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Peter Hitchens writes in today’s Mail on Sunday that “we have a scandal, entirely without hard evidence so far, which supposedly affects the whole of Parliament. Scandals of this kind – vague, general and fed by rumour – are a feature of societies on the eve of regime change.”

He will presumably now have seen today’s Sunday Express, in which the adopted child of a Conservative MP claims to have been abused by him before being committed to Broadmoor; today’s Sunday People, which alleges that underage rent boys were supplied for Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet ministers (the paper’s source has previously faced a police investigation and bankruptcy hearing and is the man who set up Piers Merchant); and today’s Sun on Sunday (£), which solemnly reports that Elizabeth Butler-Sloss is unsuitable to head a child abuse enquiry because she was a Conservative candidate in 1959.

The charges are of course by no means confined to Tories.  The Observer has a story about “copies of old letters sent to a young boy in a care home by a Labour peer now at the centre of paedophile allegations”, which the paper has seen.  Perhaps there has indeed been systematic abuse, as in the case of the girls from Rochdale care homes; perhaps there has not, as in the case of the Cleveland allegations.  What is certain is that if the Government had not conceded enquiries last week it would have conceded them this week – and today’s headlines and stories would be even more sensational. It is no more in charge than its Labour predecessor was during “expenses”.

Hitchens will know that such scandals are a feature of societies after regime change as well as before it. “Oh God!” wrote Burke, after reading the accusations against Marie Antoinette before her trial.  “The Charge! And the last article particularly!”  This claimed that Marie Antoinette had “committed indecencies with her own son, too shocking to mention”.

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