By Hugh O’Connell
PRAISING politicians is not popular, nor is it common. In these parts, praising Tory politicians even less so. But in a week of extraordinary events some extraordinary praise of some politicians is as necessary as Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology was last Wednesday.
When he stood up in the House of Commons not many could have anticipated the strength and power of his statement which exploded the lies, the deceit and the cover-up that had for so long hidden the real story of Hillsborough.
Certainly not after he claimed last year that the families of the 96 were “like a blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat that isn’t there.” But then it is the nature of politics for our representatives to sometimes get things so wrong before on some occasions getting them right as Cameron did with his unequivocal and powerful apology for a “double injustice”.
We need only look at the former Home Secretary Jack Straw for an example of this given his behavior in relation to the now utterly discredited Stuart-Smith scrutiny of evidence which he was only too happy to accept, leaving the families waiting another 14 unacceptable and painful years for the truth to come out.
But the Labour MP this week correctly identified and criticised the “culture of impunity” that Margaret Thatcher created for the police during the 1980s, a culture which had deadly and tragic consequences for many more beyond those that were lost on 15 April 1989. Those on the Tory benches who criticised Straw for his remarks should know better. But then they are Tories.
Silly as it may sound, there was something very stirring about the shaking of heads among the government frontbenches and the gasps in the chamber on Wednesday as Cameron delivered his speech.
The much-maligned Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was among them. Clegg, an MP for the constituency once occupied by the odious Sir Irvine Patnick, to his great credit has been strong in his call for a criminal inquiry in recent days.
Of course no discussion of politicians’ conduct in relation to Hillsborough can be complete without referring to Andy Burnham, the man whose bravery in facing a hostile and rightly angry crowd at Anfield three years ago led to the setting-up of the independent panel.
He too was honest to admit that successive Labour governments let down the families and the survivors in not doing enough to uncover the truth. Ed Miliband apologised for that too and thankfully the likes of Steve Rotheram and Alison McGovern have been allowed to speak so powerfully on this subject on numerous occasions and with great passion every time.
Credit too to Maria Eagle who has faced down Sir Norman Bettison for many, many years and will hopefully watch him resign in due course or if not that then face the repercussions of his actions that were laid bare in the report. (Pages 354 – 360 for anyone interested in discovering just how much he has misled people with his two statements in recent days)
But the strong words must be backed up by strong actions.
The Prime Minister cannot strong arm the attorney general into making a decision on the quashing of the original inquest verdict. That would be inappropriate. But the strength of Cameron’s statement will have left Dominic Grieve in no doubt as to the feelings of the man who appointed him. We’ll get a decision hopefully within weeks on that.
Clegg’s call for a criminal inquiry is encouraging too and we know that Burnham, Rotheram and Liverpool’s other Labour MPs will keep up the fight for as long as it needs to be fought. It would be even better if they were doing it in government but that is another story.
Indications are from the various investigations already under way that this process could take years yet if there are to be criminal prosecutions and fresh inquests.
There has been much talk of having got the truth there now needs to be justice. As Peter Hooton said on The Anfield Wrap this week the Benajmin Disraeli quote is so very pertinent: “Justice is truth in action”.
But so too are these words from another former prime minister, a son of Liverpool, William Gladstone, who once said: “Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right.”
As long as no one is truly and properly held to account for the events at Hillsborough politicians must continue to speak out and act out as even some Tories have done this week.
For it is in their interests politically and, far more importantly, the interests of the 96.