Conservative protesters outside Chatham House during Ed Miliband's speech on foreign policy. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why the SNP wouldn't drag Labour far to the left

The nationalists are barely more left-wing to begin with.

The belief that a Labour minority government reliant on SNP support would be dragged significantly to the left has hardened into conventional wisdom. Some, such as Len McCluskey, welcome this prospect, while the Tories and others issue dystopian warnings of a high-spending, high-taxing, high-borrowing administration that scraps Trident. Slightly embarrasingly for Labour, Peter Mandelson's consultancy firm Global Counsel has warned: "[The SNP will] pull the Labour party to the left, away from the centre ground of English politics. This will include pushing Labour towards higher public spending. In addition, the SNP will intervene in some high-profile policy areas, such as by attempting to block the replacement of the Trident nuclear fleet."

But as I've written before, the SNP's leverage is nowhere near as great as stated. In the case of Trident, those MPs in favour of renewal (most of Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems) will far outweigh those opposed. As long as the Tories are prepared to walk through the division lobbies with Miliband, there is no chance of the SNP blocking defence spending (as its deputy leader Stewart Hosie has grandiosely suggested they would).

On fiscal matters, the SNP wouldn't drag Labour significantly to the left for the simple reason that isn't much to the left to begin with. As the IFS noted last week, the party's "stated plans do not necessarily match their anti-austerity rhetoric". The nationalists' commitment to ensure that the deficit and the national debt fall "in every year as a share of national income" means that they have less room for manoeuvre than assumed. Indeed, under some assumptions, the SNP would cut public spending by £5bn more than Labour over the next parliament. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls responded by emphasising that Labour wanted to deliver a surplus on the current budget, rather than merely balance it (which could entail greater cuts), but the gap between the two parties is still marginal.

In the case of tax, the SNP manifesto proposes "the reintroduction of the 50p top tax rate, a tax on bankers' bonuses, a bank levy, a mansion tax, a crackdown on tax avoidance, the abolition of 'non dom' status, reversal of the married couples' tax allowance, and a review of the pension tax relief available to the wealthiest." But every one of these measures is already supported by Labour. Indeed, it was arguing for them long before the SNP. Only recently, under Nicola Sturgeon's leadership, has the party unambiguously embraced social democracy. Under Alex Salmond, it refused to support a 50p tax rate and argued for a 3 per cent cut in corporation tax. If anything, as Stephen argued recently, it's the SNP that has been dragged leftwards by Miliband.

But in politics, perception matters more than reality. And as the most recent Scottish polls show (with the SNP reaching a new high of 54 per cent today), the perception that the nationalists are far to Labour's left is one that is doing them no harm at all.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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 historical 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 become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

Operation Midland, which was set-up to check claims that boys were abused in the 1970s and 80s by a high-level group of paedophiles including politicians, military figures and members of law enforcement agencies, has had up to 40 detectives assigned to it and a similar investigation. Admittedly some of these were murder and major crimes officers but that’s still a large contingent.

In fact if such squads were formed for every historical case the Metropolitan Police would be overwhelmed as last year alone it received reports from nearly 1100 adults – many of them well past retirement age –that they were sexually assaulted when children.

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.