This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday August 28 2015.
I published an article in Ceylon Today recently hung on the peg of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for the leadership of the UK Labour Party. I specifically dealt with Corbyn’s role in the Islington child abuse scandal of the 1980s and 1990s but my main interest was in the kind of reasoning that goes into political debate.
John Mann’s Case against Corbyn
John Mann MP issued an open letter to Corbyn on July 23 2015, in which he said: “The extent of the abuse was only uncovered through the tenacity and bravery of whistle-blowers, journalists and survivors which led to a number of independent inquiries and the damning Ian White report in 1995”. The gist of John Mann’s argument is that Corbyn is not fit to lead the Labour Party at a time when much attention in Parliament and the media will be generated by the Goddard Inquiry into historic sexual abuse of children. This is not because anyone suspects Corbyn of being an abuser himself but because he was not pro-active in helping the victims or in establishing an investigation and indeed obstructed investigations.
Mann’s letter struck a chord with me because I was working on child protection at the Department of Health from 1994 to 1997. I saw files and was privy to discussions about the Islington care homes scandal. I can endorse that the leader of Islington Council, Margaret Hodge, and the local MP, Jeremy Corbyn, were, to put it charitably, less than helpful to the Department’s investigations.
The first comment was that Mann was “not fond of us northerners”. He was born in Pudsey, Yorkshire and educated in Bradford. He represents the constituency of Bassetlaw, which is well north of Watford.
Mann’s opinion of Corbyn was thought to be undermined by the fact that he was supporting Yvette Cooper for leader. He makes no secret of this and surely he can support whoever he likes. But wait- someone else accuses Mann of the crime of “trying to influence the election”. Is that not allowed in a democracy?
Because I agreed with Mann, that meant that I was fair game for smearing too. Kevin Higgins is an Irish poet who I had admired and whom I had thought of as a good (virtual) friend. Although he is an Irish citizen living in Galway, Higgins is strongly campaigning for Corbyn. He thought it was OK to call me a liar who was not to be believed on any topic. He said that I was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. He called Mann “deranged”. He provided a link beside this assertion, which I thought would provide evidence of Mann’s insanity. The link led me to a very silly poem by Higgins in which he fantasises about Mann while sitting on the lavatory. Who is the mad one here?
Generally, Corbyn’s supporters content themselves with attacking Mann rather than rebutting his arguments. One called him “Tory Labour lite”. Most think he is not a proper socialist. Some called him a “Blairite”. What is the cause of such hatred?
As I read about him in parliamentary sketches it strikes me that he is one of the awkward squad. I have had a good look at Mann’s voting record in the Commons. The big black marks are that he voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq and against an inquiry into it. On domestic issues, he is very much on the side of the angels, voting against benefit cuts and austerity measures in general. Mann was also vocal in criticising other MPs over the expenses scandal. He was responsible for lodging the complaint that resulted in an inquiry into Tory minister Maria Miller’s expenses claims.
He has organised numerous positive campaigns in his constituency, examples of which include campaigning to save Bassetlaw Hospital Accident and Emergency Department and helping former coal miners to get their compensation. Following reforms recommended by an inquiry he instigated, the number of heroin addicts in treatment in Bassetlaw rose from 2 to 400, and acquisitive crime fell by 75%.
In 2014 Mann was responsible for compiling a dossier of historic allegations of child abuse, detailing allegations about 12 former ministers that may have been involved. He said he believes some of them were “definitely child abusers”.
I once worked with someone who was campaigning against female circumcision and her constant battle cry was that FGM should be “pushed up the management agenda”. Agenda is a vogue word and has become something sinister. However much I might protest that I am just an elderly gentleman scholar living up a mountain in Sri Lanka, I am often accused of having an ‘agenda’. I have been accused of being sent to Sri Lanka by MI5 to undermine the Rajapaksa government. Others accused me of being on Gota’s payroll. I have been portrayed as a Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinist and a propagandist for the Tamil Tigers. Now I am apparently a dyed-in-the wool Daily Mail Tory out to destroy the Left in Britain.
Someone noted that my article was published in Ceylon Today and provided a link to an article about Sri Lanka being a haven for paedophiles. I think this was intended to smear me as a paedophile.
The distinguished UK writer and TV dramatist Janey Preger wrote that my previous article was a : “great piece… well-written and well-said”. She tried to share it with former Guardian journalist W Stephen Gilbert. Apparently, he disliked my article so much that he refused to read. How did he know that he disliked it so much if he had not read it?
Timing – Post propter hoc
A pseudonymous commenter (LightShedder) on my blog, after calling me vicious, asserted that Corbyn is on record as having called for an investigation at the time of the allegations. I know that his spokesman said this recently but I can find no record of Corbyn making such a demand in the I980s or 1990s. If anyone can provide me with a link to a contemporaneous call for an investigation, I will humbly eat my toupee. I asked LightShedder to help me with this, saying that I would publicly apologise if evidence is forthcoming. At the time of writing this I have received no response.
Someone referred me to a news item in the Belfast Telegraph about Corbyn calling for a standing commission on child abuse. Another bureaucratic entity might be just what is needed, but I doubt that it would help. The main problem is that Corbyn called for this on August 5 2015 – what did he call for in the 1990s?
One commenter seemed to be saying that because I said that I believed Mann’s allegations after seeing documentary evidence, the fact that I could not now produce this evidence placed me in the same league as the totalitarian governments of the Soviet Union, China, Iran and the Tudors. This is insanely disproportionate. My “evidence” is not necessary to the case presented about Corbyn’s lack of action. The issue has been in the public domain for a long time. This is not just conspiracy theorists. Social worker Liz Davies’s testimony is credible.
Dr Davies has been telling the Islington story for 30 years. That does not stop some Corbyn supporters saying “why did no-one mention this before? You are only bringing it up to smear Corbyn”. Because she is quoted in the Daily Mail, someone says it “can’t be true because it’s in the Mail.
Responses to my article brought a rich harvest of flawed thinking. I read those comments with a copy of philosopher Nigel Warburton’s Thinking from A to Z close at hand. Warburton covers the following tricks of bad argument: false dichotomy, ad hominem, referential ambiguity, disanalogy, assumption, bad company fallacy, enthymeme, lexical ambiguity, companions in guilt move. I recommend having the book to hand when reading about Sri Lankan politics too.