By Alice Louise Wadsworth
You may have been hearing a bit about the government’s child sex abuse inquiry. Today Theresa May announced that it could grow from an inquiry into a ‘full statutory inquiry’ (because an inquiry alone means nothing, apparently). This may lead to arrest and accusations, it equally may not.
The first judge chosen for this illuminati-sounding mystery was Baroness Butler-Sloss. Until it turned out (no one had realized this previously somehow) that her brother had sat in the cabinet in the 1980’s, while all this alleged abuse was going on. Oops. So they looked really hard for someone utterly unconnected to political figures – as the inquiry covers a wide breadth of Westminster - and they found Fiona Woolf. It may have been convenient to find her, as she lives just down the road from David and Samantha, of Tory fame. This convenience became a bit of a downer when it turned out that this too might affect her impartiality as it’s been discovered through corrospondance that she has a fairly cosy relationship with Lord Brittan, home secretary at the time of the alleged abuse. Lord Brittan is central to the enquiry over the alleged ‘loss’ of 114 key documents relating to child abuse in Westminster, having admitted receiving a ‘substansial bundle of papers’ from, now deceased, Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, who compiled the dossier on roughly 40 known abusers in parliament. He ‘did not recall’ any further action on these matters. As forgetful as his friend Fiona, who failed to recall their long and close relationship.
Fiona Woolf has since stepped down under public pressure. In her farewell statement she jibed that her replacement must be ‘a hermit’ if they are to avoid what befell her and the Baroness. Now, Fiona, there are many people who aren’t friends with anyone in Westminster, who still manage to have rather active social and professional lives. Woolf’s comment shows how inhibiting this position of social privilege can be – only a hermit could be both a respected judge and not intimately connected with influential Westminster figures who may or may not have been involved in covering up child abuse.
Rather than merely showing HR incompetence, doesn’t this issue highlight how interconnected the influential, rich and powerful are in the U.K? So much so that it is practically impossible to appoint an impartial judge for a parliamentary inquiry. It scratches my innards that this is only getting attention because of the controversial ‘paedophile ring’ nature of the case. Aside from the inquiry’s content, from my soapbox this appears to show that in most cases – when they, rarely, appear – that legally question the actions of the parliamentarily privileged, the judge is likely to be connected to a web encompassing, at least, the associates of the accused. Perhaps this is why it’s so unlikely for them to end up in the courtroom, and such a surprise when any punishment is metered out.
Rebecca Brooke’s crimes deeply infringed individual’s rights to privacy, yet her sentence was less than that of a run-of-the-mill stalker (who doesn’t hang with SamCam et al). Certain tax dodgers crimes are known by what appears to be the whole internet, with crimes detailed on blogs, in books, and over the radio, yet these criminals remain unchallenged. Under 35’s – the group most affected by austerity cuts and most vocal about corruption – have reached peaks of apathy that prevent us from even seeing the polling office. It just seems like a big club we’re outside of. So, only 55% of under 35’s vote. That’s also the most liberal part of the population, so I guess now we know how we ended up with that human shaped semolina pudding in office.
Now isn’t the time for the voting talk (though if you’re reading this and you don’t vote I do recommend a spoiled ballot for cathartic release reasons), but it is an issue which helps sustain the close-knit socialism for the rich in English politics. If the powers that be know that they have more to gain answering to corporations than to the people – as such a large section of us don’t vote, and such a large section of them have so many lucrative contracts to offer – then Westminster, the media and private companies can grow ever closer. Trying to rise in the ranks of politics when you don’t have, or don’t want to have, such connections, is difficult. This is perhaps why such a disproportionate number of politicians are from public schools, are landlords and are independently wealthy with connections to other wealthy, powerful people. This is the rocky road that someone like Fiona Woolf will have had to traverse, picking up friends en route.
It’s unfair to assume this will alter her judgement - she is a professional with a good case record – but the problem remains that the only people eligible for her post in this trial are inevitably connected to someone who is involved, or even implicated, in such a trial. …There are no other judges eligible? This appears to imply something many frustrated people have felt in their bones for some time: that to be able to rise to that level within the corridors of power, you will aquire links that will make your respectability as an upholder of justice, particularly when on a collision course with such power, questionable.
Let’s just see how this transpires. Who the least connected person turns out to be. If they aren’t related to someone being investigated, or living on the same street as people close to the case, then is that all ok? If they are just good friends with those being investigated, will that fly? I’m afraid there may not be ample choice in this regard, and that Woolf’s successor will still be influenced – through less obvious geographical or genealogical paths – by those being investigated. Mostly, I’m terrified that this will be seen as another inevitability by apathetic and disaffected youth voters; another reason to not get involved in politics, as the door ‘in’ appears to be right out of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’. Only those that know they can go through the door (maybe relatives have wandered through it before) can access both politics and the law. If this door is to remain as unreachable as in the past – and to become more so with education and benefit cuts – then the only people qualified to investigate the rich and powerful will be members of their ranks. If this is the case, is there any point having a trial at all?