In what looks like a heavy-handed attempt to pull Harriet Harman, Jack Dromey and Patricia Hewitt into a spiralling post-Jimmy Savile vortex of allegations that they somehow called for paedophile rights in the 1970s, the Daily Mail seems this time to have gone way over the bounds of credibility. You can read the facts and accusations here or here, but the suggestion that they were somehow apologists for Tom O’Carroll and PIE seems pretty outrageous, and is giving the whole issue much more importance and credence than it ever had at the time.

I never met Tom O’Carroll, and nor did I have any contact – direct or indirect – with PIE; but in the mid 70s, when the first heady days of GLF were fading, and more and more of us were finding ourselves on committees or part of steering groups in the student movement or elsewhere, I remember the talk and brief debate about his attempts to legitimise his view of the world on the back of the new enthusiasm for self-definition and personal freedom. He wasn’t stupid, he was articulate and and in those days at least – however he might have been characterised later – didn’t live down to the stereotype of the dirty old man preying on children.

Like any skilled Press Officer, he seized his moment; many of us were still trying to move from the heady emotional rush of collective coming out and empowerment into a more considered view of what we should be focusing on if we were to actively engage with the institutions around us. It was a time when the rights of school students and the future of the age of consent for gay men were legitimate subjects of debate, and he openly and neatly shoe-horned his own agenda into those discussions.

But, honestly, even if he did occasionally secure himself a platform for a few minutes, I don’t really remember him being taken seriously by anyone I knew, or anyone who mattered.   A fellow National Union of Students gay activist wryly remarked that PIE’s demands only went one way – it was a group of adults who wanted to “extend their relationships” with children – and the fact that there had never been the slightest sign of any pressure the other way round somehow undermined the legitimacy of his arguments. Intellectual debate about sexuality, consent and rights was one thing, but so many of us in the gay movement had been victims of abuse at either a personal or institutional level, those I knew were suspicious of him, and saw him as self-serving. Let’s not allow the Daily Mail to overstate his relevance in the history of the LGBTQ movement in the UK.  And Harriet, Jack and Patricia have nothing to apologise for.

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