COMMENT: Is this the death of free speech?

By Andrew Mosley | 21/08/2017

COMMENT: Is this the death of free speech?
Sarah Champion

NAIVE, reckless, racist or brave?

Whichever of those you believe, the resignation of Rotherham MP Sarah Champion from Labour’s front bench shows we are continuing to bury our heads in the sand over the gang grooming and abuse of children.

More than 1,400 young girls in Rotherham were criminally let down by authorities who either chose to allow the grooming to happen, to ignore it or to brush aside as racism the belief of many that those responsible were gangs of British-Pakistani men.

Ms Champion — shadow secretary of state for women and equalities at the time of writing the Sun article which ultimately led to her resignation — did little more than repeat what the August 2014 Jay report stated and what many columnists and commentators have said since the outbreak of the scandal in Rotherham.

Indeed, in giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2012, Times journalist Andrew Norfolk, who broke the Rotherham grooming story, said: “There was a fear of treading into a cultural minefield that they didn’t really know anything about, of marginalising and stereotyping. It allowed this situation to develop.

“This is a problem that has put down deep roots in northern communities for the last 20 years. One of the big problems is a genuine failure to understand what was going on.”

Five years on, have we learned anything?

Ms Champion simply echoed Jay and Norfolk and subsequent warnings that politicians should not be scared of talking about the high number of sexual exploitation and grooming cases against Pakistani males in this country, and wrote: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.

“For too long we have ignored the race of these abusers and, worse, tried to cover it up. No more. These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.

“We have to have grown-up conversations, however unpalatable, or in six months time we will be having this same scenario all over again.”

What she did NOT say, as many have stated, is that ALL British-Pakistani men are groomers or rapists (She actually wrote that the vast majority of cases were against white men acting alone, but the article, requested by The Sun, was written solely in response to the gang grooming issue in Newcastle). And what we do not want is to be having this conversation EVER again, let alone in six months.

Yet it seems we may have to. There was the inevitable backlash — Labour MP Naz Shah wrote an open letter to The Sun, rightly criticising numerous articles which, she says, were Islamophobic (a different issue) and Yasmin Qureshi, Labour’s shadow justice minister, refused to accept the Pakistani community had a particular issue with child grooming.

Ms Champion’s biggest crime though was perhaps one of naivety. A Labour MP writing an article for The Sun is unlikely to ever end well. 

Distancing herself from the rewritten words was also not a good idea as The Sun says the finished article was approved by her adviser. 

Perhaps though she knew the storm she was walking into and it has had the desired effect of raising an important issue.

Tellingly, Methodist minister, the Rev Jo Archer-Siddall, has publicly backed Ms Champion and Trevor Philips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said of her resignation: “Even in the darkest days I don’t remember people being asked to stand down for trying to represent their constituents, which is what I think Sarah Champion was trying to do.

“We shouldn’t have to have an argument about free speech.

“What this feels like is what we used to call democratic centralism in the Labour party, in other words Stalinism.”

If Ms Champion’s words ensure future victims of grooming — committed by evil people of whatever race or culture — are listened to and the perpetrators put behind bars, her article and the subsequent fall out will all have been worth it. 

But if it simply means free speech in the future is further suppressed, then we are back to a very dark place indeed.


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