Following Theresa May's announcement of an inquiry
into the official enablement of, or collusion in, child abuse, it is obvious that some sort of crisis is brewing for the establishment. Quite what sort of crisis depends on the interpretation placed upon the facts that emerge.
Two quick points.
First, while I can see that MI5 had an interest in protecting politicians who engaged in child abuse, the better to maximise their leverage
- which is a story in itself - there seems to me to be no convincing realpolitik explanation for the protection and assistance afforded celebrity rapists such as Jimmy Saville or Rolf Harris by other institutions. There is obviously Norman Tebbit's arse-covering claim
that people (meaning, to an extent, himself) covered up for the establishment as an almost unconscious reflex 'back then' - a claim which, shorn of apologetic language actually strikes one as hugely cynical and therefore plausible. For, however 'unconscious' such reasoning supposedly was, the idea that one protects 'the system' and puts its smooth functioning before all else does actually strike one as a plausible tenet of ruling class ideology. (Although it must be said, it requires a very particular understanding of 'the system' to imagine that it was in some sense dependent upon the perpetuation of the Jimmy Saville cult.) In part, however, the protection extended to the rich and famous simply looks like indulgence on the basis of elite entitlement and, perhaps, cohesion - a particularly gruesome intersection of class, gendered and often racial power. One thinks of the scene from David Peace's 'Red Riding' trilogy, where the corrupt cops and businessmen raise a toast: 'to the North - where we do what we want!'
Second, inevitably, it will occur to someone to say that this is all a moral panic. And they will gloat as if they thought of the idea all by themselves. Of course there is an element of moral panic in this. There couldn't possibly not be. This subject is catnip for conspiracists and kooks. Every Nazi and Ickean lizard-fancier in the land is wetting their lips. The homophobes are just getting started, because there is a trail of lurid gay-bashing innuendo to be traversed here. Of course it's a moral panic. And yet it moves. The facts stubbornly suggest serious and widespread abuse of children with high-level collusion and protection. The element of moral panic lies not in the studious attention to these facts and what they portend, but rather in the attempt to externalise the problem, to treat the abuse of children as the possessive characteristic of society’s outsiders, be they predatory elites or raincoat wearing ‘pervs’. It is a moral panic insofar as, rather than pointing to a structural-relational problem - viz. capitalist patriarchy - the issue is collapsed into a conspiracy of malign Others, the ultimate extreme of which is Nazi antisemitism or the Ickean lizard-people nonsense. That seems to me to be constitutive of moral panic.