The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

ILLTYD HARRINGTON: We’re moving in the direction of the grey looming towers of the workhouse


    Published: 18 February, 2015

    HISTORY plays odd tricks. Two hundred years ago we emptied our overcrowded prisons by the expedient of deporting the convicted criminal classes to Australasia. 

    Today we are forced to go to New Zealand to find a competent judge who is acceptable to all parties to task with investigating child abuse and similar corruption in high places. Don’t excite yourself; the lady and her panel will take at least another five years to come to any conclusions. Hardly swift justice. 

    At long last we have a late start to an urgent investigation into what looks like a terrifying problem. 

    We – John and Joan Citizen – are in shock. 

    There are almost 2,000 unfinished cases of cruelty in Rotherham; so we cannot just cast aside our individual responsibilities when we are told that this is not unusual. 

    Flowers have become the scented symbol and demonstration of us excusing ourselves. Churches which are more often empty fill for TV memorials. 

    Vicars enjoy minutes of fame and the mayor turns up wearing his chain. We long for our lost community but do little to realise that such a desire demands participation. Never mind. Someone has taken on the burden and accepted what should be our individual duty. It seems hardly believable that 1,400 victims were in the care of the Metropolitan Borough of Rotherham, who apparently failed to perform that basic duty of care. 

    So now we watch the spectacle of a motley crew from the English Defence League being applauded as they strut down the high street of that old town. 

    Rotherham, for some reason, gave me a grand civic dinner in the 1980s. To myself and the GLC delegation it was warm and over-generous. Hard to reconcile that northern warmth side by side with such culpable neglect. 

    How ludicrous. The establishment of a cabinet system has appeared within the local government framework. Tory cuts are biting, but what is wrong with so many surplus councillors taking on visiting these homes and seeing if all is right? There is no better place to understand coal than the coalface. 

    If children are being traded and getting involved with other cultures, the perpetrators must understand that they are liable to the law of the land. Tribalism is not an excuse. Children’s exposure to what can be seductive and flattering leaves a deep flesh wound and often a disturbed mind. 

    On the other hand, so many of us have become victims of a trap which says, in parrot fashion: “All public services bad, private services good.” 

    There are more splendid schools and hospitals and public  services rendered than are not. 

    Over the past eight years I have, like millions of others, received superlative health care, and seen the work of teachers in the face of bureaucracy. 

    Unfortunately we have begun to exclude decent people from all stages of the decision-making process. 

    Why shouldn’t somebody be a whistle-blower? There is hardly one working class – or woman on a hospital trust board. Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford are high on the list of culpability in their neglect of children.

    Yet these towns have a history of political radicalism and innovation. 

    Yet undoubtedly, we are moving in the direction of the grey looming towers of the workhouse of the Board of Guardians – Oliver Twist territory. Remember Margaret Thatcher’s savage rebuke to those who queried her use of private healthcare: “I buy where I want, how I want it and when I want it.” 

    No doubt about her attitude. She had become Scarface, rather than Mrs South Coast. 

    It is shameful that none of this flood of revelations would have come to us were it not for a BBC censorship ban on a Newsnight exposure of Jimmy Savile. It caused a breach in the secrecy. 

    We should not accept that a pile of flowers and a stone monument are equivalent to good local responsibility. Nothing is impossible. 

    Greece, the birthplace of democracy, has done it again. We must not be afraid of our own power… or be afraid to use it.