Rolf Harris was convicted of 12 counts of assault. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.