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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Chuka Umunna calls for "solidarity" among Labour MPs, whoever is voted leader

The full text of shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna's speech to Policy Network on election-winning ideas for Labour's future, and the weaknesses of the New Labour project.

There has never been an easy time to be a social democrat (or “democratic socialist” as we sometimes call ourselves in Britain). Whereas the right can demonise the poor and extol the virtues of the market, and the hard left can demonise the market and extol the role of the state, our position of constraining the domination of markets and reforming the state is, by definition, more complex.

It is nonetheless the case that social democracy has a historic responsibility, in every generation, to renew democracy and preserve a civic culture. This is achieved not through soundbites and slogans, but through the hard-headed development of a progressive politics that reconciles liberty and democracy, new comers and locals to our communities, business and workers, in a common life that preserves security, prosperity and peace.  This historic mission is all the more urgent now and my determination that we succeed has grown not weakened since our election defeat last May.

But, in order to be heard, it is necessary to make balanced and reasonable argument that both animates and inspires our movement, and which is popular and plausible with the people.  The first is pre-requisite to the second; and there is no choice to be made between your party’s fundamental principles and electability. They are mutually dependent - you cannot do one without the other.

We are in the midst of choosing a new leader and it is clear to anyone who has watched the UK Labour Party leadership election this summer that amongst a significant number there is a profound rage against Third Way politics – as pursued by the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and others - as a rejection of our fundamental values.

In the UK there is a view that New Labour accepted an uncritical accommodation with global capital that widened inequality, weakened organised labour and we were too close to the US Republicans and too far from the European left.

I do not believe this is fair, not least because we rescued many of our public services from the scrap heap when we came to office in 1997 and there were very significant achievements  we should celebrate.  New Labour renewed our National Health Service in a fundamental way; we built new schools and improved existing ones; we set up new children’s centres all over the country; we brought in a National Minimum Wage; we worked with others to bring peace to Northern Ireland; we introduced civil partnerships.  Just some of our achievements.

However, though we may take issue with the critique, I do not think we can simply dismiss out of hand those who hold critical views of New Labour. Like any government, the New Labour administration made mistakes - it could and should have achieved more, and done more to challenge the Right’s assumptions about the world. In the end, it is not unreasonable to be ambitious for what your party in government can achieve in building greater equality, liberty, democracy and sustainability. It is far better we acknowledge, not reject, this ambition for a better world, as we seek to forge a new politics of the common good fit for the future.

Realising our values in office has been disrupted by globalisation and the surge of technological forces that are displacing and reshaping industry after industry.

Some argue that globalisation as an ideological construct of the right. But we must recognise that we live in an increasingly integrated world in which markets have led to an unprecedented participation of excluded people in prosperity, a rise in living standards for hundreds of millions  of people and a literacy unprecedented in human history – this is particularly so in emerging economies like my father’s native Nigeria. And the internet has led to a level of accountability that has disturbed elites.

Yet, this has been combined with a concentration of ownership that needs to be challenged, of a subordination of politics that requires creative rather than reactive thinking, and these global forces have exacerbated inequalities as well as helped reduce poverty.

So it is important that we understand the sheer scale and impact of new technologies. At the moment we are engaged in a debate about Uber and its threat to one of the last vestiges of vocational labour markets left in London, those of the black taxi cabs and their attainment of 'The Knowledge'. But the reality is that within the next decade there will be the emergence of driverless cars so we have to intensify our exploration of how to support people in a knowledge economy and the realities of lifelong learning, as well as lifelong teaching. As people live longer we will have to think about how to engage them constructively in work and teaching in new ways.

Once again, I'm addressing all of this, Social Democracy requires a balanced view that domesticates the destructive energy of capital while recognising its creative energy, that recognises the need for new skills rather than simply the protection of old ones. A Social Democracy that recognises that internationalism requires co-operation between states and not a zero sum game that protectionism would encourage.

Above all, Social Democratic politics must recognise the importance of place, of the resources to be found in the local through which the pressures of globalisation can be mediated and shaped. Our job is to shape the future and neither to accept it as a passive fate nor to indulge the fantasy that we can dominate it but to work with the grain of change in order to renew our tradition, recognising the creativity of the workforce, the benefits of democracy and the importance of building a common life.  Sources of value are to be found in local traditions and institutions.

This also requires a recognition that though demonstration and protest are important,; but relationships and conversations are a far more effective way of building a movement for political change.

One of the huge weaknesses of New Labour was in its reliance on mobilisation from the centre rather than organising. It therefore allowed itself to be characterised as an elite project with wide popular support but it did not build a base for its support within the party across the country, and it did not develop leaders from the communities it represented. It was strong on policy but weak on strengthening democratic politics, particularly Labour politics.

Over half a million people are now members, supporters or affiliated supporters of our party, with hundreds of thousands joining in the last few weeks. Some have joined in order to thwart the pursuit of Labour values but many more have joined to further the pursuit of those values, including lots of young people. At a time when so many are walking away from centre left parties across the Western world and many young people do not vote let alone join a party, this is surely something to celebrate.

So it is vital that we now embrace our new joiners and harness the energy they can bring to renewing Labour’s connection with the people. First, we must help as many them as possible to become doorstep activists for our politics. Second, I have long argued UK Labour should campaign and organise not only to win elections but to affect tangible change through local community campaigns. We brought Arnie Graf, the Chicago community organiser who mentored President Obama in his early years, over from the U.S. to help teach us how to community organise more effectively. We should bring Arnie back over to finish the job and help empower our new joiners to be the change they want to see in every community – we need to build on the links they have with local groups and organisations.

I mentioned at the beginning that in every generation Social Democracy is besieged from left and right but the achievements of each generation are defined by the strength of a complex political tradition that strengthens solidarity through protecting democracy and liberty, a role for the state and the market and seeks to shape the future through an inclusive politics. Solidarity is key which is why we must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office.

Yes, these are troubled times for social democrats. All over Europe there is a sense among our traditional voters that we are remote and do not share their concerns or represent their interests or values.  There is surge of support for populist right wing parties from Denmark to France, of more left wing parties in Greece and Spain and in Britain too. There is renewal of imperial politics in Russia, the murderous and abhorrent regime of ISIL in the Middle East, volatility in the Chinese economy and in Europe a flow of immigration that causes fear and anxiety.

But, the task of Social Democracy in our time is to fashion a politics of hope that can bring together divided populations around justice, peace and prosperity so that we can govern ourselves democratically. We have seen worse than this and weathered the storm. I am looking forward, with great optimism to be being part of a generation that renews our relevance and popularity in the years to come.

Chuka Umunna is the shadow business secretary and the Labour MP for Streatham.