A couple of weeks into the job, and things are not looking at all rosy for Margaret Hodge. The first ever Minister for Children is being aggressively confronted with her past, a past, her detractors say, that makes her absolutely the wrong person to hold the post she has just been given. The evidence against is, indeed, damning.
Ms Hodge, in the Eighties and early Nineties, was leader of Islington council. During her tenure, a culture of sexual abuse flourished in Islington's children's homes that remains one of the darkest scandals local government in Britain has known. Social workers attempted to alert Ms Hodge and other senior Islington councillors to their suspicions at the time, but they were not believed. Instead they were marginalised and slandered, while horrific abuse continued.
Eventually, some of the social workers who were worried by the situation took their story to Scotland Yard and to the press. Ms Hodge branded the series of newspaper reports into paedophilia, pornography, pimping and rape - sometimes perpetrated by council workers, sometimes by others who paid off council workers - as "gutter journalism".
She took the newspaper in question, London's Evening Standard, to the Press Complaints Commission. None of the complaints made by Islington Council against the paper was upheld, and eventually Ms Hodge admitted that the allegations made in more than 50 reports in the paper were true.
Ms Hodge blamed her initial response on "misleading" information from senior officers and colleagues. This was not the conclusion of an inquiry into the murder of Liam Johnston, a child who was murdered by his pimp father while under Islington Council's watchful eye. In this inquiry, the social workers were exonerated, while councillors were lambasted for rigorously pursuing a policy of "decentralisation", which fostered a "neighbourhood" command structure that was "a timebomb waiting to explode".
Ms Hodge eventually accepted, perhaps reluctantly, that as leader of the council, she had to take the ultimate responsibility for the dreadful crimes committed against children that had occurred while she held her post. Her sense of culpability, though, did not stop her from becoming the Labour member for Barking in 1997. Nor did it stop her from pronouncing her latest career move "a dream job".
Now, she argues that,far from rendering her an inappropriate person to be Minister for Children, the failures of the past have made her an ideal candidate. Ms Hodge is keen to stress that in the Seventies and Eighties, when much of the abuse eventually uncovered occurred, no one was really aware of the prevalence of child sexual abuse and the way in which abusers targeted children in care as victims. Since that time, she says, she has immersed herself in the subject, and has learnt a huge amount.
How much can Ms Hodge really have learnt, though? Not enough to understand that her excuses sound thin when the mismanagement she is accused of occurred not in the Seventies and Eighties, but during the first half of the last decade. Not enough, either, to understand that the people who fell victim to her decisions - both abused children and frustrated social workers - remain understandably bitter. Ms Hodge and the Labour Party may agree that bygones should be bygones. But those who suffered under Ms Hodge's leadership of Islington Council are not so keen to forgive.
The main whistleblower in the scandal, the former Islington senior social worker Liz Davies, who remained anonymous during the Nineties, has now revealed her identity in order to make new allegations against Ms Hodge. Likewise, the people who suffered abuse during this time are keen to co- operate with the press in expressing their still-burning sense of injustice, and their disgust at her new appointment.
The outrage that these people still feel after the passing of a decade or more is perfectly understandable. …