JOHN Bercow resigned before he was pushed. It is likely he saw two risks to his continuing to be Commons Speaker. The first is that the voters of his constituency would unseat him if the Conservatives fielded a candidate in a General Election. If he survived that challenge, the next risk to his speakership would come from a Conservative-dominated Commons after the election that was determined to vote in someone else to replace him. Rather like opposition MPs, Bercow feared the judgment of the public, but doubly so. He was also betting his career twice, and one of those on a hung Parliament, or where Jeremy Corbyn was Prime Minister. He would also be assuming that Corbyn would not want him replaced by a fellow traveller.
So who should be the next Commons Speaker? Of one thing we are certain, it will not be Sir Geoffrey Boycott, even were he an MP. The Yorkshireman’s Yorkshireman is a beneficiary of Theresa May’s resignation honours list. And that has got the sisterhood up in arms. Boycott was involved in a domestic dispute with his then girlfriend. An allegation of assault ended up in a French court, which tilted against Boycott, delivering a fine and a nominal sentence involving no jail time. Boycott was also fired from various commentating positions just on the word of this woman. Since then, his ‘victim’ has been reported to have admitted her injury was accidental. Despite this, the sisterhood are keening in a way they simply did not over Julian Assange running away from allegations of rape, or also official ignoring of the heinous culture of organised gang-rape that took place during the Blair years in Rotherham and a dozen other places. In this context, it is impossible to take these selectively self-righteous harpies seriously.
It is therefore interesting in this context that Britain’s arguably most senior member of this sisterhood has declared that she will run for the office of Speaker. Harriet Harman has been doing the rounds of the studios touting herself by trying to convince viewers with short memories that Betty Boothroyd being Britain’s first woman Speaker was of no consequence. But, in the spirit of the feminist furore over Boycott, is there anything in Harman’s own past that might count against her, even if it is several decades ago?
It is over forty years since Harman put her name to a proposal that argued for the then Labour government to water down a bill going through Parliament to deal with public concern over the growth in child pornography. Prior to the Protection of Children Act 1978, there did not appear to be a specific piece of legislation. Harman was a lawyer working for the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL). The Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) was affiliated to this organisation in a manner similar to how various organisations are affiliated to the Labour Party. PIE’s function was to make it easier for its members to rape children by campaigning for a relaxation of the laws, but also supporting its members in their base criminal activity.
While there is no suggestion that Harman was associated with PIE, she did put forward a paper to the government where she wanted to define ‘indecent’ thus:
‘A photograph or film shall not for this purpose be considered indecent (a) by reason only that the model is in a state of undress (whether complete or partial); (b) unless it is proved or is to be inferred from the photograph or film that the making of the photograph or film might reasonably be expected to have caused the model physical harm or pronounced psychological or emotional disorder.’
The Protection of Children Act did not contain a definition of the term ‘indecent’, and the term was defined by case law. Harman’s law would have overwritten this. A possible outcome could have been the effective legalisation of ‘soft-core’ child pornography, plus a potentially difficult legal test of physical or emotional injury some time after the fact, especially if the images came from overseas. Both of these would have complicated, or possibly rendered impossible, enforcement against child pornography. It could also have been possible that once set by statute, that the term ‘indecent’ could have been chipped away at by lawyers, especially using a plea for freedom of expression as a human right. Rather than public standards of decency, the shifting aesthetic values of an exclusive metropolitan liberal elite, whose own children would never become a pornographer’s victims, could have been applied.
Whose civil liberties, apart from pornographers, were actually under threat in 1978 by the law against child pornography, such that the NCCL needed to get involved? Who, apart from the PIE, would have benefited from Harman’s watering-down of child pornography legislation? Harman provided a garbled and evasive defence of her time at the NCCL back in 2014 for the BBC’s Newsnight.
If there is a feminist outcry over a Yorkshireman’s domestic altercations, perhaps there also should be greater interest over a feminist’s work in an organisation with whom child rapists openly had an affiliation. Harman does, after all, allegedly believe in equality.