The news about the long-running operation of rape gangs in Rotherham exploded across the media with the force of Krakatoa (which blew up on this day in 1883). But it’s not the first case of this kind – there have already been far too many – and given the failings that permitted it to happen, I doubt it will be the last.
Some history: in Keighley in 2003, the then-MP Ann Cryer made a series of allegations that Asian gangs were grooming and abusing girls in the town. Channel 4 News ran the story, and although the report I’ve linked to leaves the story at an early stage, over the next few years there was a stream of convictions for sexual assault and rape following up on cases related to the story. You’ll see there that it was contentious that Cryer highlighted the ethnicity of the attackers and victims.
In the years that followed, similar cases came to light – in Oxford, in Rochdale, in Blackpool, in Derby, and now Rotherham. Let’s immediately pick out two of those examples. The Blackpool case is one where it is clear that the abusers were at least mainly white men preying on vulnerable kids. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that the only abusers are “Asian gangs”. The Oxford case is relevant because it very quickly came to light that although Oxford was the “base of operations”, in fact it was attracting abusers from around the country, especially the North. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that what happens in one place happens in isolation.
There is a clear problem in this country with widespread abuse of young girls, organised, and working to proven patterns of grooming. It involves a network of abusers travelling themselves, and transporting girls too for their perverted ends. There has been for a long time – Keighley was over a decade ago – and yet nothing much seems to prevent the repetition of the same horror-story at fairly short intervals.
In a case like Rotherham, where the report explicitly identifies ethnicity as an issue, ethnicity comes to dominate the debate. Twitter has exploded with angst about “political correctness”, immigration, Islamism, and a variety of similar themes. The case is given added piquancy by the campaign of rape and abuse carried on by Islamist fighters in the Middle East and Africa at present. Some welcome the likelihood that this will bring conflict between different parts of the community, as if there is some reckoning to be had for the perceived wrongs of multicultural Britain.
However, it isn’t actually ethnicity that matters. I am quite sure that wherever this abuse happened, and whoever was carrying it out, the outcome would have been the same – no real action.
I want to get away from the idea that only white girls are suffering here – Jay makes the point (p91 of her report) that Rotherham had the biggest problem with forced marriage in the South Yorkshire Police area, with the young age of the victims being an additional concern. Abuse in Rotherham clearly affects all women and girls, and not just white ones. If we make this purely a “white girls v Asian gangs” row, we are going to condemn any others who are victims of sexual abuse (boys, Asians, whoever) to virtual invisibility and further suffering. Jay says that a growing number of cases of abuse affect children from Roma and Slovak groups. She says that there is evidence of non-Asian men getting involved in the grooming and trafficking network that started out as an Asian concern. The problem extends across all sorts of groups in society and it would be wrong to narrow the focus.
The root cause of the abuse isn’t ethnicity, either of victims or abusers. It is an imbalance of power. It always is. Abusers always rely on making victims feel they have none – “nobody will believe you”, “we’ll hurt you even more”, “we’ll hurt people you care about”. Unless victims feel they can challenge that by reaching over the heads of their abusers, the abuse continues.
What happened in Rotherham was that however loudly victims shouted, they were disbelieved or even just ignored. People in responsible positions just ignored them because they were an inconvenience. They got away with doing that because so much of the state operates beyond the reach of public scrutiny and accountability. Most of the decisions that affect our lives are taken by such people and we have no power over them at all at present. That is another imbalance of power, equally pernicious.
Forget the standard model of Parliamentary government, Cabinet, or even “Prime Ministerial government”. The state has reached such a grotesque size that nobody really controls it any more. Most bits of it are run to suit the needs of its managers, be they Police officers, heads of council departments, CEOs of quangos, and so on. Every now and again one of them does something outrageous and a QC or a judge pokes around in the wreckage, writes a report, everyone “learns the lessons”, and nothing actually changes.
“Community leaders” and “business leaders” wheedle their way into the decision-making process. In the case of charities, look at how the cat-murdering RSPCA now behaves with the most breathtaking arrogance, pretending they have Police powers. Barnardo’s now advise councils on child protection policy – an organisation who attribute a rocketing in their salary bill to “an expansion in our retail operations and other changes in our business requirements”. You can watch their CEO (salary IRO £160k) get shredded by Eamonn Holmes for the failure of his charity here. All Khan can say is “that there are questions to be asked and answers to be found”. He is petrified of speaking out against the incompetence at Rotherham for fear of jeopardizing his charity’s position with local authorities elsewhere. It was a craven exhibition.
All these people and organisations I’m talking about have accumulated power to which they have no right at all.
The state is a godless cult, with members kept in their compartments and with the chain of command soon disappearing into darkness. It espouses no particular set of values except “keep your nose clean”, “do as your told”, or even more accurately (hat-tip to @FrancisTDavis) “do as you’re targetted”.
The state has replaced all previous cultural norms, and none of the old ones may now be asserted. All that matters now is managerial convenience. Children have no rights to be protected from abuse; mothers have no right to their babies; fathers have few rights at all, even when courts find in their favour. The state decided some time ago that it could care for children by putting them in homes, rather than by working with families to keep them together. What happened then was that care homes became the playgrounds of perverts. (Jimmy Savile was neither Asian nor a Moslem)
And despite all this, people fall willingly into the arms of the state. We are encouraged to rely on it from the day we start school. What has happened, progressively, is that individual responsibility and initiative has been destroyed by that reliance. I am not arguing that we must abolish the welfare state, far from it. I have always been the sort of Conservative who believes that our institutions should be looked after and improved. But at the same time, we cannot allow ourselves to carry on as we are at present.
The state currently threatens to destroy democracy and liberty. It is already doing it in Rotherham where local government is a “one-party state”, as it is in so much of the country. It is doing it in the ever-denser tangle of laws which are passed in the name of “protecting us”. It is an irony that “paedo panic” is used, with terrorism, to justify ever-greater levels of intrusion in our lives and yet none of these laws seem to do any good at all. They certainly seem to make no difference to paedophiles.
The only cure for these ills are the disinfectants of democracy and transparency. In Rotherham, or anywhere else where the local authority can be shown to have failed so completely, the entire local authority should be ripped up and rebuilt. It is alarming that we have such completely dysfunctional authorities as Rotherham and Tower Hamlets and it is a stain on democracy, especially in the latter case given how long the problem has existed, that central government hasn’t been more militant in his response. Those who have failed at Rotherham but have moved on to other authorities should be brought back to the scene of the crimes and made to answer for them.
South Yorkshire Police couldn’t stop 1400 girls being abused in Rotherham, but they did manage to get down to Sir Cliff Richard’s place with the BBC and run a televised fishing expedition. The Police and Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, was the Rotherham councillor responsible for child protection while the rape campaign was at its height. He refuses to resign, and incredibly there is no mechanism at all for removing him (unless he is charged with a serious criminal offence – watch this space). South Yorkshire Police should be purged immediately and run from the Home Office if necessary, with outside support from other forces. It is totally unfit and can hardly be expected to “police with consent” when nobody anywhere has any confidence in the force.
These may seem like drastic measures, but they are necessary to convince the public that central government is responding seriously. It is no good commissioning further reports and mulling over them later. We need action now. The alternative, allowing the situation to drift, will just exacerbate the tensions around race which bubble through this crisis. It is not in our interests to allow strife to break out between communities. If there are elements within certain communities which have an habitually abusive streak, then the correct response is to empower their victims to deal with them and bring them to justice.
Empowerment has become a word that is sniggered at a bit by people who think it is some politically-correct buzzword, but it is the fundamental gift of the rule of law. All of the advances of civil liberties in this country were the empowerment of the individual when faced with some or other abuse by someone in authority. It seems that we have gone backwards in the last few decades, we must push the state back, and demand that our politicians join in the effort. There is no more powerful weapon against abuse and tyranny in the democratic world than the House of Commons. Our MPs, who are still figuring out that the party system is dying around them, often forget that (see my previous rant about why they should have recalled themselves to debate the foreign crisis). They also seem happy with a subversion of the power of the state by all the people I’ve spent the last two thousand words moaning about. That has to change too.
The kinds of abuses and subversions of state power we saw in Rotherham are probably more widespread, and I don’t doubt that further such awful cases will come to light elsewhere. But the real lesson is this: voters have to demand higher standards and actually participate in society, rather than just accept what the state doles out to them, or just sit around moaning about it when it goes wrong. We have to restate our faith in society, and recognise that the state is much more like an enemy of society than its guardian. If you argue about Rotherham from a starting point based on the race of the offenders, you really are missing a much bigger and more important point.