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The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator's Notes: In the radical 1970s, logic was on the side of the Paedophile Information Exchange

Plus: Are the middle classes turning against immigration? And what Prince Charles loses by not hunting

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

People seem bewildered that the National Council for Civil Liberties in the late 1970s gave house-room to the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). It is certainly embarrassing for Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt that they held leading posts in the NCCL then, but the fact that this was going on should not be so surprising. I remember the row about PIE at the time. PIE’s argument was part of the wider doctrine about sexual liberation, which was that the only problem about sex was the repression imposed by society’s taboos. Virtually all sexual behaviour was seen as good and the exercise of sexual desire as an absolute right. The only qualification that liberationists grudgingly acknowledged was the need for consent. Even this they diluted by arguing that the distinction between adults and children was itself an unacceptable form of social control: children were quite capable of consenting to sexual activity, and should be left to get on with it. There was such a fuss that the NCCL eventually had to push PIE out. But from the liberationist point of view, logic was on the side of the paedophiles. Once you see sexual behaviour solely in terms of doing what you want, subject only to consent, then the protection against abuse becomes very thin. Nowadays, we are encouraged to abhor paedophilia, but celebrate homosexuality, and smile genially on sadomasochism, troilism, coprophilia, extreme promiscuity, even incest. Yet if we think that absolutely all adult sex is wonderful, why should we absolutely oppose child sex? We might prudentially caution waiting a bit — just as we would discourage a ten-year-old from driving a tractor — but why should we feel profound disgust? Without some sense of disgust, you cannot keep children safe. If you abandon any notion that some sexual roles are wrong, why make an exception of children? Even today, I notice, campaigners like Peter Tatchell pursue the old radical logic, arguing for the age of consent to fall.

There are two environments in which paedophile abuse is most likely to thrive. One is the liberationist one in which anything goes (see above). The other is the authoritarian one — e.g. old-fashioned priests or schoolmasters — in which the deed is so unspeakable and the power of the abuser so great that the silence of the victim can be enforced. The really lethal combination — the 1970s Savile phenomenon — is when the two are combined: all sex is fine and the older, male authority figure holds unquestioned sway. Beware, however, of the smug current assumption that, although the 1970s was a ‘sexually confused decade’, our own is not. What madness are we committing? One, I suggest, is the now prevailing notion that almost anyone should be free to adopt children, buy them, or produce them by surrogacy. Like that done by abuse, the full damage will emerge only later.

Feeling against immigration traditionally runs strongest among the poorest people in Britain. But I notice a sharp rise in the resentments felt by the moderately well-off. The huge wealthy foreign presence here is making such people fear for their positional goods. If your child cannot get into a good private school because of lots of clever Chinese, or your previously charming piece of west London is ruined by ultra-rich, aggressive (or absentee) Russians, you soon lapse into ‘strangers in our own country’ talk. Nigel Farage now gets a good reception not only in the public bar, but when he walks down the gravel drive.


Last week, John Downey, the former IRA man, avoided trial for the Hyde Park bombings of 1982. One who stood bail for him was Roy Greenslade, the media pundit of the Guardian. Since Mr Downey has not been proved guilty, we must presume him innocent, but isn’t it extraordinary that Greenslade can cosy up to such a man without suffering in reputation? Suppose I were to stand bail for, say, Nick Griffin of the BNP (who, so far as I know, has never been accused of a terrorist crime), or for some loyalist oaf. I would rightly be shunned in my trade. Yet a link with extreme, violence-justifying, anti-British republicans is worn with pride.

Why do I so strongly not want there to be televised debates between the party leaders at the next election? I tell myself it is because these debates are so boring, or because they confuse our parliamentary system with a presidential one, or because they favour whichever party has the fewest responsibilities. But really these are secondary, concocted reasons. The truth is I dislike the claim by television executives that putting politicians on the telly is ‘the people’s right’. It is self-serving. What these executives want is even more power to make or break elections. Television destroyed Parliament by winning the right to televise it (a destruction which, interestingly, did not happen when it was broadcast only on radio). Don’t let it destroy elections as well. David Cameron disastrously agreed to a three-way debate last time. He must wriggle out next year.

The hunting ban has created unnecessary trouble for many, but it is only really members of the royal family who have been stopped dead by it. Although the Prince of Wales could, in theory, hunt ‘within the law’, it would be too controversial, so he doesn’t. This is a pity, not only because it has deprived him of something he loved, but also because the sport was a sort of education for him. Recently, I heard how one day before the ban Prince Charles arrived at a meet escorted by a farmer whose task was to look after him. During the day, the Prince’s horse refused a fence, and the farmer, known to be hot-tempered, thought this was Prince Charles’s fault. ‘Get off your horse,’ he shouted at him, and climbed on to it himself to set it right, ‘You’re the heir to the throne. If you sit on the throne like you sit on that horse, you’ll not be there long.’

Here is another startling fact about the first world war. Britain contributed only 6 per cent of the total number of men mobilised on both sides.

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