by Stephen Tall on April 16, 2014
‘Squirming of the Lib Dems’ is the Daily Mail’s front page splash today. It’s the second successive day the paper has tried, a bit desperately, to pin blame on Nick Clegg for the extensive abuse allegedly committed by former Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith in the 1960s and ’70s.
The basis for the paper’s accusations is that Nick Clegg issued a tribute on his 80th birthday and when Cyril Smith died. As Nick has pointed out, “I would never have dreamed of saying the things that I said about Cyril Smith on his 80th birthday and when he died if I was aware of the truly horrific nature of the actions which he is alleged to have undertaken over a long period of time.”
Disagree with Nick Clegg’s politics all you like, but the idea he’d have covered up allegations of paedophile abuse is nothing but offensive. I’ve no idea if he’d heard any rumours about Cyril Smith. They were reported in Private Eye in 1979 (when Nick was 12), but not picked up elsewhere.
It’s easy to view these things through a post-Savile mirror and assume he must have both heard them and believed them to be true – but BBC Newsnight’s airing of false allegations against Lord (Alistair) McAlpine show the dangers of believing every story that circulates of prominent people who are alleged to have a liking for boys.
Of course, the party and all its politicians still alive who knew Cyril Smith should cooperate fully with any and all enquiries. It may well be that some knew more than just rumours and have questions to answer about what they did with that knowledge. If so, that should all be properly investigated and made public. The Mail’s focus on Nick Clegg is an unjust distraction.
And as for issuing tributes of public figures when they die — well, Nick Clegg is by no means alone. Here’s the Daily Mail’s eulogistic coverage of Jimmy Savile’s death on 31 October 2010…
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.