Tag Archives: #Harriet Harman

Ms Harman, let me help you – “Being human isn’t easy”.

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As Harriet Harman continues to try to evade a simple admission of past misjudgement, Brother Ivo would like to be be fair and charitable, and so thought it might be worth offering a reminder to anyone commenting on the controversy that sometimes, we can all be a little harsh on our younger selves.

Brother Ivo has made more than his fair share of bad decisions both politically, professionally, and personally and is often comforted by two wise observations. 

Søren Kierkegaard said that  ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’, and an old friend of Brother Ivo, novelist Adam Zameenzad once counselled him that “Being human isn’t easy”.

Ms Harman might do well to reflect upon these remarks as she looks back across the  years to when she acted as a legal officer to the National Council for Civil Liberties during the time of its injudicious association with the PIE organisation.

One suspects that somewhere within the process of “reputation management” ( a modern contrivance of questionable moral value)  she has had the odd moment of panic tinged with regret as she asked herself ” What on earth was I thinking?”

Admitting it is another problem altogether but confession truly is good for the soul.

We all  judge our  past errors from a position of hindsight  and experience; we know that we were not bad people then, and so we want to deny the very existence of that which plainly troubles us today.

In few fields will this be more challenging than  that of child protection which has its full measure of regretted past opinion. We arrived where we are via that past however, and many of todays good outcomes will have been built upon hard lessons learnt from past stupidity.

Just as doctors once believed that regularly bleeding their patient was always a good thing, police officers once justified “fitting up” a known villain, and teachers caned children who were slow to learn to read, so Child Protection has its own sorry past which we need to acknowledge.

There were many attitudes, excuses and practices that had their place in the Judicial system of the past which make us decidedly uncomfortable today.

“All children lie”.

” She wanted me to do it”

” It was a one-off after my girlfriend left/ I had too much to drink”.

Her mother made her say this because she hates me”.

“She’s jealous of me being her mother’s boyfriend”

These were standard attitudes and excuses routinely offered and accepted 30 years ago when these matters came ( rarely ) to Court.

Children were allowed to be bullied by be-wigged Counsel in open Court.

“Breaking the complainant” was perceived as a fair defence tactic; accusations of mendacious lying for a trivial reward were proffered and because the idea of sexual gratification via an infant was so far removed from the ordinary contemplation of  the average jury member, getting the jury to convict to the requisite standard “beyond reasonable doubt” was very hard indeed.

It still is, especially where well known public figures are concerned. We hate to think the unthinkable – which is how the abuser learns to deceive and builds his repertoire of threat and manipulation. Victims are told ” no one will believe you” and many found/find this to be true.

The sentences for such behaviour were surprisingly low, and the help available virtually non existent. Managing and modifying pedophile behaviour is time and resource consuming. Even today it is not our highest priority, not least because such people are not where we want to spend our money.

Not all the injustices were one way.

We once had the standard format interview which presented  undressed “anatomically correct” dolls to a bored or bemused child, confined in a room with a total stranger. It does not take long before the child fits them together in an “inappropriate”  way ( think Lego) . It took some years before the dangers of such interviewing techniques became appreciated.

Then we had the imported fashion for “Ritual Satanic Abuse” where every Council Estate in the Kingdom was assumed to be an extended set for the Exorcist.

Next there was  was Munchausen By Proxy “syndrome” – until we realised that a syndrome is just a description of facts and behaviours and no illness at all.

In short,  the last thirty years has been a steep learning curve in the child protection field and within that field, a small but highly motivated core of paedophiles has run rings round those trying to catch up with how they truly operate.

For most of us, collecting 10,000 photographs of a favourite actor would be considered mildly eccentric. Collecting half a million images of children being abused, and often brutally tortured, is literally inconceivable. We are talking depravity of the highest order in some of these cases, and for too long we were just too nice to think anyone could want to do such things.

So when Ms Harman’s NCCL was approached by pleasant articulate men who presented themselves as victims for loving a 15 year old boy, it is very easy to see how things went wrong. It was not that long ago that you could be imprisoned for consensual adult gay sex. The under age version was easily presentable as just another arbitrary restriction of a prejudiced State tied to a backwards looking Church view. In radical circles, the traditional was always the enemy even when it was right.

Of course the reality of PIE and its members was much much more depraved; there is a reason we call it the slippery slope, but that is not always appreciated by the advocate of the underdog, who often took such special pleading at face value. Paedophiles routinely play the victim.

Yet anyone who has observed the evolution of child protection at close quarters will know that myriad mistakes and ill judgements occurred over the years until we gradually found our way back to a position that is greatly discordant with the trendy ” if it feels good do it” attitudes of the late 60’s and 70’s.

Child protection experience is a very good way to get a modern head around the concept of original sin. The capacity of humans , male and female, to abuse the innocent  and the vulnerable  for their own gratification knows no bounds. It was however, deeply unfashionable to say that in the days of flower power or radical idealism when Ms Harman was on the side of those shaking off Victorian values.

Brother Ivo hopes that she will look back and be able to acknowledge that she  along with many of us of that era, allowed our idealism, our niceness and even our naivety to cloud our critical faculties. She was not alone in getting it wrong, indeed nobody made all the right calls all of the time in this most difficult of disciplines.

Denis Healey once advised that when you are in a hole – stop digging. This is good advice for Ms Harman.

She should stop digging and face up to the fact that she and everyone else in the field seriously under estimated the nature of the paedophile threat to our children. Unravelling what was going on was really hard and took time. Let’s not waste any time suggesting that anyone understood then what we understand today. We should all look back on how we got these things wrong and be ashamed – not “regretful”-  ashamed.

Brother Ivo is trying to set a good example by identifying some of the common errors into which he knows he and many have fallen.

It is no bad thing to prove that one has learnt by experience. There is shame however in treating others as fools when the historical record of mistake is so clear.

NCCL and its officers got this wrong; Ms Harman should acknowledge the fact and drop the pretence of being wise ahead of her time.

When Counselling those who have done serious wrong, Brother Ivo has occasionally employed his theological background to good effect.

Often those in error seek Justice; he usually advises that they would be better off asking for Mercy.

It is old fashioned, but it’s none the worse for that.

If Ms Harman is honest about the failings of all of us in the past, Brother Ivo will defend her in that integrity, but whilst she maintains the stance of evasion hiding behind the carefully calculated PR language of “regret”  he is unable to do so even as he watches her suffer.

 

Putti is in the eye of the beholder

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One suspects that the Bishops of the Anglican Church will be slow to join the debate about whether the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party ought to be offering an apology for her tenuous association with the Paedophile Information Exchange via her NCCL employment in the 1970’s.

This may be an error.

Having joined the party political debate over the implementation of Welfare Reform policy via a letter to the decidedly Labour supporting Daily Mirror, the Bishops could perfectly well justify an intervention along the lines that politicians who are kean to identify the specks in their opponents eyes, should first remove the beams in their own.

Brother Ivo need not labour the point.

It is not offensively party political to remind those in the public eye that there is an integrity issue within this story, and if the Bishops can pass comment on complex policy, how much easier and appropriate is it to reassert primary principles using Christ’s own words?

The party of Ms Harman, her husband Mr Dromey, and their friend Patricia Hewitt has never shied from repeatedly calling upon Andrew Mitchell to apologise for a probably false allegation that he accused police officers of being “plebs”, just as they hounded Conservative Aiden Burley to stand down from Parliament over an imprudent decision to introduce a Nazi uniform into a stag party weekend. Both Prince Harry and Ed Balls have made the same mistake and survived in the public esteem, so we do seem to have a public lack of clarity about such matters.

Perhaps the Bishops could help sort that confusion out?

Of course one could put one’s tongue in cheek and suggest that the Bishops fear to engage with this issue because of our own tainted history on child protection. Perhaps they fear that Ms Harman would accuse them of hypocrisy?

Miss Harman did however, once offer some support for Churches within her former role.

There does need to be common sense about images and rather sensibly she campaigned to prevent parents from being prosecuted for taking pictures of their babies in the bath. She probably thereby saved us from subsequent prosecution by the politically correct, for is not Church Art is awash with naked little cherubs which adorn Churches as part of the symbolism of innocence.?

Putti is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Yet the entanglement of the NCCL with PIE was darker, and although Ms Harman may have joined the organisation after PIE affiliated to it, her subsequent representations to Government on matters of legal reform did offer a measure of protection to paedophiles even if it were inadvertent.

Specifically, she appears to have sought to repeal the law against incest, which can be a useful offence  with which to prosecute the abusive. She also sought to make certain prosecutions contingent upon the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, thereby raising the threshold at which cases would be brought by removing discretion from local prosecutors. Such procedural changes do matter, and PIE would have been cheered by such interventions.

Having heard Miss Harman going on the offensive against the Daily Mail last night on the Newsnight programme, linking PIE’s activities to that newspaper’s publication of photographs of girls in bikinis, it appears to Brother Ivo that she has compounded the accusation of lack of judgement.

She cannot deflect legitimate questions in this manner.

Those are not illegal images. They are photographs of young adults who consented to them being taken. They are no more exploitative or offensive than many other images one might find within our churches. The image of young woman or child can be beautiful to behold without being tainted by abuse or malign intent. Ms Harman herself asserted as much during those NCCL years.

Her attempt to deflect criticism by attacking the Daily Mail is misjudged in substance as well as being unwise tactically, not least because the Mail is not alone in questioning her judgement in these matters. The Guardian,the Daily Mirror, and the Daily Telegraph also see the point which continues to elude Ms Harman.

If the Daily Mail accepted an advertisement from a modern day PIE or if the Conservatives or UKIP allowed them a stall at their party conferences, would not Ms  Harman be persistent and shrill in her condemnation? Can she therefore truly complain that others ask her to acknowledge that her libertarian instincts may once have caused her to be less alert than she would now be?

In short what is the big deal about saying one made a mistake 30 years ago? Why the careful and persistent refusal to acknowledge error?

Nobody thinks that with their minds directed to the issue today, with our knowledge of what paedophilia is, and how it is cunningly practiced, that Ms Harman, Mr Dromey, and Ms Hewwitt would have any truck with it whatsoever. That is not the problem.

First there is a separate question of whether PIE secured public funding from the then Labour Government for its activities: if so, an NCCL association may have been part of building of a respectable front of the organisation. This is an uncomfortable next step in the inquiry and one that politicians may seek to close off early.

Second, during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s enthusiasts mirrored Wordsworth’s cry about the French Revolution ” Bliss was it in that Dawn to be alive”.

Just as that political revolution had a dark underside to its legitimate critique of the status quo,  so we are finding out that the sexual revolution was not as innocent as we first thought. There was much about the repressed sexuality of our forebears that needed a healthy readjustment but some dark motives and tragic outcomes also emerged from those heady days.

The mature response is to acknowledge that fact.

Part of the problem that paedophiles present is that they are devious, plausible, persuasive and adept at presenting themselves as victims. Brother Ivo has no difficulty in accepting and understanding that in those heady days, when we had nowhere near the understanding of how these people work, it was possible for them to attach themselves to a campaigning group that challenged the old inhibitions and some prejudices, not least against homosexuals. There is nothing uniquely shocking if they conned three NCCL officers -they have conned enough Bishops.

The confusion of paedophilia and homosexuality did and does occur. It is discomforting for many well meaning folk  to acknowledge that in arguing for gay rights they may have inadvertently assisted the paedophile to claim victimhood for his/her attachment to the young. but plainly that happened and some of our senior politicians failed to see the wood for the trees.

That should not perhaps be a hanging offence but that is not the end of the matter.

The failure to grasp the obvious point, is a character flaw in a serious politician and this will harm those accused more than the original accusation.

Did not the Watergate or Monica Lewinski scandals teach anyone that it is the obfuscation and the cover up that does the most damage? Brother Ivo would have expected greater sophistication.

So why is the error being compounded?

Recently Brother Ivo declared “We are the insurgents now” as he pointed out that the radicals of social change now have an ascendancy and a record by which they may be judged. That will not come as good news to those who overthrew traditional Christian teaching to make this Brave New World.

The Social Radicals are no more comfortable acknowledging the un-intended consequences of their ideals and institutional inadequacies than we in the Church; we have had to learn to deal with it. The architects of the Radical sexual revolution are just beginning to realise that they now have similar accounts to render.

Casting those stones does not look as easy and attractive now does it?

The UN, the Catholic Church and Harriet Harman

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The impressively titled “United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child” has recently issued a report on the response of the Roman Catholic Church to child abuse allegations. In its approach, the UN is both new and right. Unfortunately where it is right it is not new, and where it is new it is not right.

Brother Ivo defers to no-one in his detestation of child abuse in all its forms. Christ has a special place in his heart for his little ones and warned of dire consequences to those who harm them. Brother Ivo began this year by making his own modest contribution to child protection by urging the Church to  “Make Child Abuse History”, explaining that every church and church member has to take responsibility for understanding the individual Church’s child protection procedures, and rigorously applying them whilst keeping compliance under regular review.

It is tedious repetitious work, but our protections are only as strong as our weakest link. Do not let that weak link be you, your church, or your Priest/Minister.

Insofar as the UN report identifies that the Roman Catholic Church has failed in the past, it is right.

Individual priests and bureaucratic cultures betrayed their Lord, their Church their congregations and their calling. When these crimes were identified, officialdom did what officialdom always does- secular and religious: it protected itself. That is a linked, but entirely separate wrong.

Simon Jenkins recently wrote powerfully in the Guardian reminding us that we have seen many institutional cover-ups of abuse, in the Army, NHS, Police, and Prison Service. Brother Ivo would add the BBC, Local Authority Care Homes, and UN to that list.

There seems to be an almost teleological tendency of humans and their institutions to place good reputation above good practice. The bible did warn us.  No sooner had Adam been discovered in his disobedience to God than he moved instantly to “damage limitation” and “reputation recovery” by blaming Eve.

Whenever the Church conforms to the standards of the world it fails, and in this serious matter it stands condemned, but it is far from alone. It is not the individual failure of the Church in these matters that should be remarked upon, but rather the Church’s utter alignment with secular standards rather than striking out towards its unique God-called standard of integrity.

Whilst the UN report tells us that things went wrong, there seems to be no part of the report which was not already known, understood or being currently being acted upon.

Brother Ivo is a member of a sister Church, which has been busily establishing procedures and practices built upon experiences of its own past failures and those of others. He has no doubt that his brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic Church have been equally assiduous, and if they have not, that would have been the more useful focus of any critique by such an outside body as the UN.

The Catholic Church has delivered a low key response, but does indicate that its efforts to address the problem have been significantly downplayed or omitted from the report.

Brother has “no dog in the fight” and so is perhaps more free to make a few blunt observations

Amongst the members of the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child are Syria,Thailand, Sri Lanka Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Brother Ivo suggests that on a variety of issues, from war crime against children, child labour, child prostitution and female genital mutilation, these countries have scant authority to cast the first stone.

The committee is not content to regurgitate known facts however. It goes a step further and rather pompously claims the right to instruct the Church upon its doctrines.

This UN committee not only has no authority to link the Vatican’s views on abortion, contraception and homosexuality to the question of child abuse, it fails to give proper weight to how faithful adherence to the Church’s teaching on matters of human sexuality and family life promotes the protection of children.

There are a number of “inconvenient truths” in play here.

Statistically it is not the local priest who is most likely to abuse your child.

More teachers than priests are accused of abuse in all its forms.

According to A Department of Education report 12,086 such allegations were made in 2009-10. 2827 teachers were involved, 1709 non teaching staff were also accused. About half related to physical abuse. Strikingly only 20% of those accused were suspended during the investigation. One third of allegations were substantiated, another 20% inconclusive and only 2% deemed        “malicious”. 12% were prosecuted.

Imagine the calumnies that would fall on any church if it had such a statistical profile.

If Brother Ivo were then to draw strong conclusions about the risk of sexual abuse from entire Educational Establishment and teaching profession, and to call for a root and branch reform of the education system, is it not plain what would happen? Ten thousand metaphorical swords would leap from their scabbards in defence of this fine body of folk. There would be accusations of bigotry – and that would be right. The proportion of teachers – and priests – who fall from Grace is small, but they tend to be devious, persistent, and ” irreplaceable “.  This is why strict process is needed, to avoid being distracted  by plausible explanations and indispensability.

Sadly the willingness to equally defend people of faith from such broad brush criticism, is not all one might expect from a society whose narrative embraces fair process and “human rights”

It seems that if you are antagonistic to religion and people of faith, especially if it involved the Vatican, those who form public opinion will give you every opportunity to have a “free hit”. 

Yet there are two facts highlighted by that Government report which cannot pass unremarked as we consider the folly of the UN’s attempt to sit in judgement on Church doctrine.

Statistically, a child is most at risk from those known to him/her.

More specifically, greatest risk to a child is from a step-parent or mother’s boyfriend. Church teaching maximises the retention of the most protective environment possible- marriage between the child’s birth parents. In contrast, those of a more “liberal” outlook, who have both elevated dependency on the State and marginalised fatherhood, have consistently undermined the value of that protection.

It is no coincidence that the incidence of child abuse and the destabilisation and decline of marriage have risen within the same 50 years. Dysfunctionality grows exponentially

The next most likely abuser of a child or young person  is …. another child or young person. Whether by overt bullying or unwanted peer pressure the young are exploited within the context of a sexualised culture which facilitates the abuser’s task.That culture has everything to do with secular values and nothing to do with those taught by the Church.

The attempt to foist responsibility for the presence or growth of child abuse on the Catholic Church’s attitudes to contraception, abortion or homosexuality is specious and needs to be called out by all of us. it is part of the “insurgency” which Brother Ivo has called upon, an insurgency against the values of the day, and against the values that are hurting children first and incidentally the Church.

The latter has endured much worse, and may yet do so again. It is not for the Church’s sake that we must take responsibility for these problems back to those truly responsible. Sadly the Church is often reluctant, afraid even, to be as direct as its critics.

Brother Ivo isn’t.

He has already challenged the right of the UN committee to pontificate on such matters. There is another challenge that ought to be made if we are to clean up public life from past errors about child abuse.

Is there anyone in the hierarchy of the country’s Churches who might start by mentioning  an example very close to home?

In the 1980’s the forerunner of Liberty – the National Council for Civil Liberties – became catastrophically embroiled with the Paedophile Information Exchange, an organisation dedicated to promoting child abuse as a normal expression of  human sexuality and changing the law to permit it. Liberty’s current Director Shammi Chakrabarti has made the same kind of clear and unequivocal acknowledgement and apology for that involvement as critics have required of the Church. All credit to her for doing so. You may read the outline of the case ”here”

There are, however, three historic apologies outstanding. They are needed from the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman MP, her husband Jack Dromey MP and former MP Patricia Hewitt who currently chairs the UK India Business Council.

The facts are plain, well established established. and unequivocal.

All three were senior officers of the NCCL at the time when the organisation was promoting the interests of that paedophile group. If the Papacy and its past officers has accepted responsibility for past neglect, is there any proper reason why these high profile political folk should not do the same, or are they waiting for a UN report to prompt them?

Now some may think this a party political point which ought not to concern people of religion.

Yet do not Church leaders often speak of the need to raise the voice of prophecy? Having been properly examined and chastised for past deficiencies in protecting our children, should not our Church Leaders be publicly and determinedly working to establish similar standards of accountability and integrity in the secular world? Is this not an outrageous example?

It makes no difference to the victims, present or historic, whether the deficiencies were secular or religious. Common standards should apply.

Have there not been enough cover-ups to save the reputations of the influential? Do we truly wish to be complicit all over again?