Byline: STEWART STEVEN
By Stewart Steven Editor of the Evening Standard 1992-95
THERE are two politicians drowning and you are allowed to save only one. What do you? Read a newspaper or eat your lunch?
So asked that marvellous American comic Mort Sahl. A nice line certainly but also a bit of a cheap shot? Of course it was. The saloon bar notion that all politicians are just in it for themselves, hypocritical and double-dealing, doesn't bear a moment's scrutiny. Many decent and honourable people are attracted to the political life and for the most part discharge their duties as one might expect of them, decently and honourably.
But from time to time even those of us who have spent a lifetime in and around politics, befriending politicians and speaking up for the process they represent, come across an event so shocking, and so cynical, that even our faith is badly dented.
Such an occasion came at the tail-end of last week when Tony Blair announced that Mrs Margaret Hodge, the MP for Barking, was to become the new Minister for Children. The blood runs cold.
A few years ago, after one of the most intensive investigations ever mounted by this newspaper, the Evening Standard reported that children in the care of Islington Council were being exploited by pimps and paedophiles and drug pushers and were corrupted and seduced, in some cases led into prostitution or groomed for the sexual gratification of men, often council employees, who swarmed around them.
There were "long periods", said one of the many official reports which followed our investigation, when they (the children) were receiving inadequate care and protection and experiencing distress and damage.
ISLINGTON, it was said, provided a classic study in how paedophiles target "the children world". Mrs Margaret Hodge, our new Minister for Children, was then head of Islington Council. So how did she respond to what was obvious to everyone was a serious and detailed piece of reporting affecting some of the most tragic and defenceless people in her charge? Our report, she said, was "a sensationalist piece of gutter journalism". She authorised a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. There were five official investigations into the Standard's report. All completely vindicated the newspaper and the reporters on the story went on to win prestigious press awards. What Mrs Hodge described as "gutter" journalism came to be widely celebrated as an example of newspaper reporting at its very best - fighting on behalf of the weak and defenceless, against uncaring and heartless authority.
It can certainly be argued that Mrs Hodge could hardly have known about what was going on and so it would be unfair to hang the responsibility for these appalling events around her neck. I would not do so. Neither do I think that her extreme, archetypal loony Left views, which had the Red Flag fluttering daily above the offices of Islington Council, should count against her now. Politicians are entitled to and do change their opinions. …