The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator's Notes: In the radical 1970s, logic was on the side of the Paedophile Information Exchange

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

People seem bewildered that the National Council for Civil Liberties in the late 1970s gave house-room to the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). It is certainly embarrassing for Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt that they held leading posts in the NCCL then, but the fact that this was going on should not be so surprising. I remember the row about PIE at the time. PIE’s argument was part of the wider doctrine about sexual liberation, which was that the only problem about sex was the repression imposed by society’s taboos. Virtually all sexual behaviour was seen as good and the exercise of sexual desire as an absolute right. The only qualification that liberationists grudgingly acknowledged was the need for consent. Even this they diluted by arguing that the distinction between adults and children was itself an unacceptable form of social control: children were quite capable of consenting to sexual activity, and should be left to get on with it. There was such a fuss that the NCCL eventually had to push PIE out. But from the liberationist point of view, logic was on the side of the paedophiles. Once you see sexual behaviour solely in terms of doing what you want, subject only to consent, then the protection against abuse becomes very thin. Nowadays, we are encouraged to abhor paedophilia, but celebrate homosexuality, and smile genially on sadomasochism, troilism, coprophilia, extreme promiscuity, even incest. Yet if we think that absolutely all adult sex is wonderful, why should we absolutely oppose child sex? We might prudentially caution waiting a bit — just as we would discourage a ten-year-old from driving a tractor — but why should we feel profound disgust? Without some sense of disgust, you cannot keep children safe. If you abandon any notion that some sexual roles are wrong, why make an exception of children? Even today, I notice, campaigners like Peter Tatchell pursue the old radical logic, arguing for the age of consent to fall.

There are two environments in which paedophile abuse is most likely to thrive. One is the liberationist one in which anything goes (see above). The other is the authoritarian one — e.g. old-fashioned priests or schoolmasters — in which the deed is so unspeakable and the power of the abuser so great that the silence of the victim can be enforced. The really lethal combination — the 1970s Savile phenomenon — is when the two are combined: all sex is fine and the older, male authority figure holds unquestioned sway. Beware, however, of the smug current assumption that, although the 1970s was a ‘sexually confused decade’, our own is not. What madness are we committing? One, I suggest, is the now prevailing notion that almost anyone should be free to adopt children, buy them, or produce them by surrogacy. Like that done by abuse, the full damage will emerge only later.

Feeling against immigration traditionally runs strongest among the poorest people in Britain. But I notice a sharp rise in the resentments felt by the moderately well-off. The huge wealthy foreign presence here is making such people fear for their positional goods. If your child cannot get into a good private school because of lots of clever Chinese, or your previously charming piece of west London is ruined by ultra-rich, aggressive (or absentee) Russians, you soon lapse into ‘strangers in our own country’ talk. Nigel Farage now gets a good reception not only in the public bar, but when he walks down the gravel drive.


Last week, John Downey, the former IRA man, avoided trial for the Hyde Park bombings of 1982. One who stood bail for him was Roy Greenslade, the media pundit of the Guardian. Since Mr Downey has not been proved guilty, we must presume him innocent, but isn’t it extraordinary that Greenslade can cosy up to such a man without suffering in reputation? Suppose I were to stand bail for, say, Nick Griffin of the BNP (who, so far as I know, has never been accused of a terrorist crime), or for some loyalist oaf. I would rightly be shunned in my trade. Yet a link with extreme, violence-justifying, anti-British republicans is worn with pride.

Why do I so strongly not want there to be televised debates between the party leaders at the next election? I tell myself it is because these debates are so boring, or because they confuse our parliamentary system with a presidential one, or because they favour whichever party has the fewest responsibilities. But really these are secondary, concocted reasons. The truth is I dislike the claim by television executives that putting politicians on the telly is ‘the people’s right’. It is self-serving. What these executives want is even more power to make or break elections. Television destroyed Parliament by winning the right to televise it (a destruction which, interestingly, did not happen when it was broadcast only on radio). Don’t let it destroy elections as well. David Cameron disastrously agreed to a three-way debate last time. He must wriggle out next year.

The hunting ban has created unnecessary trouble for many, but it is only really members of the royal family who have been stopped dead by it. Although the Prince of Wales could, in theory, hunt ‘within the law’, it would be too controversial, so he doesn’t. This is a pity, not only because it has deprived him of something he loved, but also because the sport was a sort of education for him. Recently, I heard how one day before the ban Prince Charles arrived at a meet escorted by a farmer whose task was to look after him. During the day, the Prince’s horse refused a fence, and the farmer, known to be hot-tempered, thought this was Prince Charles’s fault. ‘Get off your horse,’ he shouted at him, and climbed on to it himself to set it right, ‘You’re the heir to the throne. If you sit on the throne like you sit on that horse, you’ll not be there long.’

Here is another startling fact about the first world war. Britain contributed only 6 per cent of the total number of men mobilised on both sides.

Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free


Show comments
  • Tim Getti

    Patricia Hodge or Margaret Hewitt?

  • JimmyUK

    Here are Tatchell’s views about reducing the age of consent for young people of similar ages. They include proposals for earlier, better quality sex education and education about child sex abuse and reporting abusers: http://bit.ly/opVrXm

    • lensman

      His proposals seem very reasonable.

  • D Whiggery

    “Without some sense of disgust, you cannot keep children safe.”

    Shame in the right doses is a very necessary thing. The reason humans have developed beyond being just another animal, is that we’ve learnt to not just listen to our base instincts but to fight them and occupy ourselves with other things. If we abandon the concept of disgust, shame or even ‘sin’ for want of a better word, we’ll eventually just end up living according to our instincts. That means sex, drugs, alcohol, violence, gambling etc. and not a lot else.

    You don’t have to be a religious nut to realize that man needs saving from himself, and that ‘sin’ is really just a way of turning base instincts into taboos to achieve that end.

    If we don’t fight our instincts, we eventually become addicted to one or more of them.

    • lensman

      No, ‘Reason’ is the best replacement for ‘disgust’ (AKA ‘gut-instinct’ and ‘knee-jerk reaction’), shame and ‘sin’ (‘moral’ precepts layed down 2000 years ago in a bronze-age society).

      ‘Disgust’, ‘shame’ and ‘sin’ used to insist that a man should not have any physical contact with a menstruating woman:

      “‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her
      monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be
      unclean till evening.” – Leviticus 15:19

      • D Whiggery

        That rather depends on whether your power to reason is more powerful than your base desires and needs. It’s the case for many, but not for others.

        I’m not a religious person, but I think you need to read that passage and appreciate nuance. What they mean by ‘touch’ is ‘having sex’. Now I appreciate that labeling a woman’s period as impure is extreme, but I reckon there still aren’t that many men or women who would enjoy having sex during a woman’s period. Maybe it shouldn’t bother them logically, but it still does, even though most of them have probably never been to church or read that passage in the bible.

      • ClausewitzTheMunificent

        Moral precepts were no more laid down by a bronze age society than can your logic rise above the essence of what you are. It is fairly ridiculous to claim that that which act as stimuli to our sense of disgust were set down in stone at some discrete point in time. Moreover, you display what is an all too common modern smugness and affectation of superiority with regard to the past.

        • lensman

          You have misunderstood me, Clausewitz T.M. – I think that what we find disgusting, sinful etc is very much socially conditioned.

          I think our current fear of and disgust at children’s sexuality is very much a product of social and economic factors – something that started with the industrial revolution and the Romantic idea of the child as an ‘innocent’ or ‘noble savage’, and that has been exacerbated by ‘industrial’ capitalism becoming ‘consumer’ capitalism, the rise in mass communications and the shutting down of public space (because of the car and the improvement of technologies that mean we can do most things within the house), the shrinking of the nuclear family etc etc

          Logic and reason often fail, but I think it’s the best we have. And, by the way, I often think that the past had things better than we do – often only by accident, but still ‘better’.

      • Treebrain

        Now, what communities insist upon a literal interpretation of Leviticus?

        What other views do such communiities hold that are rejected by the vast majority of the population of the UK?

        • lensman

          well, so you can pick and choose what you believe in the bible – I thought it was the ‘word of god’ or some such thing.

          Doesn’t a lot of Jewish law come from Leviticus – not eating certain foods?

  • Rockin Ron

    From C.S. Lewis – ‘That Hideous Strength’

    “I thought love meant equality,” she said, “and free companionship.”

    “Ah, equality?” said the Director. “We must talk of that some other time.
    Yes, we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another’s greed,
    because we are fallen. Just as we must all wear clothes for the same
    reason. But the naked body should be there underneath the clothes,
    ripening for the day when we shall need them no longer. Equality is not
    the deepest thing, you know.”

    “I always thought that was just what it was. I thought it was in their souls that people were equal.”

    “You were mistaken,” said he gravely. “That is the last place where they are
    equal. Equality before the law, equality of incomes—that is very well.
    Equality guards life; it doesn’t make it. It is medicine, not food.”

  • David Prentice

    One, I suggest, is the now prevailing notion that almost anyone should be free to adopt children, buy them, or produce them by surrogacy. Like that done by abuse, the full damage will emerge only later.

    You start down the path, Charles, but then swiftly move on to immigration. You must mean the parenting of the very young by homosexual couples, and I tend to agree with you. Gays are currently thriving in an environment where to speak out against them is to invite ostracism.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I just can’t see the attraction of grotty kids. White women are bad enough.
    Just felt like stirring it.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    • Cyril Sneer

      *tumbleweed*…

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        See you’re picking up where Jock McNutter left off.

  • David Lindsay

    In its opposition to what became the Protection of Children Act 1978, the National Council for Civil Liberties, under Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt, was opposing the Labour Government of the day.

    It had been taken up and given Government time, but it had begun as a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by a Conservative MP who was to go on to become one of the Thatcher Government’s most dedicated critics.

    There was really no dividing line whatever between the strongly anti-worker, or at any rate anti-working-class, New Left and the “libertarian” New Right, so that the New Left’s eventual capture of the Labour Party after the death of John Smith wholly predictably entailed a full capitulation to the Thatcherism that the New Right had defined, although the New Left had named it.

    Patricia Hewitt is a key figure in that whole story.

    She it was who told speakers at Labour Conferences, “Do not use the word “equality”; the preferred term is “fairness”.” She it was, a mere Press Officer, who, in a sign of things to come, was not told where to get off for having presumed so to instruct her betters.

    She went on to help found the Institute for Public Policy Research, and then, soon after Tony Blair became Leader, to become Head of Research at Andersen Consulting, a position for which she had no apparent qualification beyond her closeness to the Prime Minister in Waiting.

    In 1997, she entered Parliament, he entered Downing Street, the Labour commitment to regulate such companies was dropped, and so was the previous Conservative Government’s absolute ban on all work for Andersen in view of its role in the DeLorean fraud.

    Andersen paid just over £21 million of the £200 million that Thatcher and Major had demanded, barely covering the Government’s legal costs.

    It went on to write, among other things, a report claiming that the Private Finance Initiative was good value for money, the only report on the subject that the Blair Government ever cited, since the only one to say that ridiculous thing.

    As Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Hewitt tried to give auditors limited liability. It took the Conservative Opposition and the Bush Administration to see her off.

  • mikewaller

    I am increasingly convinced that Moore starts with the prejudice and then builds the argument up to it. The reason children should be exempted from any argument concerning the desirability, or otherwise, of expanding sexual freedom is because they are CHILDREN. For exactly the same reason we do not let them marry or expect them to go to war. If you gave any weight to his chop logic in relation to those activities by again asking the question “Why make an exception of children?”, you would presumably be forced to say yes, they should be allowed to marry and go to war, or nobody should be allowed to marry or go to war. Which, I am sure most of us wold agree, would be mind-blowingly stupid.

    His objections to TV debates between party leaders are equally transparent. By background and mindset he is part of the right wing establishment. That corpus felt itself robbed last time by Clegg’s outstanding performance, ergo there must be no more TV debates. So much for democracy and fair play!

    Finally there is the equally self-serving stuff about hunting. Like it or not, a sizeable majority of the population is against it so it would be wholly inappropriate for at least immediate members of the royal family to participate. In addition to that only someone as insensitive as Charles Moore would think it appropriate that some ill mannered yob of a farmer should speak to the heir apparent in the manner described. My guess is that Moore approves because at some deep level, he rather resents the idea that anybody within our society should command more respect than he.

  • Liz

    I agree that informed consent is a bogus litmus test for a moral course of action.

    People routinely consent to all kinds of ethically wrong things: such as selling their organs or genetic material, working in unsafe conditions, working for less than the minimum wage, performing in freak shows, physical abuse, sexual abuse, taking the legal rap, being murdered, taking part in sexist, racist, homophobic media, slavery.

    I hope you are right that one day the cost will become clear and our ethical response also, but I can’t see it happening in the foreseeable future because the culture is becoming ubiquitous.

  • Liz

    It’s important to differentiate between consent and informed consent. A child, a person who’s judgement is impaired by low intelligence, mental illness, drink, drugs or lack of consciousness, a coerced person may be able to consent, but not to give informed consent. Not to a legal contract and not to having sex.

  • Terry Field

    A good article shining a light on the repulsive cynicism and opportunism that a nexus of homosexuality and ultra-liberal sexual mores can generate.
    The reaction against this degeneration is clearly beginning around the world.
    And not a moment too late.

  • Terry Field

    Wasn’t Hain a brave little chap.
    hidden behind the secrecy of it all.

  • Treebrain

    “Feeling against immigration traditionally runs strongest among the poorest people in Britain.”

    Utter rubbish, it is the goodwill and tolerance of the poor in the UK who bear the brunt of the mass immigration of the last few decades that make this country such a wonderful place.

    The poor share the meagre resources in their communities with the newcomers as the biblical widow did with her ‘mite’.

    As disgusting slur upon the poor people of the UK!

    • global city

      Spot on.

Close