose lives have been ground into nothing, who prefer to kill themselves than carry on, who have nowhere to turn, to whom nobody listens, whom nobody helps. Does she sincerely want to start making amends or can she live with being what she’s just announced – the next stage of a cover-up.

May was careful to warn MPs that using parliamentary privilege to name the Thatcher-era Tory could jeopardise any future prosecution. For the record, the individual in question has denied all of the allegations. He told the Daily Telegraph:

Some guy said I was in the habit of taking young men from Wrexham in my Rolls-Royce.

But I have only been to Wrexham once and I didn’t visit the children’s home, I made a speech to the constituency. I was with an official at all times. I never had a Rolls Royce.

When the inquiry was taking place I hired a lawyer to watch it in case there was any mention of my name. The point is that it is totally without any grounds whatsoever.

Labour MP Tom Watson warned that "many sickening crimes will remain uninvestigated". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty.
Show Hide image

Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.