The peasants are revolting and only a ‘Euro-lite’ can douse the fire next time

BIZARRELY, everyone saw it coming, not least of all the usual suspects at the helm of Britain’s ship of state, Messrs Cameron, Miliband and Clegg.

It was as if they were standing on a platform at Waterloo Station knowing full well the Eurostar was about to plough through the buffers. And yet they stood there impotent, mutely counting down to the train wreck and their inevitable derailment by the UKIP express.

So, to call the last week’s local government and MEP elections result an ‘earthquake’, as Nigel Farage and chastened Europhile mouthpieces across Europe did, is a misnomer.

Usually, such seismic shifting of tectonic plates come without warning. So, no. That the electorate were going to stick two fingers up to centrist parties and punt for a charismatic nationalist was signalled far in advance by pollsters, even if the outcome was a major tremor measured in political terms.

Amazingly, apart from Nick Clegg, the other two stooges hardly waved red lanterns to slow down the UKIP bandwagon.

Squire Cameron parroted his pledge for an in/out referendum on Europe, come 2017. Alas, it fell on deaf ears, because he couldn’t risk offering a hint of how he’d renegotiate Britain’s membership, should he still be inhabiting 10 Downing Street in 11 months’ time.

Meanwhile, the lingering vision of Labour’s Ed Miliband, the putative Premier-in-waiting, was his failure to negotiate his way through a bacon sarnie, giving those who dubbed him ‘weird’ even more ammunition and amusement.

THE REAL DEAL? Time will tell whether Farage's UKIP is just a protest party or has the legs to survive as a fourth option in British politics

THE REAL DEAL? Time will tell whether Farage’s UKIP is just a protest party or has the legs to survive as a fourth option in British politics

At least Clegg twice hectored Farage in TV debates, only for the viewing public to kick him up the backside. The last thing they wanted to hear were further outpouring of messianic zeal for the bounteous EU, which resonates in double digits on their Richter Scale of loathing.

The Deputy PM’s gamble was as foolhardy as it was brave. Now, trounced in both elections, Clegg needs all the acumen he can muster to halt his touchy-feely Lib-Dems hitting the self-destruct button, after a shambolic leadership coup and the messy resignation of maverick pollster, Lord Oakeshott.

Meanwhile, lesser mortals of the cossetted Westminster elite had been delegated to throw the political sink at Farage – a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ leading a xenophobic ‘one-policy pony’ – but missed their mark by the width of Big Ben. He, in turn, chucked it back with knobs on, and squarely hit the clock-face.

Nonetheless, only time will tell whether ‘the man with the pint and fag’, whose congenial frankness and lack of Establishment baggage has so entranced large swathes of a disgruntled electorate, turns out to be a false messiah or his UKIP isn’t just a transient protest party, without the legs to survive as a fourth option in British politics.

History is littered with such characters…from Wat Tyler and his calamitous, 14th Century Peasants Revolt, to Nazi sycophant, Oswald Mosely, and his Blackshirts oafs trashed in the ‘30s, to David Owen abjectly failing to ‘realign’ UK politics, after splitting the Labour Party in 1981, before his Social Democrats disappeared into Lib-Dem oblivion.

Farage, though, is canny enough to be the exception, because what is remarkable about the explosion of support for his Peasants’ Revolt Mark II is that, of all Euroland’s economies, Britain is clawing its way out of recession faster than anywhere else, bar Germany.

MILI-BLAND: The Labour leader did little to convince he is the UK's Prime Minister-in-waiting

MILI-BLAND: The Labour leader did little to convince the public that he’s Prime Minister material – and even screwed up on the challenge of eating a bacon sarnie

So, drawing a thread between events of last week in the UK and ructions across the EU may be misguided, even if the stock of politicos almost everywhere has plummeted to new lows.

France has a long, inglorious history of flirting with the extremism and however elegantly Marine Le Pen has remodelled her fascist father, Jean Marie’s National Front, its stench of race-hatred and anti-Semitism can’t be wafted away.

But, after years of austerity and decades of corruption, nepotism and electoral stitch-ups, it’s unsurprising the French veered far-Right in protest at a lame-duck, Left-wing presidency and a wheezing economy.

Denmark, too, delivered a populist backlash to the ruling Social Democrats by empowering the People’s Party, another anti-Europe, anti-immigration clique in the Le Pen mould.

In Greece, however, where the thuggish EU has virtually mugged any imminent hope of recovery, the electorate sought refuge in the radical socialists of Syriza.

Other than nations where GDP is growing – notably the Baltic States plus the powerhouse that is Germany – few EU countries escaped a mauling from the fringe.

And the spleen of the great disillusioned was targeted squarely at the Brussels bogeymen, whose default setting in hard times is screwing down the worst afflicted states still more.

DANGER WOMAN: Marine Le Pen might have popularised France's National Front, but it's still a racist party

RIGHT TURN: Marine Le Pen might have remodelled France’s far-Right National Front, but it’s a party that still smacks of race-hatred and anti-Semitism

But whether the crisis meeting of Europe’s leaders last week fully addressed the message that – as Bill Clinton reminded George H. W. Bush in the 1992 US Presidential race – ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ is debatable.

Based on its track record of consummate arrogance and creeping federalism, the Europratocracy is just as inclined to take the view that, with 70% of MEPs representing mainstream parties, why worry about a rump of wildcats.

If the outcome, then, is ‘business as usual’, such crass short-termism will be nothing short of hara-kiri, because the election bushfire of 2014 threatens to prelude a Continent-wide conflagration in five years’ time.

Only an EU-lite – with less regulation, more democratic transparency and a repatriation of powers to member states – will assuage the swelling protest movement, whose appeal will widen further if Europe’s decision-makers don’t heed the call of their citizens.

As for the beleaguered Eurozone, European Central Bank policy must reflect such a fundamental shift and pump-prime flagging economies, especially the Club Med states, emulating the successes of America’s Federal Reserve and Britain’s Bank of England.

The alternative strategy is for more failed Europe, not less, with complete fiscal and political integration, not the halfway house status quo.

My guess, though, is that trying to weld 28 disparate entities into a United States of Europe would be the EU’s most disastrous gambit yet. It would not only require members to forego individual national sovereignty, but, inevitably, dominion by the strongest power, Germany – and not even Angela Merkel hankers for that.

Frankly, the very thought of such a scenario gives me the shivers, because the peasants are revolting – and Europrats ignore them at their peril.

 

 

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Euro court’s crazy Google gag is a ‘right to be rotten’, not a ‘charter to be forgotten’

BY the time you read this, it’ll be history. Or, as we were fond of saying in the good, old days of hot metal and cold print, today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish-and-chips’ wrapping.

Sardony aside, this piece is now on the internet, so in years to come perhaps some student wordsmith will read it and think, ‘Wow, that bloke could write’ or conversely, ‘What a load of b******t’.

In a free society, everyone has the privilege of a view, so those of us who live by the pen can also perish by it in the court of public opinion or, indeed, in a court of law if we cross the threshold of libel.

Which is why – whether you’re bewitched, bothered or bewildered by my utterings – you can be guaranteed that whatever I air here is based on unsullied truths, often treble checked for veracity, even if my conclusions don’t necessarily chime with yours.

As a adolescent newcomer to this surreal trade, one of the first tenets I learned was that laid down by The Guardian’s legendary editor, C.P. Scott, who, in 1921, wrote, ‘Comment is free, but facts are sacred.’

So the gleaning of accurate info is vital to my cause, my job and my service to you, the reader.

Last week, however, the ground rules shifted dramatically and I can no longer vouch that what I state is the whole truth, but something short of it.

Because that august body, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), have slammed the door on my – and your – legitimate liberty to enquire.

GOOGLE GAGGED: The internet search engine must bow to EU citizens' demands to rewrite their histories

GOOGLE GAGGED: The internet search engine must now bow to EU citizens’ demands to block their historic embarrassments

They did so by ordering Google, the world’s most popular internet search engine and the planet’s most valuable brand, to bow to an individual’s demand to hide embarrassing details of their past online, even if such data remains elsewhere in cyberspace and others, beyond the remit of Europe, continue to access it.

In principal, it enshrines in law the Brussels doctrine of the ‘right to be forgotten’, which says people should not be victims of their historic mistakes or misdemeanours.

So, any citizen of the European Union will be able to require Google – and other search engines – to block any reference to their life they personally deem unpalatable…even if, in the ECJ’s own contradictory admission, it was ‘true, accurate and lawfully published’.

The bizarre ruling was handed down after 59-year-old Spaniard, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, complained that an auction notice in a Barcelona newspaper, regarding his home being repossessed to repay social security debts in 1998, still appeared in Google searches, thus infringing his privacy.

Senor Gonzalez said the matter had been ‘fully resolved for a number of years’. And the ECJ’s 13-strong panel of judges agreed that, under a 1995 EU data protection directive, his rights ‘override, as a general rule, the interest of internet users’.

The test case is relatively small beer – not worth even a can of San Miguel lager in the great scheme of things (except, of course, to Senor Gonzalez, whose action won him a tsunami of unwanted headlines that now litter the Web).

However, its ramifications are scary, not say a full frontal attack on liberty.

EU Commissioner, Viviane Reding, believes it’s ‘a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans’.

In contrast, Emma Carr, of Big Brother Watch, points out, ‘The principle that you have a right to be forgotten is a laudable one, but it was never intended to be a way for people to rewrite history.’

Her fears are understandably echoed by Google, who report over a thousand people have already demanded links to unfavourable stories about them be blocked.

They include an unnamed British ex-MP, fuming that his expenses claims paint a less than glowing portrait of his integrity, a tax scammer, 20 convicted criminals – including a paedophile – plus a surgeon, whose handiwork received negative reviews from patients.

The US-based search engine now faces a logistical nightmare in how to deal with the predicted flood of demands and says it will need a multi-lingual ‘army of removal experts’ in each of the 28 EU member states.

Even that, though, may prove a mission impossible, because the idiot ECJ’s criteria of what is ‘no longer relevant’ to the public interest is hopelessly blurred, since it fails to define what is or isn’t ‘historic’.

Nonetheless, by its clunking fist, the court has granted itself editorial powers it has no right to wield, given the internet is a global resource and this ruling infringes the American constitution’s First Amendment, the freedom of expression.

And, to further complicate the farce, the ECJ decision doesn’t apply to Facebook comments or Twitter posts.

So, in essences, the learned jurists have not only made an ass of the law – and themselves – but cooked up a crooks’ charter, whereby every miscreant from the west of Ireland to the Black Sea is empowered to act as their own cyberspace censor.

Conmen, rogue traders and motley scumbags must think the verdict is better than a ‘get out of jail free’ card, because they can rewrite their histories with complete alacrity.

EURO INJUSTICE: The ECJ's internet ban ruling is glad tiding for those who want to hide the truth

EURO INJUSTICE: The ECJ’s internet ban ruling does liberty no favours – but favours the notion that censorship rules in the EU

Ditto the rich and famous, who want their private lives – however seedy and corrupt – out of the public eye. Some already do this by employing expensive PR firms to sanitise their Wikipedia references to appear like insipid autobiographies.

But anyone, other than the certifiably stupid, knows the internet is a mixed bag of knowledge and nonsense, parts of it vital to the passage of information, science and learning; other, darker zones inflammatory, distorted and gratuitously pornographic

However, attempts to police it in the heavy-handed way the ECJ have done are nothing short of Stalinesque – or Maoesque, in the case of China, where what Beijing users can browse is a fraction of that available to New Yorkers and, until last week, Europeans.

Meanwhile, by erring on the side of those who want their pasts hidden, the ECJ judges have added yet another layer of control and restraint to liberty that’s become synonymous with the increasingly autocratic European Union.

 

Paranoid Putin wants a Ukraine poodle – and the Kremlin bullyboy won’t stop there

FRENCH cynics have a phrase for progress. ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, they sneer, which roughly translates into, ‘The more it changes, the more the same old claptrap.’

So, for those who imagined the collapse of Soviet repression was an overture to genuine democracy in Russia, the straightjacket and funny farm awaits.

Granted, there was a brief flush of hope in the early 1990s, when, for all his boozy buffoonery, Boris Yeltsin wrested power from the fading, old Red Guard and promised liberal reforms.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve, 1999, when a 47-year-old ex-KGB officer and political rookie called Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin suddenly emerged as Russia’s new boss and the truth dawned on realists that progress, Kremlin-style, was a transient mirage…the leopard merely reshuffling its spots.

In the decade-and-a-half since, even the last pipe-dreamer can no longer doubt Putin’s take on democracy is whatever he says it is and Siberia welcomes dissenters.

Because, after centuries of unrelenting brainwashing, like Pavlov’s dogs, Russia’s masses are conditioned to respecting a strongman, who fans their raging national pride, not to say endemic paranoia.

Western statesmen appear to have overlooked this glaring trait. Or, in the case of that most malleable of US President, Barack Obama, they’ve lulled themselves into the misguided belief Russians are just as much residents of the global village as everyone else, therefore abide by the same norms.

They don’t. And the code Putin applies – recently slammed as ‘19th Century rules’ by American Secretary of State, John Kerry – is little changed from the policies of Ivan the Terrible, Lenin and Stalin.

In a nutshell Moscow believes might is right and actions speak louder than words.

WINK LINK: Kremlin-watchers believe Putin had a cunning plan to draw the West into the Ukraine rumpus

WATCH MY WINK: Kremlin-watchers believe Putin had a cunning plan to draw the West into the Ukraine rumpus

So, following his diplomatic coups in mesmerising Obama into imagining Iran’s devious mullahs were peace-seeking pussycats and Syrian butcher, Bashar Assad, was really a much- maligned nice guy, poker-faced Putin has scooped the ultimate jackpot over Ukraine.

Of course, it could have been mere coincidence weeks ago that goons, in green uniforms minus military flashes and brandishing hardware far more lethal than anything the local militia toted, suddenly turned up, en masse, and land-grabbed the Crimean peninsula.

And, just perhaps, the insurrection by Ukraine’s 17% ethnic Russians in the east was simply a spontaneous poke in the eye to the interim Kiev regime that had booted out pro-Moscow brigand, Viktor Yanukovych.

But when Putin branded the upstarts a ‘fascist junta’ eager to cosy up to the European Union, the mantra fell on willing ears, since it rang with poignant echoes of WW2, when too many western Ukrainians queued up to join Hitler’s SS.

Which is why the West-backed presidential election in a week’s time will be a waste of polling paper. However transparent, Russia has already trashed the outcome by blessing last Sunday’s ‘plebiscite’ in Donetsk, where a massive 89% voted to split from Kiev and demand self-rule.

And if that result doesn’t deter Western adventurism into what Russia sees as its backyard, Putin’s banker bet is that NATO won’t mix it – just as it failed to do in Georgia in 2008 – if he orders phalanxes of T-95 tanks and Spetsnaz Special Forces to pour over the border and annex eastern Ukraine, as a postscript to Crimea.

Meantime, if this is the prelude to a new, Cold War world order, the big money’s on Putin saying, ‘Bring it on – see if I care.’

So no amount of Obama sanctions against his henchmen – which, tepid as they are, have rattled EU states reliant on Russia energy – will deter the expansionist, Russian bullyboy.

Notably, last week Germany signalled its mounting fears by warning its nationals in eastern Ukraine to beat a hasty retreat, foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warning that the country is only a ‘few steps’ away from ‘military confrontation’.

The chief twerps in creating this stand-off are the EU. As America’s diplomatic eminence gris, Henry Kissinger wrote – during what I guess was an severe attack of verbal diarrhoea – ‘The European Union must recognise that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning negotiation into a crisis.’

That might sound utter gobbledygook, but the master tactician of realpolitik is stating the blindingly obvious: the EU was too slow, too stupid and too arrogant in imagining it could prise free a cornerstone of Putin’s defensive rampart.

And the procession of Western big wigs, who rushed to Kiev to congratulate the rebels for bravely ousting Yanukovych – including Britain’s silly Billy Hague – made a colossal misjudgement in thinking they could de-claw the Russian bear.

Putin was not only expecting EU meddling, Kremlin-watchers reckon he long ago hatched a cunning plan to spark, then check it, by skyrocketing the price of Russian gas to Ukraine in anticipation of the West charging in like Custer’s Seventh Cavalry (and no reminders about what happened to them!).

EURO FOOLS: Elder statesman, Henry Kissinger, believes the EU is to blame for trying to woo the new Kiev regime

EURO FOOLS: Elder statesman, Henry Kissinger, believes the EU is to blame for trying to woo the new Kiev regime

Now, no amount of diplomatic embroidery will patch up the beleaguered country, even if some dodgy fudge is fashioned, whereby the eastern provinces are granted autonomy – under Moscow’s protective wing, naturally.

All this runs counter to the 1994 deal hammered out in Budapest, whereby Russia, the EU and US guaranteed to respect Ukraine’s borders.

However, since this was five years before his Kremlin putsch, Putin isn’t inclined to honour it; besides, Vlad The Invader has invented the perfect excuse for intervention: defending ethnic Russian minorities.

That same logic applies to Estonia and Latvia, where some 25% of their populations are descended from detested Russian incomers, transplanted during the communist era to slap down local aggro.

Unlike Ukraine, though, both states are NATO members, which is why the West is growing increasingly edgy over the future of its Baltic flank.

Though in no mood for military confrontation, Obama and friends must know if they don’t face down Russian thuggery there, they might as well shut up for good.

Because, while the Kremlin’s bully has changed faces from Soviet times, he still spouts the same old claptrap.

‘Plus ça change, etc…’ as the French say.

 

 

Why nobody can give a political turkey a right, royal stuffing like Paxo can…

MORTIFIED! Will my wife or Auntie BBC – let alone Britain’s political class, which must be heaving a  huge sigh of collective relief – ever be the same again?

Jeremy Paxman’s announcement that he’s quitting BBC2’s Newsnight prog, after 25 years, has left Mrs. Ash bereft, not to say yours truly without good cause to remain awake until 23.30 (Spanish time), before dozing off in the comfort of hearing yet another political turkey suffer public humiliation by a thousand, deft, verbal cuts.

For those not privileged to have witnessed Paxman’s acerbic interviewing style, imagine the Spanish Inquisition and a Soviet show trial rolled into one, as – giving all due respect to Kipling’s immortal poem, If – he treated all as impostors deserving the same disdain.

With the possible exception of the late Sir Robin Day, who founded the post-modernist school of torture by TV, no-one but Paxman has exploded more pomposity or shattered as many overblown egos.

Media mythology claims the abrasive Yorkshireman coined his approach to interviewees by first asking himself, ‘Why is this bastard lying to me?’ He didn’t. It’s a quote lifted from Times journalist, Louis Heron, who admitted he’d heard it from a colleague.

However, what’s undeniable is the grand inquisitor was the people’s champion, answering their call to probe for truth and accountability by – preferably – steamrollering blusterers into a flat, mushy mess of angst.

So, if he cost £800,000 a year of taxpayers’ dosh, Paxman was worth every penny.

And even if the dreary mechanics of power is the equivalent of brewer’s droop to those disinterested in knowing how the wool is being dragged over their eyes, nothing quite rivalled the sight of a supercilious grandee being give a right, royal Paxo stuffing.

Probably the peak of his reign of intimidation was the demolition of Michael Howard in 1997, when Paxman asked the former Home Secretary the same question 12, successive times…‘Did you threaten to overrule him?’

ARCH INQUISITOR: But who can follow Jeremy Paxman on BBC's flagship Newsnight current affairs show?

ARCH INQUISITOR: But who can follow Jeremy Paxman on BBC’s flagship Newsnight current affairs show?

Few recall the context – the dismissal of the head of Britain’s prison service – or knew Paxman sent Howard a bottle of champagne by way of an apology. Only the interview will live on as a shrine to big, small-screen, political melodrama.

The 2005 general election saw a similar verbal punch-up, this time with Saddam Hussein sycophant, George Galloway, in which Paxman accused the now Respect MP of threatening him, which ended with Galloway walking out of the interview.

Later that year, when David Cameron was running to be the Tory’s head toff, Paxman pressed him on his directorship of a nightclub firm and left the future Prime Minister blathering to explain the ingredients of cocktails like Pink Pussy and Slippery Nipple.

In 2011, he even called a European Commission spokesman ‘Mr Idiot’.

Accused in recent years of being – in his own words – ‘clapped out’, Paxman proved detractors wrong in 2012, by shredding Chloe Smith, then a junior at the Treasury, put up to defend a knee-jerk decision to freeze fuel duty.

In fairness to the fledgling minister, of whom nothing has been heard since, she was raw meat to a voracious rottweiler and whoever threw her into Paxman’s pit – most finger her boss, Chancellor George Osborne – was guilty of heinous cowardice.

Some, however, gave better than they got on the BBC’s flagship current affairs show.

 

Disgraced newspaper tycoon, Conrad Black, labelled Paxman a ‘gullible, priggish, English fool’ when questioned about his imprisonment for fraud.

And, taken to task over his view that voting was a waste of time, gobby comic, Russell Brand, actually forced Paxman to admit he’d also failed to vote in a recent election.

Whatever the hangdog presenter’s personal politics, though, he never wore his colours in action and his quality of mercilessness has never been restrained, whether it was the Prime Minister or leader of the British National Party sitting opposite.

Even Paxman’s BBC masters have felt the sharp cut of his tongue.

To wide acclaim, Paxman was never more scornful about their handiwork than over Auntie’s monumental cock-up of a Newsnight investigation into the Jimmy Savile sex-abuse scandal, which he damned as ‘contemptible’.

Recently he even panned the output of Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra as ‘hell’.

Meanwhile, Paxman’s remark that the organisation was ‘smug’ not only didn’t win rave reviews from top brass, they demanded he and the equally-forensic John Humphrys, of Radio 4’s Today programme, study an in-house report on ‘courtesy in interviewing’.

Andrew Marr’s Sunday show exemplifies that blandness, although it hasn’t gone unnoticed the former editor of The Independent tends to treat his Left-of-wing guests with greater deference than, say, the likes of UKIP’s Nigel Farage.

But, in their skewered judgements, what legions of the Beeb’s mandarins have singularly failed to appreciate is the public want exactly what Paxman and Humphrys deliver…the blood of political humbugs on the studio carpet.

Even when he side-stepped into the realms of light entertainment by becoming University Challenge’s inquisitor, Paxman’s withering chidings were no less barbed and it’s glad tidings he’ll continue with that show.

NO RESPECT: Outspoken George Galloway, then the new Respect MP, walked off air during Paxman's grilling

‘Come on, come on’, he demands, with undisguised irritation, as the students strain over brain-numbing questions about astrophysics or the sovereignty of South Pacific atolls.

Strangely, though Paxman is a broadcasting icon, his life’s work hasn’t had mass appeal, because Newsnight’s audience rarely tips 600,000 – including a 10% boost when the man himself hosts it – and University Challenge is hardly The X Factor.

But, earlier this year, when he grew a beard, even the social media was fizzing (for the record, my wife reckons it was to hide a nip-and-tuck job – and, believe me, she can tell a pair of bought-in boobs half a mile away).

With Panorama blown as a byword for probing journalism, the problem for news junkies like me is: who replaces the irreplaceable on Newsnight – surely not the grating Kirsty Wark or a featherweight cutie like Emily Maitlis?

But, more to the point, how is Mrs. Ash ever going to sleep tight without a dulcet ‘Goodnight’ from Jeremy, the man of her dreams?

When evil men abuse their power, do we ignore the rumour mill at our peril?

IT was a huge PR coup in more ways than one. Roly-poly MP, Cyril Smith, was coming to my kids’ primary school speech day, to present prizes and glad-hand the award-winners.

Back in the naïve mid-1980s, the larger-than-life character, with a girth to match, was the Liberals’ darling – a bluff, northern charmer, deflecting the fall-out from the torrid, homosexual scandal that sank Jeremy Thorpe, the party’s former leader.

Yet, I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect of Big Cyril’s road show coming to school. And, couched in as much tact as I could muster, I said so to a teacher, who, quite reasonably asked what my reservations were.

As a newsman, I was privy to a rumour mill that marked the 30-stone politician as having ‘form’, not that I could divulge, in plain English, to the teacher that what I knew was incendiary: the recurrent buzz that Smith might not be an appropriate adult to have around kids.

PARLIAMENTARY PERV? The public needs to know the truth about roly-poly MP, Cyril Smith's alleged abuse of young boys

PARLIAMENTARY PERV? The public needs to know the truth about roly-poly MP, Sir Cyril Smith’s alleged abuse of young boys

The satirical mag, Private Eye, had alleged in 1979 the Liberal Chief Whip – once Labour mayor of Rochdale – had put youngsters at a boys’ home across his knee, pulled down their pants and spanked them.

Plus, I’d heard from reporters covering Smith’s local patch, political contacts, even coppers of my acquaintance, all of whom whispered the same mantra…investigations into Smith’s ‘extra-curricular activities’ were shelved because of ‘pressure from above.’

Proof and hearsay, however hot, aren’t the same. And, apart from the Eye’s snippet, no journo had dared make public further innuendos, because none fancied a second career as a mini-cab driver.

Besides, it’s not always wise to assume where there’s smoke, fire rages. The Sun made that monumental boob when it accused Liverpool fans of picking the pockets and urinating on the bodies of some of the 96 supporters who died in 1989 Hillsborough Tragedy – which is why, even today, Britain’s best-selling tabloid remains a pariah newspaper on Merseyside.

Smith, though, was far from stupid, as Simon Danczuk, author of the new book, ‘Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith’, claims.

‘Once you looked beyond the jolly clown…there was a sickening, dark heart,’ insists the writer. ‘This wasn’t just about abuse, it was about power – and a cover-up that reached from Rochdale all the way to the very top of the Establishment.’

Now Labour MP in Smith’s old seat, Danczuk alleges his predecessor – knighted for political services in 1988 – was part of a Westminster-based network of sex abusers, which Lib-Dems, police, even MI5, had been complicit in covering up for decades.

Danczuk says he has affidavits from eight boys abused by Smith at the Cambridge House hostel, in Rochdale, in the 1960s and they make for grim reading.

Smith, who had helped found the home, was seemingly given ‘free rein’ to administer punishments and is said to have taken pleasure in spanking boys ‘for their own good’, while conducting ‘medical examinations’ of the half-naked kids.

Up to a month ago 144 complaints had been lodged against Smith – a friend of serial sex-abuser, Jimmy Savile – some from victims then as young as eight.

And, incredibly, Lord David Steel, the former Liberal leader, admitted last week that when he’d quizzed Smith about the Eye’s report, the fat man agreed it was true.

So why didn’t Steel act?

LIB-DUMBS? Lord David Steel (left) and current leader, Nick Clegg, refuse to hold an enquiry into Smith

LIB-DUMBS? Lord David Steel (left) and current leader, Nick Clegg, refuse to hold an enquiry into Smith

‘These allegations were already very old,’ he insists. ‘They had been investigated by the police, as Private Eye stated, and no action had been taken. So there was nothing more I could do. He wasn’t an MP at the time of these allegations – he wasn’t even a member of my party.’

Meanwhile, while describing the charges against Smith as ‘repugnant’, current leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said that when all his MPs and peers were asked two years ago whether they’d heard of the abuse claims ‘no-one said they did.’

Given what I’d been told – three decades earlier – from a host of disparate sources, I find it inconceivable the entire parliamentary Lib-Dem mob hadn’t heard a murmur on their antenna, far more attuned to Westminster tittle-tattle than mine.

Political affiliations aside, Danczuk agrees with that assessment.

‘They are a party in denial,’ he asserts. ‘I find it incredible they are claiming that they didn’t hear the rumours about Smith.’

But, apart from what we northerners call ‘cloth-eared’ folly – for the benefit of ignorant southern folk, that’s a meld of selective deafness and a rebuttal of reality – among Smith’s old cronies, Clegg, Steel and Co. should know the law of unintended consequences takes no prisoners.

So, despite investigations being launched by Rochdale Council and Greater Manchester Police, the Lib-Dems’ refusal to hold their own probe into what’s inevitably being dubbed ‘Smithgate’ is a decision they might live to regret.

Child sex abuse – even the mere whiff of it – is no longer dismissed as a trifling deviation to be swept under the carpet, as it once was.

The Savile scandal and its devastating impact on the smug-as-a-mug BBC, again years after the culprit was dead, should concentrate Lib-Dem minds and demand a large dose of proactive humility, not a dead-bat, do-nothing defence.

THUMBS UP: But thumbs down from the jury who found showbiz power-broker Max Clifford guilty of sexually abusing young girls

THUMBS UP: But thumbs down from the jury, who found showbiz power-broker Max Clifford guilty of sexually abusing young girls

Similarly, in a week that’s seen showbiz power-broker, Max Clifford, stripped of his swagger and banged up for eight years for sex offences against young girls, it’s not unreasonable to ask who, in my own trade and close to him, knew what murky secrets lurked behind the slick façade of the man who made Fleet Street rumble.

Like Savile, Smith will never see the inside of a courtroom, but it’s likely his considerable political clout far extended anything the perv DJ or contemptuous Clifford could ever match.

And, though the fat man is – as yet – guilty of nothing more than being the posthumous subject of a swirling welter of allegations that he was a heartless, predatory paedophile, his activities deserve and demand thorough public scrutiny, especially by the Lib-Dems.

Perhaps, too, it’s time we all need a reminder of Edmund Burke’s sage quote: ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’