Thursday, 28 August 2014

Shaun Wright - Labour's gift to South Yorkshire

Shaun Wright - Labour's gift to the people of South Yorkshire
A statement issued last night by Shaun Wright declared that he had resigned: not as Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, but as a member of the Labour Party which had selected him as somebody fit for high office. The Commissioner post is one he intends to hang onto come hell or high water, along with its £85k salary: he is Labour's gift to Rotherham, immovable for the remainder of the term to which he was elected to by about 7 in 100 of South Yorkshire's voters as none of the parties at Westminster have bothered to act on promises to enable voters to 'recall' elected officials.

The witless Wright has a habit of hanging on until the last minute. Although he did eventually resign as councillor responsible for children's services in Rotherham when, as he claims, the 'full scale of the problem came to light', this ignores the OFSTED report on his department, in which it achieved the worst possible score in December 2009 - a '1 - performs poorly'. To quote from the letter from OFSTED to Joyce Thacker, the strategic director for children and young people's services, Rotherham's serviced were "of sufficient concern that the safety of children cannot be assured". Despite have presided over this for 5 years, Wright saw no need to go then, clinging on until the full scale of what had been done to children came to light the next year. But what role did Wright play in this? The 2006 OFSTED inspection rated Rotherham's child services as 'Good', so the decline all happened under his watch.

A sign of the esteem in which Rotherham's voters hold Wright and his associates is what happened when he did finally stand down as a councillor on election as PCC. Parachuting his wife Lisa into his old ward of Rawmarsh, the Labour hierarchy expected another easy walkover. Instead, UKIP's Caven Vines took the seat with a majority of 104 despite a Hope not Hate inspired campaign to brand him 'racist' and a 'BNP supporter' on the most tenuous of evidence - he'd once sat on a local committee with a woman who subsequently became a BNP candidate. In this years local elections, UKIP held that seat, also winning the popular vote in Rotherham and taking 9 further seats from Labour, coming a close second to them in 11 others. UKIP won the popular vote with 46% vote share, compared to 43% for Labour. Readers may recall that the UKIP surge in Rotherham began after MP Denis MacShane was convicted of expenses fraud and stood down the day before he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

Will Wright eventually resign? It looks unlikely, despite his fingerprints being all over the failure of police and the local authority to deal with the issue. Not only was he the councillor responsible for children's services, he was also vice-president of the local police authority and a local magistrate to boot. Full details of Wright's many misdemeanours over the years can be found at the excellent 'Rotherham Politics' blog which lifts the lid on local Labour's apparent inability to effectively run a piss up in a brewery.

These failings are not minor, by the way. Labour cleared a councillor of wrong-doing despite his admitted role in returning one pregnant 14 year old girl to council care after it was alleged she had been abducted and repeatedly raped by his own relatives and that this was known by Social Services. Neither the council nor South Yorkshire Police felt there was 'sufficient evidence', although they did not bother to formally interview the journalist to whom the admission was made. Cllr Jahangir Akhtar finally stood down as deputy leader of Rotherham Council in August last year, before losing his seat to UKIP in last May's elections. He was previously convicted of affray, and the 'Rotherham politics' blog lists a selection of his official misdemeanours. It is believed that Akhtar is one of the Pakistani councillors referred to in the report who are believed to have deliberately obstructed inquiries into the abductions of teenage girls.

So what does it all mean for Rotherham? Most positively, it looks like at long last the issue will be taken seriously, now Labour have found it impossible to brush the issue under the carpet any longer. For Labour, it could be the death knell for their control of Rotherham: with their councillors heavily implicated of at best turning a blind eye towards child sexual abuse for fear of being called racist, they are likely to feel an even heavier backlash than they did in this year's elections.

And then there is the Shaun Wright effect. If he continues to hang on as PCC, it will not be forgotten that it was Labour who put him there, or that he along with his Labour colleagues on the council were responsible for turning a blind eye to child abuse in order to avoid causing offence to minorities. Under his watch as PCC, South Yorkshire police could gather 30 officers and a police helicopter to search Cliff Richard's house while investigating a 30 year old claim of inappropriate behaviour, but failed to even detect 1,400 rapes of children carried out by a significant number of local Pakistani men, including those related to the former deputy leader of the council.

Today's announcement by Tory MP Douglas Carswell makes Wright's position look even more cynical: Carswell, on switching to UKIP, also stood down as an MP and will fight a by-election to ensure he has the support of his constituents. Wright resigned from the Labour Party to avoid suspension and appears determined to keep his nose in the public trough for as long as possible while occupying a position which will assist him in minimising further investigation into Labour's (including his) role in the wider scandal.

Those who have seen Wright perform on camera speak of his wooden demeanour, his monotone delivery
and his general air of disinterest in the proceeding that surround him. Since being handed what 2 years ago was a sinecure - a Labour nomination in South Yorkshire - he has proved more than adept at demonstrating that for him, it is self-interest over public interest every time. And yet more about Wright has changed than the quality of his suits over the past couple of years. It could just be that by failing to resign, he is about to hand the keys of Rotherham to UKIP.

PS - We forgot to add that some may think the new Labour MP, Sarah Champion, is free of the taint of Labour corruption in Rotherham. Not so, apparently. Her political adviser is Shaun Wright's mother in law.


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