ELIZABETH Butler-Sloss is a woman of admirable intelligence and integrity who has contributed a great deal to public life, notably as a High Court judge. She served as president of the High Court Family Division in England and Wales, and her inquiry into the Cleveland child-abuse scandal resulted in landmark legislation on child protection.
She is the very model of a public servant, who can be proud of a long and illustrious career. And yet, despite all this, she should recuse herself from the job she was given this week by Home Secretary Theresa May.
Ms May asked her to lead a wide-ranging inquiry into the handling of allegations of child abuse by politicians and other members of the establishment in public institutions such as churches, the NHS and the BBC over a number of decades.
But questions have been raised as to whether Baroness Butler-Sloss’s ability to carry out this task is compromised by family and other connections. Labour’s Simon Danczuk yesterday said her position was tainted because her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was the Attorney General in the 1980s.
Legal decisions taken by the government during that period might well form part of the scope of the inquiry.
It matters little that the baroness can credibly claim that she would not allow anything to get in the way of producing an honest and transparent analysis of the situation as she finds it.
Rather, the question now is whether an inquiry into an alleged establishment cover-up can be carried out by someone who is absolutely a member of that very establishment.
Those arguing yesterday that Baroness Butler-Sloss was the right woman for the job are failing to recognise the depth of public distrust of key institutions at the heart of our public life.
Rightly or wrongly, in the wake of revelations about child-sex abuse in the churches and in private schools, and the blind eye turned to paedophile Jimmy Savile, the public is in no mood to have the establishment investigated by an insider.
The common view from the outside is that the establishment, at times of crisis, closes ranks and looks after its own.
Given this inconvenient perception, any report from Baroness Butler-Sloss that concluded there was no establishment cover- up would inevitably be regarded by many as just another example of an establishment cover-up.
The baroness can step away from this task with no stain on her integrity or her ability.
This job needs an outsider. It needs someone who is demonstrably not of the world he or she is being asked to examine. It needs someone who does not share the comfortable consensus of the British establishment. It needs someone who stands apart from that world.
This is a tall order, but not so tall that it is impossible to achieve.
Accepting defeat is part of the game
THE faces of Brazil fans towards the end of Tuesday night’s 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany in the World Cup semi-final told their own sorry story.
The emotions ran from disbelief, through despair, to anger. This was not part of the script. This was meant to be the World Cup where the kings of samba soccer gave the rest of the globe a lesson in how to play the
beautiful game, en route to winning the tournament for a record sixth time.
Seven goals by an unforgiving German team in top form put paid to that dream, leaving a
football-mad nation bereft and looking for answers – and scapegoats. What we have witnessed in Brazil in the hours since the final whistle is akin to a national nervous breakdown.
Buses were set on fire, there were street demonstrations, and the country’s president went on TV to express her deep sadness. Brazilian media called the result a national tragedy. Commentators claimed the result was an inevitable consequence of the folly of staging the world’s biggest football tournament in a country scarred by deep social divisions.
We sympathise entirely with the Brazilians. We Scots know
a thing or two about high footballing hopes being dashed on the rocks of limited talent and poor performances. Argentina, anyone?
But, unlike the Brazilians, we have come to accept that football can be a cruel sport. We have realised through hard experience that it is most unwise to pin a country’s hopes and happiness on the fortunes of 11 men kicking a ball around a patch of grass for an hour and a half.
It may be a beautiful game, but it is still only a game.