The child sex exploitation report produced by Alexis Jay in Rotherham last week opens a massive can of worms into wilful ignorance, human trafficking and corrupt practices at a range of public bodies and organisations across the town. Council leader Roger Stone has resigned, South Yorkshire Police have issues apologies and there has been pressure on the South Yorkshire Police Commissioner to step down given his role as head of children’s
services for part of the time in question.
The report highlighted a macho political culture in Rotherham that is familiar to those of us active in the Labour Party for many years. It’s a political culture that is predominantly male, that is shouty and intimidating, that will blackmail people to secure it’s own ends and that seeks to serve mini-political empires within the town.
Anyone involved in Rotherham’s Labour politics in the last 20 years will be familiar with the phrase “the Rawmarsh Mafia” – a collective of Labour councillors and activists from that area of the town and surrounding areas who fought for control of the council from the late 1990s onwards and who controlled in for much of the 2000s.
But this political posturing is not just the preserve of the ex-trade unionist white males on the council. There has been a core of ethnic councillors – largely Asian and Pakistani – who have presided over their own empire based in and around the town centre council wards and the Rotherham Parliamentary constituency. What began as a minority community rightly seeking representation on the council grew into a corrupt political empire with Labour votes delivering Labour councillors who in turn have delivered extensive public funding for minority focused projects in the town. It’s an old joke among some of my older friends that if you want planning permission for something you’d better put it in an Asian-sounding name to guarantee it gets passed.
I don’t know about that – such stuff is largely anecdotal – but it does reflect a strong feeling by white working class communities that they are pushed out and ignored (indeed I wrote about this after the May local election results); and it reflects the reality that minority communities have been the victim of political manoeuvrings that is now at their own expense.
It is sickening to read that councillors knew about the extensive abuse of young girls in Rotherham and that at best they ignored what they were being told or at worst wilfully sought to hide it. What’s more sickening for me is the way some people are now breaking their necks to get their “I knew nothing” quote in the broadsheets when I know for a fact that they DID know this was happening and they did seek to shut down discussion and comment on the issue by playing the race card.
I sat next to these people in Labour Party meeting after Labour Party meeting where they insisted the abuse cases did not have a cultural or racial dimension and that if it did it shouldn’t be over-egged in the media because it would disrupt the town’s social cohesion policies. They knew plenty and they refused to see it because it was an inconvenient truth, even when the Deputy Leader of Rotherham Council was investigated for his own involvement with one of the perpetrators (it was alleged he knew about a relationship between one of his relatives and a 14 year old girl and was later cleared).
Is this a particularly Labour Party issue? I don’t think so, and here’s why. I wrote earlier that votes led to councillors led to public funds and that led to an empire that had to be protected at all costs, even when it meant playing the race card to shut critics up.
In this case it was a council where the Labour Party has dominated since the 1930s. Had it been a Tory council or a Liberal I think you would have seen the same thing happen.
This is not to excuse anyone but it is more about making my wider point – that it was the political culture in Rotherham, where there has been no effective external opposition to Labour for so long, which was to blame. It was easy to cover up, it was easy to hide because the people involved in covering up, involved in raiding support organisations, involved in intimidating the families of the victims and playing the race card when the issue was raised – they were all ultimately in the same boat. They could just have easily been in the same Tory boat – in fact, for a large part of the 1980s there was widespread abuse and the covering up of abuse by people sympathetic to the conservative Establishment.
All of that points to something fundamentally rotten in our democracy – a much bigger issues than even this. It also highlights the fact that those councillors up and down Britain saying “It couldn’t happen here” are incredibly naïve if they think they are not capable of contributing to a similar political culture.