Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the UKIP London mayoral race. I speculated that the selection panel, who meet this weekend to choose their candidate, was being packed with Farage loyalists and that it would be interesting to see if they thwarted the ambitions of the standout candidate, who is Suzanne Evans.
Well, earlier this week I’ve been leaked information that everything is being done to prevent Richard Hendron being selected. Apparently he’s put many a UKIP nose out of joint after promoting UKIP’s presence at the Pride march, and making a controversial speech at the Young Independents conference.
And since then, I’m reliably informed that senior UKIP officials are actively seeking to influence the selection process not only for the Mayoralty but for the London assembly too. They are tabling a motion at the London Regional committee that if Hendron is selected branches should refuse to campaign for him. How very libertarian of them.
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Nigel Farage’s former press officer Raheem Kassam, now safely reinstalled as the editor of Breitbart, decided to help us all choose our UKIP candidate for mayor of London by writing an analysis of each of the declared candidates and giving them marks out of ten.
This might have been helpful had he not allowed his personal animus against Suzanne Evans to spill over into the text. Touchingly, he writes: “I hope my brutal honesty isn’t misconstrued for unkindness.” You’ve got to laugh. He gives her six out of ten, which is six more than he clearly would like to have given her.
He awarded David Kurten, whose main achievement appears to be as an “avid retweeter” seven out of ten. I have never heard of Kurten, and am sure he’s a great guy, but to think he would make more of an impact than Evans is stretching credulity, I’d have thought.
To his credit Raheem gives Winston McKenzie three out of ten as a candidate, although that’s being generous. He gives Peter Whittle nine out ten. Peter is certainly a very credible candidate, and I published his book Being British. I suspect it is indeed between him and Suzanne Evans. Or at least it should be.
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I am very troubled by the treatment of Harvey Proctor, the former Conservative MP, at the hands of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Midland inquiry. In some ways, it mirrors that of Paul Gambaccini’s terrible year at the mercy of Operation Yewtree. I’m publishing his story in September and parts of it make your hair stand on end.
I got wind that Harvey Proctor was holding a press conference on Tuesday and secured an exclusive radio interview with him. I knew it would be a difficult balance to strike. Although I had sympathy for his position I had to do a rigorous interview and ask some difficult questions.
Judge for yourself if that was what actually happened. His contention is that his accuser, “Nick”, is an obvious fantasist and, when he outlined some of the things he was accused of, it was difficult to draw any other conclusion.
The most lurid was that Proctor was about to cut off a boy’s testicles with a penknife when Edward Heath intervened to stop him. “Nick” claims to have been given that penknife and has now given it to the police
On the face of it, totally preposterous. Given that Proctor and Heath were sworn enemies, is it even likely they would be in the same room together? I doubt it. However, some of my colleagues at LBC have had dealings with “Nick” and, like the police, they regard him as credible. In some ways I don’t know what to think but, with all this publicity and the fact that “Nick” alleges there were many other boys involved, it’s odd, isn’t it, that no more have come forward?
I believe there was abuse by politicians of young children in the 1970s and 1980s. I also believe that the police have a duty to investigate credible claims, especially when some of those accused are still alive.
What they don’t have a right to do, though, is to act in the way they have in the Proctor case. Or the Cliff Richard case. Or the Gambaccini case. Proctor was understandably very angry at the way he has been treated and angry about the way that his name has emerged in public.
In some ways he is an easy target for any potential accuser, as a quick search of Google will uncover the fact that he pleaded guilty to four charges of gross indecency in 1987. He had sex with a 19 year old when the age of consent was 21 – something which of course would not be a crime nowadays. He believed the individual to be over 21.
Had it been a woman, that would be a credible defence but there was a so-called lacuna in the law and because, it involved two men, this was no defence. As soon as he found that out, he pleaded guilty. He’s spent the last 28 years in private, but now that story is all over the media again.
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If any living politician has committed any of terrible crimes involving children I hope they are brought to justice. If it turns out that other politicians, including Margaret Thatcher, knew about any of this and deliberately covered it up, this needs to be exposed too. It would be very uncomfortable for many people to learn that some of their political heroes were effectively complicit in concealing heinous crimes, but the truth must out.
But the police also need to answer for the way in which they are conducting some of their investigations, and enabling the public to believe that where there is smoke there must be fire. As a society, we have reached a stage where, whenever any famous person is mentioned in connection to child abuse, there appears to be an automatic assumption that they must therefore be guilty of something.
This is a very dangerous development – and it is why some people believe that the police are complicit in a media-driven witch-hunt against people who are often totally innocent. Their defence is that they need to shake the tree to see what fruit drops down. In some cases, that may be a legitimate way of encouraging victims to come forward but, to me, this should only ever happen when the police have proved to a judge that there is a need to take such a course of action. Otherwise, names should only come into the public sphere when people are charged.
Proctor hasn’t been arrested, let alone charged, yet his life has been ruined because “Nick” gave his name to the police who, in turn, passed it to the media. Proctor has been questioned about his alleged part in three murders, yet no charge has been forthcoming. Where this murky story goes next is anyone’s guess.