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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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.