Sadiq Khan speaks at the Labour conference in Manchester in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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London mayoral race: Sadiq Khan "to focus all his effort" on general election

Shadow London minister will not follow David Lammy in launching mayoral bid before the election. 

David Lammy's decision to formally launch his bid to become London mayor (as tipped in my column last month), making him the first Labour MP to do so, has prompted commentators to ask whether his likely rivals, Sadiq Khan, Tessa Jowell and Diane Abbott, will follow his lead. 

In response, a source close to Khan told me: 

Sadiq is working his socks off to get Ed Miliband elected Prime Minister. He will continue to focus all his effort on winning 12 extra seats in London as shadow London minister and articulating Labour's radical alternative to the government's prison crisis as shadow justice secretary. 

As shadow London minister, Khan of course enjoys the advantage of being able to woo the Labour selectorate and to win credit for what will likely be a strong general election peformance (Labour's local election results in the capital were its best since 1998).

Last year, after withdrawing from a Progress debate on the future of London, which featured Lammy, Jowell, Andrew Adonis and Abbott (making it the first hustings in all but name), he told me: "I was told it was going to be a forum to discuss ideas about London and it was quite clear to me that it was actually turned into a beauty parade. I’ve got no interest in being involved in a beauty parade, or playing ego politics. It’s about me making sure that I do the job I’ve been given as shadow minister for London with the seriousness it deserves. I’m a member of team Labour."

Jowell, who has led in the early opinion polls, made no comment on Lammy's decision. Last month, in response to Boris Johnson's announcement that he would stand for parliament, she said: "There will be much speculation about candidates; Labour, Tory and other parties. I will certainly be taking this time to prepare my potential offer to Londoners, but this is not a time for formal decision or declaration.

"There are many uncertainties between now and 2016, and Labour in London must not be distracted from the crucial task of representing Londoners and winning in those marginal seats which will contribute to a Labour victory next year. A victory which will enormously improve Londoners’ lives by building homes, helping young people get the skills they need to get jobs, supporting London’s growing and divergent economy and acting to tackle the driving causes of the inequalities that continue to scar our city." 

Having previously warned that Labour "must not be distracted" from the general election, the former Olympics minister will now have to decide whether to revise her position in response to Lammy. Abbott, who has also publicly expressed interest in the role, has not yet replied to a request for comment. 

How she and others play it may well depend on how much momentum Lammy gains from his early entry. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.