In Depth

Rotherham scandal: Labour's failings leave door open to Ukip

Former MP Denis MacShane says being 'Guardian reader and liberal leftie' may have held him back

The Mole

Denis MacShane, whose 18 years as Labour MP for Rotherham (1994 –2012) coincide with the period covered by the shocking report into the sexual abuse of children in the northern town (1997 – 2013), finally put his head above the parapet yesterday – with a confession.

As a “Guardian reader and liberal leftie” he had backed off from confronting the Muslim community in Rotherham over allegations of organised rape of young girls by predominantly Pakistani gangs. "I think I should have burrowed into it."

MacShane, a former BBC journalist who became Minister for Europe under Tony Blair, stood down as Rotherham MP in 2012 pending his trial on charges of fiddling expenses to the tune of £12,900. He was jailed for six months, served six weeks, and is now publicising his Prison Diaries.

Tory MP Douglas Carswell defects to Ukip

He told Radio 4's World at One: "If you read my prison diaries, I praise a lady, an MP called Anne Cryer who did raise the problem of cousin marriage and patriarchy of the oppression of women within bits of the Muslim community in Britain.

"Perhaps yes, as a true Guardian reader, and liberal leftie, I suppose I didn’t want to raise that too hard."

In his defence, MacShane insisted: “What I can say was that no single individual, no constituent, no child, no family came to see me.

“I was concerned about it, I raised it quite often, it’s difficult sometimes for an MP to second guess everything that the chief executive of a borough was doing and all the senior officials.

“I was never happy with the rather complacent answers that I got. Certainly I know, and the records will show that this was never, ever brought to my personal attention.”

As the Daily Mirror reports, MacShane said he had welcomed The Times investigation into the abuse when Labour members of Rotherham Council wanted it to go away.

“I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat if I may put it like that,” he said.

Labour leaders are now calling for the resignation of Shaun Wright, the independent police and crime commissioner who was in charge of child services in Rotherham between 2005 to 2010 before being elected on a pitiful 14 per cent turnout to his new job in 2012. He has been forced to resign from the Labour party but he's currently refusing to resign as police commissioner.

But while Labour focuses on Wright, the party has a bigger political problem building – in the shape of Ukip.

Rotherham, which with neighbouring Sheffield used to boast a concentration of steel-making plant to rival the Rhur, has long been a Labour stronghold.

But Ukip has been making advances in the town and the revelation of the sheer size of the scandal gives Nigel Farage's party the opportunity to exploit its growing popularity – not to mention the chance get its own back for the extraordinary incident in 2012 when the council took into care three adopted children of two Ukip members because they were not deemed to be sufficiently supportive of multiculturalism. Social workers defended the decision, despite widespread anger.

At the 2012 by-election following MacShane's resignation, the seat was held by Sarah Champion for Labour. But Ukip's Jane Collins came second with 21 per cent of the vote.

Then, in May this year, the extent of voter disenchantment with Labour was laid bare when Ukip won 10 seats on the council, in the process ousting several prominent Labour councillors, including deputy leader Jahangir Akhtar, who had earlier been cleared in a police investigation of covering up child abuse by his cousin.

Rotherham was not on the target list drawn up by Ukip for the May 2015 general election. Perhaps it should have been.

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