This is our truth, tell us yours
So the ongoing row, much loved by conspiracy theorists over the years. about who did or didn’t visit a guest house in West London, has morphed magically, dramatically, into a panel inquiry into the church, the civil service, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.
As the Telegraph put it, while doing the textual equivalent of that finger gesture that implies ironic inverted commas (or the fact that you’re a complete twunt) “But the Home Secretary warned the work is unlikely to be complete before the next General Election, meaning any emerging findings about government failures will be less likely to damage the Coalition before the poll in May.”
At the same time “Mrs May announced Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), will lead a review into the Home Office’s handling of historic allegations of child abuse after it emerged that an internal review staged last year had been unable to trace 114 files on the subject in the Home Office archives. “
It’s a frenzy of activity, but it’s all a distraction designed to take the audiences eye away from the fact that, up until two day ago, this government was also convinced there was no merit in probing more deeply into the past. The sound of governments performing U turns is never edifying and part of the ritual is always to talk about the new policy so loudly, and make it sound so important, that anyone questioning its novelty and the reversal of direction is made to look churlish.
In the process, one unintended consequence is the rehabilitation of the reputation of Geoffrey Dickens, despite the fact that he was a vile specimen of saloon bar fascism of a kind that would make Nigel Farage look like the gentlest of milk and water liberals.
Consider these quotes from the Dickens obituary, penned by his friends, not his enemies.
an MP who wanted to end the ban on playing sport with South Africa, birch young thugs, and return immigrants to their countries of origin in a peremptory way.
a self-professed paragon of family virtues, a tireless critic of any sexual departure from the traditional norm,
One of the problems of the broad sweep of the inquiry proposed by the government is that it is likely to be so slow, and so nuanced, that it will never help us find our way out of a morass created, in part, by those who played the ad hominem game of ignoring evidence presented by Dickens because he was a nasty buffoon with a judgemental streak and an overweaning sense of his own importance and abilities. The evidence presented by Dickens was tainted, in the eyes of many, by the fact that he was, patently, a man whose self belief was rooted in nothing more substantial than his ambitions. He was, in short the Eric Pickles of his day, a political self assembly project. (Write your own jokes here about most self assembly projects having a few screws loose and a few parts left in a bag whose purpose is unknown.)
The lessons to be learned about Dickens is, in part, about the Gadarene swine fallacy; the fact that Dickens was out of step about child sex abuse in the 80s did not make him wrong, but the fact that the government and many others are rushing towards a huge, cumbersome inquiry that will match the Bloody Sunday inquiry in length, complexity and controversy does not make them right.