Geoffrey Dickens: a clown whose campaign is finally taken seriously

Type of protection : Granting release

The former Tory MP's tendency to make gaffes made many dismiss his allegations of child abuse in high places

Former Tory MP, Geoffrey Dickens, would have been tickled pink (he used that kind of language) to discover that, nearly 20 years after his premature death at the age of 63, his name is again on newspaper front pages, his failed campaign to expose a paedophile ring in high places, being taken seriously at last. He was not averse to publicity.

Dickens, a plump man with a red face and booming voice, who represented Huddersfield West and later Littleborough and Saddleworth from 1979 to 1995, always took himself more seriously than many colleagues did in Margaret Thatcher's heyday.

There may have been some snobbery about his humble origins (fostered until he was eight) and cheerful Cockney accent. But it was mingled with affection and – among shrewder MPs who knew the value of authentic working class Tory populists – admiration. He was a diligent councillor and constituency MP.

The trouble was that he didn't always know when to stop. He went too far and made gaffes ("I want to do a favour for every woman in this country" he once announced in the Commons) or errors of taste and judgment (a weakness for rent-a-quote tactics) that made it easy to dismiss him as a clown. He called for hanging to be restored, but also for a ban on teddy bears.

He was shrewder than that, but his larger than life style was not.

John Biffen, the kindest of politicians, called him "Falstaffian", and like Sir John Falstaff he was often baffled and disappointed, though his use of parliamentary privilege to denounce diplomat Sir Peter Hayman was vindicated when Hayman was jailed in 1984 for paedophilia.

What retrospective comment fails to catch is how different the mood was. Westminster, like wider society, was much more unquestioningly bloke-ish. Homosexual relations had been legal since 1967, but the first MP actually to come out as gay was Labour's Chris Smith in 1984, only followed by a Tory, Alan Duncan in 2002. Jeremy Thorpe, the ex-Liberal leader, fell over a gay affair that led to charges (and his acquittal) of conspiracy to murder in 1979.

But plain divorce and adultery were still damaging to a political career. Child molestation was off most radar, not understood by MPs and – as with rape – too easily shrugged off, as Jimmy Savile's career was proving.

So Dickens, the former polio victim turned heavyweight boxer (he won 40 out of 60 fights), was up against it when he launched his campaign against a vice of which an abandoned child like him may have been prematurely aware. Press and politicians in the 1980s didn't know that. What we did know was that he would sometimes refer to "Fido-philia" as if the victims were dogs.

Hard though it is to believe in a more cynical 24/7 age but he staged a press conference to confess to marital infidelity (afternoon tea dances at the Lyceum ballroom featured in the disclosure) and announce that he was leaving his wife. Would the press mind not telephoning her until he had informed her of his decision, he added as an afterthought – too late.

That was Geoffrey Dickens: honest, outspoken, vulnerable. The couple were reconciled two weeks later.

Source : https://amp.theguardian.com/society/2014/jul/07/geoffrey-dickens-mp-campaign-child-abuse-taken-seriously

You must be logged in to comment due to spam issues.