I returned from holiday to discover that the silly season has turned into something much more serious. The daily list of horrors from Syria, the Eurozone crisis and the terrifying state of the UK economy: they had all been there when I left (for Greece by the way, where people are genuinely scared about the future — stockpiling food and preparing for civil conflict in some cases). But the Olympic fiesta atmosphere seems to have been replaced by something darker following George Galloway’s moronic comments about the Assange case. There are plenty of men of the Left whose sexual politics don’t bear much scrutiny, but Galloway really is the prize poseur of radical chic.
The Assange case is a deeply troubling one for the Left. I have written approvingly of the work of Wikileaks and have worked with Assange in the past. He is a free-speech fundamentalist with a degree of personal courage, but he is not a progressive figure, or a socialist. He is, if anything, an anarchist — a wrecker. To make him a cause célèbre is plain daft. As the Guardian and his original UK legal team have discovered, he has the ability to seriously damage all those who come into contact with him. His professional relationship with the conspiracy theorist Israel Shamir is impossible to forgive, his political alliance with the government of Ecuador blows his credibility as a freedom fighter.
But the case has served to flush out some of the more repellent residual attitudes to rape in this country — George Galloway is not the only old fool to have expressed his view. Politician Tony Benn and comedian Terry Jones have both been made to look considerably less like national treasures thanks to their utterances about Assange and rape.
Laurie Penny’s article in last Saturday’s Independent was one of the best on the subject and a very sad piece of writing it is. It details her rape by a man whom she admired; a youngish man in her social circle considered to be a ‘nice guy’ and not the rapist monster of yore. She did not report the incident to the police because she blamed herself. Her experience is horribly common.
I hope the generally horrified reaction to Galloway-Assange demonstrates that attitudes towards rape have changed and that the consensus is shifting. If so, this is precisely because women such as Laurie Penny have been prepared to speak out about those apparently ‘nice guys’ (friends, boyfriends, husbands) who rape.
Women have taken centuries to find their voice and the battle is not over, especially in some parts of the world where George Galloway chooses to pose as a selective defender of freedom. But there are others who do not have the level of protection and agency of women in this country: children who are victims of abuse. Which brings me to the Olympic closing ceremony and the revolting spectacle of a man who admitted to accessing images of the sexual abuse of children participating in the musical finale. I loved the London 2012 Olympics from the madness of the multicultural opening ceremony right up until the moment Pete Townshend stepped onto the stage, at which point I realised that some people have forgiven him for what he did or perhaps never even understood the seriousness of the offence.
Operation Ore, which uncovered Townshend’s crime, should have been a wake-up call for the nation. The whole point is that he was not innocent — he accepted his own guilt by taking a caution. He went onto the sex offenders’ register. He is not a nice guy. And those who invited him to play at the Olympic stadium should be ashamed of themselves.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.