Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Just Cyril being Cyril?

I first heard of the allegations against Cyril Smith when I read them in Private Eye in 1979. The Eye had picked them up from the Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP - those were the days when any self-respecting town had an 'alternative' newspaper). Northern Voices reprinted the original RAP story in 2010.

My instinct has always been to assume that they were true, if only because I could not see why anyone would trouble to invent anything so tawdry - he "'told me to take my trousers down and hit me four or five times on my bare buttocks" - about someone who was then only a local politician.

Today Paul Waugh, who grew up in Rochdale himself, revived this story with further allegations, as did Simon Danczuk, the current MP for the town, in the Commons. In the current climate it was inevitable that someone would do so.

And when the alleagations did become public, the old Liberal Party's reaction was not exactly to deny them.

A quotation from 1979 - "It's not a very friendly gesture, publishing that. All he seems to have done is spank a few bare bottoms" - was attributed by Private Eye (at least in a piece following Smith's death in 2010) to David Steel. But it originates from the original RAP story, where it is attributed (one suspects more accurately) to Steel's press office.

Perhaps the Liberals and Cyril Smith are a bit like the BBC and Jimmy Savile. We had all heard the rumours, were not sure if they were true or what to do about them if they were. It was easier to believe the legend of Big Cyril and do nothing.

When Cyril Smith died I did my best to write an even-handed assessment of him. But these stories - if they are true, of course - do reinforce my view that local politicians who present themselves as Mr Rochdale (or anywhere else) and bigger than their party tend to be bullies and braggarts and are not to be trusted.

I also raise my eyebrows at David Steel's statement on Any Questions? last Friday: "I have never come across it [child sexual abuse] in all my years as an MP."

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Manfarang said...

Things are never black and white.
It is all shades of grey.

Matthew Huntbach said...

The problem with these things is yes, we are now more aware of how harmful they can be in terms of long-term development, but does it actually help to go on and on about it and try to retrospectively prosecute people who are dead for doing them? Isn't there a danger in telling people "it's incredibly damaging if this happened to you as a child, your whole life is ruined", that they then decide their whole life is ruined and become much more miserable?

Attitudes were different in the past. Spanking bums was what teachers did. Back in 1979 it really would not have been seen as such a big thing.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s also led to a time, going on into the 1970s, when sex with minors was not thought such a terribly bad thing, and might even by justified as "liberating". Some of the cultural artifacts of that time now make one cringe (Garry Puckett's "Young Girl" still gets a regular airing on Gold, but I can't imagine anything like that being released now - and that's fairly tame compared to some other stuff).

Going back to the 1960s and earlier, things which now seem cruel and alarming that we would think would be seriously disturbing and damaging to children were taken much more lightly. This was an era when many had seen the violence of war, and a bit earlier than that, death in childhood was commonplace. So people had a much tougher attitude, and if anything disturbing happened to a child, it would be met with the idea that the child should just be left to grow out of it, no point in making a fuss about it, it would just make the child worse to do so.

I can't help thinking, seeing quite a few people have "counselling" in which "things come up" and the person seems to end up less balanced than when they went in, that maybe how it was treated in the past had some sense to it.

Mary Reid said...

Matthew is correct is saying that attitudes were different then. In the late 1970s I was a Governor of a secondary school where the headteacher was charged with sexually assaulting a pupil on a residential field trip. He pleaded guilty and was given a suspended sentence. Can you imagine him avoiding a prison sentence today?

Lemsip said...

I'm absolutely shocked that Cyril Smith's behaviour has been condoned in these comments. Spanking a child on his bare bottom was unacceptable then as it is now except few children spoke up about and few adults challenged it. I don't believe that this has been reported because of false or insignificant memories arriving out of counselling. Better it comes out than stays locked in buried.

As for sex with minors being liberating for them in the 60's this is preposterous. Not that many people in the 60's were that liberated' enough to champion or even condone it and a good job too.