It’s what they say when they’re caught off-guard that really defines a politician.
Today, comedy Prime Minister David Cameron was caught off-guard by Philip Schofield (of all people) – and the result was not funny at all. In a This Morning interview, Schofe handed over a piece of paper with three names on it, of Conservatives accused of being involved in child abuse.
The presenter said there were many allegations online about people who might have carried out abuse, and he had been able to find the names on the list after searching for about three minutes. He said they were people Mr Cameron knew, and asked if the PM would be talking to them.
Cameron’s response: “There is a danger that this could turn into a sort of witch-hunt, particularly against people who are gay.”
Gay? What, gay in general? Everyone else is talking about paedophiles, David; why did you just broaden it into a debate about homosexuality?
We don’t want to know about your prejudices, David. Paedophiles do not have to be, by definition, gay.
If a responsible adult wants to engage in a same-sex relationship with another consenting adult, that is none of my business, nor yours, nor the State’s.
It is a world away from what is under discussion. Paedophilia is the action of an irresponsible adult, engaging in an inappropriate physical relationship with a minor – of either sex – who is therefore legally unable to give consent to it. That is our business, and I suggest you concentrate on it, starting with the allegations against the members of your party.
Mr Cameron went on with a personal warning to Schofe: “I’m worred about the sort of thing you are doing right now – giving me a list of names that you’ve taken off the internet.”
On one level, that was never going to work. Public sympathy will always be on the side of Philip Schofield when a politician tries to intimidate him (as I think Mr Cameron was trying to do). And there is an argument that it is in the public interest for Schofe to put evidence before the Prime Minister that accusations are being made in a public forum and that he needs to do something about it.
Having said that, I should add a few words of caution, because the PM was absolutely right to warn against a witch-hunt.
Back in 17th century America, witchcraft was the taboo; in 1950s America, it was Communism. Now, here, it’s paedophilia. The link between them is that an accusation automatically led to the belief that the named person was guilty of the crime, whether they had committed it or not.
I know a man who is in prison at the moment after being convicted of abusing a child. I was at the trial and heard all the evidence and I am convinced that he did not do it. It’s my opinion that the accusation was enough to sway the jury. The gentleman concerned won an appeal against an intial conviction, at which the presiding judge overturned the verdict after asking for the factual evidence on which the defendant had been convicted and being told there was none. He sent it back for retrial and the jury convicted him again – as I say – because in my opinion he was accused of the modern version of witchcraft. Or Communism.
No organisation exists to represent the interests of a person who has been wrongly convicted of paedophilia. Once a person has been tarred with that brush, it sticks to them for life.
The whole issue of paedophilia is therefore surrounded by abuse. Abuse of children. Abuse of the system by people who accuse the innocent (for purposes of their own). Abuse of the system by police officers who refuse to investigate legitimate allegations (as we’ve heard in the Jimmy Savile affair). Abuse of the system by politicians who want to cover up the involvement of their colleagues in a scandal (as it has been alleged).
But, Mr Cameron, you can’t judge that a person is a paedophile according to whether or not they are gay.