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Louis Theroux's new film is a hopeless attempt to account for Jimmy Savile's crimes

What did anyone expect Savile to tell the documentary maker in 2000? And why would 75 minutes broadcast now un-muddy the waters?

In 2000, Louis Theroux made a documentary about Jimmy Savile in which he was revealed to be a bully, a creep and a loner, but not, as you will recall, a rapist and a paedophile. During a car journey, Theroux did ask the DJ about the rumours that periodically swirled around him – difficult conversations are always best had in cars, the option to stare fixedly ahead being handy all round – but Savile batted it away. Why this should be a source of shame for Theroux, as he has insisted it is, I’m not exactly sure. What did he expect him to say? And why does he think that he could have succeeded where countless others also failed?

The two of them spent ten days together. Ten days. This might well be a long time in terms of access to a so-called celebrity – I tremble at the thought of spending more than a couple of hours with some of my interviewees – but for a man who had worn a mask for more than half a century, it was only the blink of an eye.

Sixteen years later, Theroux asked himself what to do with his shame and anxiety in this matter, and the answer apparently came back: make a film about it. Again, I don’t understand his reasoning. It’s hard to imagine a better documentary about Savile than the one he made in 2000, which brought us, I feel, unexpectedly close to his singular malevolence. Plus, there are other places we can go now should we be in search of factual answers to still troubling questions: Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry report for one, Dan Davies’s prize-winning book, In Plain Sight, for another.

I share his bewilderment: we all feel it, particularly those of us over 40, who grew up in a time when children were always disbelieved and frequently surrounded by touchy-feely men whose behaviour we were expected to tolerate, and even to relish. However, I’m not at all sure that examining it in the company of Savile’s victims, as he chose to in his new film, was the right thing to do, morally or artistically.

Theroux couldn’t hope to un-muddy the waters, not in 75 minutes. Savile got away with his foul crimes for complicated, multifarious reasons, some of which are being explored rather brilliantly right now in Jack Thorne’s National Treasure.

This isn’t to say that his film didn’t have some powerful moments. One woman described how Savile regularly assaulted her as an 11-year-old in the presbytery of a hospital chapel during Mass; to try to protect herself she wore three pairs of knickers and a tampon, even though she had not yet reached puberty. And when the issue of belief came up, its smell was rancid. Savile’s secretary of 30 years, Janet Cope, didn’t claim to have always liked her former boss. “He found friends an encumbrance,” she said. Nevertheless, she does not believe that he was an abuser of women and children. His accusers are lying; they’ve made it all up.

Does this make Cope, in the loosest possible way, one of the walking culpable? Perhaps. Though I feel for her, too. In her denial are questions for all of us. What can we bear to believe? How do we balance what we see and feel with what we hear and read? When does the uncomfortable shade into the dreadful? When to act and when to stay silent?

Towards the end of his film, Theroux went to meet the journalist Angela Levin, who had interviewed Savile for the Mail on Sunday. A nurse had told her, she said, that the DJ interfered with disabled little girls but naturally this allegation did not find its way into her piece. Why hadn’t it? “Are you trying to blame this on me?” she asked, smiling tightly.

Oh, it’s all so difficult, isn’t it? Who could ever hope to unpick it? In recent years, more than one innocent man has been accused of similar crimes and yet Savile, who abused many hundreds of people, made it to his grave without being exposed. I don’t think Theroux was trying to blame anything on Levin. I think he was simply hoping to suggest, in his slightly clumsy way, that Savile’s brutal sense of entitlement – all his life he referred to women as “it” – found its greatest succour in our collective timidity, in our polite determination to let a deeply strange man be just that.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.