Against that background, his current treatment seems heavy-handed. Might it have been better to await the outcome of the inquiry rather than act on media interpretations of evidence which he has now contested?
You need a long memory to appreciate David Steel’s courage as a politician. When it was far from a popular cause, he transformed abortion law in the UK with his Private Member’s Bill. The Labour Government backed the legislation but did not take the political risk of promoting it. Steel did.
Even more bravely for a Borders MP, he opposed the South African rugby tour of 1969 in line with his unswerving commitment to the anti-apartheid movement. It was assumed that by “bringing politics into sport” he had committed political suicide, but he survived on the basis of reputation.
Those who blame him for not doing enough about Cyril Smith are setting a high bar which many would find difficulty in clearing. Long before the Private Eye reports in 1979, Smith had been investigated by police and no action taken.
Was Steel supposed to over-ride the police investigation? Does the same apply to every case in which there were whispers but no charges? Why would responsibility not rest with the party hierarchy as a whole which embraced Smith until he retired in 1992?
For decades, the system failed to hold Smith to account for his misdeeds. To single David Steel out for that responsibility seems unreasonable and I hope his party will reach the same, liberal conclusion.