Rolf Harris was convicted of 12 counts of assault. Photo: Getty
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The fall of Rolf Harris, strange police names and the delights of unfashionable Essex

Will Daily Mail columnists now end their campaign of denigration against Operation Yewtree?

Now that Operation Yewtree has secured the convictions of Rolf Harris and Max Clifford and brought belated justice for their victims, will Daily Mail columnists end their campaign of denigration against it? Peter McKay, one of two Mail writers who is said to echo most faithfully the views of the editor, Paul Dacre, wrote in December 2012: “The sexual abuse of underage girls should never be ignored . . . [but] quizzing elderly celebrities about past, alleged sexual misbehaviour is a lot more congenial than cornering armed thugs in back alleys.”

A month later, another of the paper’s columnists, Richard Littlejohn, mocked the dawn raids, ransacking of homes and removal of evidence and asked if the police seriously expected to find evidence of long-ago sexual assaults “tucked away in a sock drawer”. He was writing about the arrest of the comedian Jim Davidson, who was later released without charge. But, yes, by then, a victim’s letter had already been found in Clifford’s bedside drawer, calling him “a grade-A paedophile”.

 

Call it anything

The police used to give their investigations names such as Operation Swooping Eagle. Now, they prefer Operation Yewtree, Tuleta, Elveden, Kalmyk, Weeting, and so on. Elveden and Weeting are East Anglian villages; Tuleta is somewhere in Texas; the Kalmyk people are inhabitants of one of those Russian republics you’ve never heard of; Yewtree is, well, just a tree.

How do the police choose these names? Perhaps they want to seem less aggressive and now have officers, many of them graduates, who are sufficiently erudite to provide suitable suggestions.

 

A break from the past

David Cameron is right to oppose Jean-Claude Juncker becoming head of the European Commission but not for the reasons usually given. Juncker was prime minister of Luxembourg for 18 years up to December 2013 and, for six years before that, finance minister. If anyone is to blame for his country’s provision of a haven that allows Vodafone, Amazon, Apple and others to avoid UK taxes legally, it’s him. In an index compiled by the Tax Justice Network, Luxembourg ranks second in the world, just below Switzerland, for financial secrecy. Last year, it failed an OECD review of regulatory standards, along with the Seychelles, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands.

The tax regime wasn’t entirely Juncker’s doing: for example, an arcane tax break that allows companies to offset notional losses in asset values against profits dates back to the Second World War. But he did nothing to change it and obstructed EU efforts to tighten regulation. When he was ousted as premier last year, the Financial Times repor­ted “mild panic” among bankers.

In the thousands of words said and written about Juncker in recent days, including many about his alcohol consumption, we heard almost nothing of these matters.

 

Reputation rescue

For at least 30 years, many lefties have boycotted the Switzerland-based Nestlé because of its “aggressive marketing” of breast-milk substitutes, particularly in developing countries. I’m not much of a boycotter – so many companies are involved in selling rubbish food that I see no point in singling one of them out – but it’s firmly fixed in my head that Nestlé is a bad thing.

Now it is being praised, by the Archbishop of York among others, because its UK arm has signed up to paying the living wage. Should we look on it more kindly? Its 8,000 UK employees already receive at least the living wage but, from December 2017, its contractors (who presumably provide many of the low-grade workers) will also be required to do so. As this involves just 800 people and, I would guess, a trivial increase in what contractors charge, it sounds a small price for rescuing the reputation of a corporation making over £6bn in annual profits.

 

Essex appeal

The longer I live in Essex, the more I am struck by the delights of its scruffier corners. Last month, my wife and I went to Heybridge Basin, where a sea lock was dug out of marshland in 1796 to allow vessels to join a 13-mile canal linking the Black­water Estuary to Chelmsford. Here, you can row or cruise down the canal, sail in the estuary, walk the sea wall for miles in either direction, watch birds or just gaze from one of two pubs (the one we tried served excellent plaice and chips). The village is undeveloped commercially, unprettified and entirely unpretentious. It is impossible to imagine David Cameron or Lord Mandelson, or any other of your least favourite people, ever visiting. Essex has too many Union Jacks and Ukip supporters but it also remains wonderfully unfashionable. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 02 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, After God Again

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Grenfell survivors were promised no rent rises – so why have the authorities gone quiet?

The council now says it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, the government made a pledge that survivors would be rehoused permanently on the same rent they were paying previously.

For families who were left with nothing after the fire, knowing that no one would be financially worse off after being rehoused would have provided a glimmer of hope for a stable future.

And this is a commitment that we’ve heard time and again. Just last week, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reaffirmed in a statement, that the former tenants “will pay no more in rent and service charges for their permanent social housing than they were paying before”.

But less than six weeks since the tragedy struck, Kensington and Chelsea Council has made it perfectly clear that responsibility for honouring this lies solely with DCLG.

When it recently published its proposed policy for allocating permanent housing to survivors, the council washed its hands of the promise, saying that it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels:

“These commitments fall within the remit of the Government rather than the Council... It is anticipated that the Department for Communities and Local Government will make a public statement about commitments that fall within its remit, and provide details of the period of time over which any such commitments will apply.”

And the final version of the policy waters down the promise even further by downplaying the government’s promise to match rents on a permanent basis, while still making clear it’s nothing to do with the council:

It is anticipated that DCLG will make a public statement about its commitment to meeting the rent and/or service charge liabilities of households rehoused under this policy, including details of the period of time over which any such commitment will apply. Therefore, such commitments fall outside the remit of this policy.”

It seems Kensington and Chelsea council intends to do nothing itself to alter the rents of long-term homes on which survivors will soon be able to bid.

But if the council won’t take responsibility, how much power does central government actually have to do this? Beyond a statement of intent, it has said very little on how it can or will intervene. This could leave Grenfell survivors without any reassurance that they won’t be worse off than they were before the fire.

As the survivors begin to bid for permanent homes, it is vital they are aware of any financial commitments they are making – or families could find themselves signing up to permanent tenancies without knowing if they will be able to afford them after the 12 months they get rent free.

Strangely, the council’s public Q&A to residents on rehousing is more optimistic. It says that the government has confirmed that rents and service charges will be no greater than residents were paying at Grenfell Walk – but is still silent on the ambiguity as to how this will be achieved.

Urgent clarification is needed from the government on how it plans to make good on its promise to protect the people of Grenfell Tower from financial hardship and further heartache down the line.

Kate Webb is head of policy at the housing charity Shelter. Follow her @KateBWebb.