When it involves metropolitan left-wingers, says the Daily Mail. For a week, it has been exposing how Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt – or “Hat and Pat” as the London left of the early 1980s knew them – committed the National Council for Civil Liberties to the cause of helping the Paedophile Information Exchange.

The Mail showed that while at the NCCL (now Liberty)
* Hewitt described PIE in glowing terms as ‘a campaigning/counselling group for adults attracted to children’;
* The NCCL lobbied Parliament for the age of sexual consent to be cut to ten – if the child consented and ‘understood the nature of the act’.
* It called for incest to be legalised in what one MP dubbed a ‘Lolita’s charter’;
* The NCCL claimed research shows young paedophile victims are often ‘consenting or even the initiators of the sexual acts involved’;
* It filed a submission to Parliament claiming that ‘childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in, with an adult, result in no identifiable damage’.
* Miss Harman, as NCCL legal officer, tried to water down child pornography laws.
* NCCL lawyers acted for a PIE member who was quizzed by police over appalling behaviour.

And so it carried on until 1983, when the NCCL purged its paedophiles. I will assume you can work out what was wrong with all of this yourselves. What is worth exploring is how the Mail’s editor is experiencing a sensation shared by many a frustrated journalist. You deliver a sensational exclusive. It gets by the lawyers and the subs and into the paper. You sit back and expect all your rivals to follow it up and… nothing happens.

“Where’s the pack?” you mutter to yourself. “Where’s the bloody pack?”

Or in the case of the Mail, you mutter, “Where’s the bloody BBC?” Quentin Letts wrote a satire about the corporation, Baldrick from Blackadder, Stephen Fry, Uncle John Prescott and all going wild at an imaginary Guardian report that senior Tories had campaigned for men to have the right to abuse children in the 1980s. It was clunky but had enough truth in it to bite. When Jacob Rees Mogg attended a dinner for a far right group whose supporters wanted Doreen Lawrence to be asked to leave to Britain (along with all other immigrants and descendants of immigrants), Newsnight covered the story. When Labour MPs go to meeting of far right Islamists, the BBC and everyone else stays silent.

Bias? Of course. But there is a good reason why a story from the London left of 30 years ago is not taking off. If you reveal that the Tory MP who wants drastic curbs on immigrants today was a member of the Monday Club in the 1980s, or the Labour MP who mourns the death of Chavez and indulges al Qaeda was once a Marxist-Leninist, you are showing continuities. Nothing about them has changed, you are saying: they have merely covered their old extremism in modern dress. There is no continuity of between the positions Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt adopted in the 1980s and their thought today. In office, Harman led a group of Labour women politicians who worked to make the law friendlier towards rape victims. Hewitt, Harman and Harman’s husband Jack Dromey (who was at the NCCL at the time) have not campaigned to reduce the age of consent to 14 or 12, or to abolish it. On the contrary, Harman has loudly demanded that if children complain that they have been sexually abused “you must start off believing them and not actually disbelieving them”.

In the Harman affair, no one can see a connection between the past and the present; nothing prominent Labour figures did or said about child abuse at the old National Council for Civil Liberties influenced what Labour did or said in power, or what Labour thinks today.

The Mail acknowledges defeat this morning. It carries a piece criticising Harriet Harman for demanding a judge-led inquiry into the multiple abuses of Jimmy Savile. “Miss Harman even lectured Parliament that, whatever injustices had occurred in the past, they should be dealt with now to protect others in the future,” its reporters huff.

The paper is condemning a politician for not holding to the disgraceful position she held 30-years ago. As a teacher might say, it has been a good effort by the Mail, but it must try harder. Damning people for changing for the better is never going work.

Tags: child abuse, Civil liberties, Daily Mail, Harriet Harman, Jack Dromey, Labour, Media, Patricia Hewitt, press bias