Warning: This post may damage your health – but, it’s ok, Sal Brinton will make it better

Sal BrintonIt’s not often we put health warnings on posts, but we do need to today. It’s not the post that’s the problem, it’s more the programme we’re suggesting you watch. Last night’s Question Time had one of its most habitually annoying contributors, David Starkey and if you watch it here on BBC iPlayer, he will make you very cross indeed.

I was quite amazed that I managed to get through the whole hour without either wine or even swearing out loud, even though the historian did everything he possibly could to live down to his reputation and beyond. His personal nadir was when he was trying to make out that children could have some responsibility for their own sexual assaults. And calling Mehdi Hasan Ahmed wasn’t much better.

I wouldn’t have bothered watching, to be honest, if Sal Brinton hadn’t been on. How would the new Lib Dem President fare on her first major public outing in the role. Actually, she did very well, giving by far the best, most compassionate, human answer to the question about the 44 year old teacher whose suspended sentence for having sex with his pupil has caused so much annoyance after the judge suggested the girl “groomed” this married man nearly 3 times her age.

Sal wondered what it must be like for her to hear the sorts of things being said about her and hoped that she was getting the sort of support she needed.

She was good on the web snooping stuff, saying that the Snoopers’ Charter that the Tories are so keen on was a step too far and a real infringement of personal liberty.

There was a bit of a cringeworthy moment when Labour’s Douglas Alexander started talking about the importance of civil liberties. That would be the same Labour that was so desperate to make insulting religion an actual offence.

There was also Mehdi Hasan and the farting. That was pretty clever.

So do watch – and we are being spoiled because Tim Farron is on next week. Quite often you will find that there is no Liberal Democrat on the panel in weeks where we have a unique perspective, so it was great to have Sal there fighting our corner on free speech and civil liberties.

You might also want to know that Norman Baker is on Any Questions tonight at 8 pm and Nick Clegg is on Andrew Marr on Sunday morning.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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30 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 16th Jan '15 - 6:31pm

    “His personal nadir was when he was trying to make out that children could have some responsibility for their own sexual assaults”

    He wasn’t doing this. Starkey is a very nasty man whose intellectual power and clarity of expression is fast going downhill. It appears that people were so outraged at him and cross (as was I) with the judge’s remarks that they misunderstood what Starkey was saying here. He was saying that the person in this case was responsible for trying to get her teacher to react towards her, which is true. He made it perfectly clear that any such reaction by the teacher which involved sexual conduct was, in his view, entirely wrong and criminal and entirely the responsibility of the teacher.

    The allegation that the girl concerned was being as manipulative as she could be appears to have been common ground between prosecution and defence in the case. Such behaviour cannot be, in any circumstances, considered as mitigation in respect of either rape, sexual assault or unlawful teacher-pupil activity. Which is why the judge was entirely wrong to use the word ‘grooming’ in her summing up in respect of the activity of the girl.

  • Sigh. It’s so sad to see people completely misunderstand David Starkey. Here we go again…

    Despite his several over-the-top pronouncements, Starkey was actually the only member of the panel who was a realist and an apolitical analyst of many the issues discussed.

    What irked both my wife and me so much was how, despite it being abundantly clear that Starkey said at least four times “what the teacher did was wholly wrong”, no-one else on the panel seemed to be capable of separating the two distinct matters (1) the teacher’s wrongdoing and (2) the 16-year old girl “grooming” him, or, in other words, “stalking, manipulating him and seducing him” which is what is suggested by the judge’s ruling in the court case. What Starkey said about teenagers was 100% correct: we are developing a ludicrous Victorian idolisation of the concept of childhood and ignoring the fact that many 14,15,16 year olds are far more sexually sophisticated, mature and manipulative then the bizarre notion of childhood – something that magically leaves at exactly the age of 18, in us all, hey? – would have us imagine.

    Grow up everybody. Learn to understand that just because the teacher was thoroughly stupid, weak, irresponsible and more, does *NOT* mean that the girl in question was not a manipulative, sophisticated seducer.

    It’s quite shocking that Sal Brinton, Mehdi, Alexander and Coubry weren’t capable of appreciating this obvious truth and failed to avoid the pathetic, politically correct response which dictated that all they could do was say the man was in the wrong and the girl was 100% a victim.

    As for the rest of the performance, well, I suppose Sal Brinton did fairly well – but it wasn’t really that amazing.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Jan '15 - 6:51pm

    I watched it too and the BBC should stop inviting David Starkey onto it. He’s experienced enough to know how outrageous some of his comments are and I wish he would just stick to providing a historical perspective.

    I was most impressed with Anna Soubry and Douglas Alexander. Sal did well to mention the plight of the girl on the teacher case, but I thought she and the Lib Dem position clearly lost when it came to the surveillance measures.

    Regards

  • Eddie Sammon, which of Starkey’s comments were outrageous? That we should start to think about flirting with other means of organising the NHS? That Islam may hopefully be on the verge of a renaissance but is currently destroying itself and is currently in the equivalent of Christianity in the 1400s> That was absolutely correct from a historical perspective and it was abundantly clear that Mehdi Hasan sat there rolling his eyes at Starkey even before he had finished his point . A muslim who can’t appreciate a historian giving a historical analysis of his religion? How pathetic.

    Or what about Starkey’s comments on surveillance and the internet? He raised a very interesting point which deserved to be discussed in much more depth. The internet – and particularly the dark web – are modern means of communication that remain largely unpoliced in comparison to other means (and allow, for example, paedophiles to communicate and share information anonymously). As a man who vehemently defended freedom of speech earlier in the programme he questioned whether indeed the internet should be subject to far more regulation and control, in relation to the question on “the snooper’s charter”. Nothing outrageous there but something that needs a lot of serious discussion.

  • Mike Barnes 16th Jan '15 - 8:11pm

    Starkey was the only one putting a bit of thought or nuance to his answers. Everybody else gave the most obvious answers I’ve ever heard and added nothing.

    The question wasn’t about the rights and wrongs of teachers having relationships with students, everybody knows it’s illegal and the man was found guilty of it. There’s literally nothing up for debate about that. He shouldn’t have done it.

    The question instead was “is it possible for a 16 year old girl to groom a 44 year old man”. Starkey said if you could switch the word groom (a word usually reserved for with paedophiles) for seduce, or chase or pursue, then the answer is obviously yes it’s possible.

    As he says there is a different maturation process in everybody. Plenty of 16 year-olds are sexually unaware and vulnerable, plenty of others will have been having sex for 2,3,4 years or more and know exactly what they are doing and how to get what they want.

    If you don’t think a 16 year old girl is capable of pursing an older man, you haven’t met many 16 year old girls. In fact my sister was that age when she got her first ‘older’ boyfriend. She ran rings around him!

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Jan '15 - 8:27pm

    Michael Kilpatrick, Starkey was the first person for a while to genuinely anger me on QT with his initial comments about Muslims and if I were Mehdi Hasan I would have threatened to walk out. He backtracked somewhat, but I felt he was attacking Mehdi and I wouldn’t have stood for it.

    I’m fully in favour of nuance and I do not like overly politically correct answers, but he regularly goes too far.

    Unfortunately, I do not have time to continue this debate, but whilst I got angry at a different moment than Caron, I know what she means when she says Starkey is bad for your health.

    Best regards

  • I thought the women on the QT panel were generally the most impressive participants in terms of being able to reasonably argue their cases . Anna Soubrey slightly lost it at the end when the programme descended into confusion in her one to one exchange s with Mehdi Hasan – so , overall, I think Sal Brinton ‘won’. Great to have a woman President too.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 16th Jan '15 - 8:55pm

    Interesting to see all these men blaming the victim here. Teenage girls have relationships. They have sex. There is actually nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with them initiating relationships. However, you would expect that someone in a position of responsibility towards them would refuse any advances made.

    Also, if kids are being inappropriate in their sexual behaviour, you might wonder why rather than blame the kid. Our society puts heavy sexual expectations particularly on young women. Much online porn, which most boys are watching by age 11, basically shows women as little more than receptacles. Those boys then pass on to their girlfriends that wholly misogynistic view of their role.

    We need to be better at educating our kids better – and most sex ed in school is lamentably poor.

  • Caron, you appear to be misrepresenting those of us who agree to some extent with what Starkey said. I’m not aware of any of the men here, myself included, actually blaming the girl for the teacher’s criminal act.

    Let me say it again clearly: both my wife and I, watching the programme, agreed that there is no excuse for the teacher doing what he did, as Starkey said. The man had ample opportunity to report the stalking by the girl and he was wholly responsible for failing to ignore her advances. He committed an offence – a teacher-pupil relationship. I say that, my wife says that, and so did Starkey on QT. None of that alters the fact that the girl may stalked and “groomed” the teacher. Again, this does not affect the teacher’s legal duty not to get involved. It is his responsibility. The fact that she stalked and groomed him is entirely separate from his criminal act through his “weakness”.

    By the way, I’m not entirely convinced the girl (who was also referred to as a “young woman” by at least one member of the QT panel) is actually a victim in any sense of the word, if it’s true she “groomed” and seduced him. He committed an offence as a teacher. She was a young woman over the age of consent, yes? This wasn’t rape, assault or underage sex as far as I am aware. The relationship was clearly, in the view of the many witnesses and the judge, instigated by her. The girl’s friends said in court that she was stalking him, that the affair began as a schoolgirl crush. The criminality of the matter lies solely in that he was a teacher and she was his student.

    I find it offensive that I as a man can’t say that the girl had a crush on, stalked and seduced a teacher, without being accused of blaming her for his stupidity, which I certainly don’t. It was entirely the teacher’s legal duty of care not to get involved. Full stop. However, the girl did stalk him and did groom him, as the judge said. I think I’ve repeated myself enough times to make it clear?

    The question then remains whether the sentence was too light. Perhaps it was. But it still doesn’t mean that the girl didn’t groom him.

  • Tsar Nicolas 16th Jan '15 - 10:08pm

    I didn’t watch Question Time; I haven’t watched it in years – its debates, if they can be called that, are in my view, far too superficial and generally avoid discussing real issues.

    David Starkey I find mildly interesting on subjects like Henry VIII and Edward VI, but usually find myself disagreeing with him on everything else.

    However, on the subject that everyone seems animated about – the teacher and the 16 year old, wasn’t the Judge a woman? So how is the fault solely that of all men everywhere? Please explain without reference to the patriarchy.

    As for porn, online porn, the implicit assumption in Caron’s post is that only girls are damaged by it. I would disagree – if a boy can’t have a ‘normal’ sexual relationship because of this material, and subsequently retreating into a world of either abusing females or sexual dependency upon electronic machines, I think it is at elasta rguable that boys have been damaged too.

  • Tsar Nicolas 16th Jan '15 - 10:08pm

    I didn’t watch Question Time; I haven’t watched it in years – its debates, if they can be called that, are in my view, far too superficial and generally avoid discussing real issues.

    David Starkey I find mildly interesting on subjects like Henry VIII and Edward VI, but usually find myself disagreeing with him on everything else.

    However, on the subject that everyone seems animated about – the teacher and the 16 year old, wasn’t the Judge a woman? So how is the fault solely that of all men everywhere? Please explain without reference to the patriarchy.

    As for porn, online porn, the implicit assumption in Caron’s post is that only girls are damaged by it. I would disagree – if a boy can’t have a ‘normal’ sexual relationship because of this material, and subsequently retreating into a world of either abusing females or sexual dependency upon electronic machines, I think it is at least arguable that boys have been damaged too.

  • I did wish someone had discussed the function of sentencing review. Is it a mechanism to allow cases that catch the eye of the media to press for harsher sentences? There seemed to be suggestions that there was something wrong with the female judge, but no one suggested that there had been a string of erratic decisions. No one on the panel seemed to have special knowledge of the case; I do not like the idea of courting applause on the basis of inadequate information.

    Surely the principles should be more important than any isolated, partially reported case.

  • @Caron LindsayCaron Lindsay:

    “Interesting to see all these men blaming the victim here.”

    Evidence that assertion, please.

    I find it more interesting that some otherwise normally-logical people create this false assertion. The girl is NOT to blame for this criminal activity. Even Starkey said that. repeatedly.

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Jan '15 - 11:38am

    The thing is, you know what you are going to get with David Starkey – he’s a contrarian and has been for years. He is often entertaining, though he does go over the top at times.

    I thought that on QT he offered a valid point about the teacher-pupil case. He made it clear he thought the teacher was wrong to act but he said that the girl was not wholly innocent. I think that is a fair point.

    Sixteen year olds can marry and serve in the Army. They can also be very manipulative and exploit clear weaknesses – yes even school girls of sixteen. The teacher was very weak and he will no longer teach, quite rightly.

    He should have reported her but she does bear some responsibility for her behaviour. She needs help.

  • Helen Tedcastle is right to point out the realities of teachers dealing with sixteen years old girls and boys.

    I know nothing about the legal case being dicsussed and frankly I do not want to.

    There is an unpleasant tendency nowadays to have Trial by Twitter. People who probably know as little bout this case as I do feel free to pick p their computers and condemn people. This lynch mob mentality is highly illiberal.

    I thought we believed in the rule of law? Why do we bother with judges and juries? Why not hand the whole judicial process over to Twitter and Facebook? They could be working on advice from Jeremy Kyle.

    We could call it “free-market justice” and local lynch-mobs could submit tenders for the out-sourced work.
    Or has Jeremy Browne suggested this already in one of his many subsidised but seldom read books?

  • AC Trussell 17th Jan '15 - 4:09pm

    I think Sal Brinton did fairly well; considering that she is a Lib/Dem. I usually find that most Lib/Dems like to be calm and explain the situation as they see it- in a thoughtful way. But being shouted down if you leave a split second between words when on a “show”; were the chairman lets the loudest voice take over, it is very difficult.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 17th Jan '15 - 5:13pm

    @Tony Dawson: The attitudes on here are typical of the culture in which we live which blames victims for the abuse inflicted on them. It is simply not possible for a pupil to be at fault when they are abused by a teacher.

  • Tony Dawson 17th Jan '15 - 5:32pm

    “Caron Lindsay 17th Jan ’15 – 5:13pm
    @Tony Dawson: The attitudes on here are typical of the culture in which we live which blames victims for the abuse inflicted on them. It is simply not possible for a pupil to be at fault when they are abused by a teacher.”

    Er… that is (almost) what I have said here twice as have others, You are creating a false fight. No one is blaming the victim for the crime which happened here. Nor, even, was the obnoxious David Starkey on QT. Everyone (including herself I think) is, quite rightly, saying that her behaviour was not responsible, useful or sensible. I started helping my own child to address such issues before the age of eleven. Responsibility and blame are very separate. Nobody becomes miraculously adult at 18 or sexually adult at 16. No one is massively more responsible for something five minutes after midnight on a certain day in their life than they were ten seconds before if the same set of events happened. They are, however, deemed blameworthy in law the second they past their different birthday for different things. The idea is that young people coming up to these threshold birthdays are meant to prepare themselves for being held responsible and blameworthy once the clock hits midnight on the due day. It is totally clear in our law that people aged 16 do NOT become and are not considered legally responsible for something unlawful which follows their own actions in the school context, even when they are behaving in a faulty or deficient manner. I would never blame anyone in such circumstances.

    The fact is, in UK law, virtually identical events might follow the interaction between a 16 year old and all sorts of people who gain a ‘foot-in-the-door’ with them emotionally to those which can happen with a teacher. In those situations, the milkman, neighbour, whoever, has committed no crime and the young person is deemed by society to be pretty much responsible for any outcomes.

  • Alex Sabine 17th Jan '15 - 5:43pm

    I think Helen Tedcastle hits the nail on the head about David Starkey: he is a contrarian who delights in provoking strong reactions, and is quite happy to assume the role of pantomime villain: I suppose you could see him as a sort of right-wing and more highbrow counterpart to recent QT panellist Russell Brand.

    The BBC invite him because he’s good box office. Unlike some of the B-list comedians they have on he does sometimes shed light as well as heat – both tendencies were in evidence last Thursday night.

    A topical and nicely ironical choice of panellist by the Beeb given the week’s debates about free speech and the right to offend!

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Jan '15 - 6:00pm

    Caron Lindsay
    ‘ It is simply not possible for a pupil to be at fault when they are abused by a teacher.’

    A girl of sixteen is old enough to bear responsibility for their actions if they played a pro-active part in the inappropriate ‘relationship.’

    This does not excuse the teacher, even though he was stalked – his weakness and culpability has been justly punished but let’s not pretend that this girl in this case was wholly innocent and a blameless victim. Girls of sixteen can marry and join the army. This particular girl did not behave well to say the least and she obviously needs some form of help.

    ‘ The attitudes on here are typical of the culture in which we live which blames victims for the abuse inflicted on them.

    That is not actually what anyone on here has argued.

  • jedibeeftrix 17th Jan '15 - 6:13pm

    @ Caron – “It is simply not possible for a pupil to be at fault when they are abused by a teacher.”

    And yet we wish to give these delicate petals the vote…?

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Jan '15 - 8:50pm

    Why were plans to extend free school meals for poorer children not implemented when Labour lost power? The research was there to show the effects on concentration, behaviour and general health. This government’s decision not to do so was a disgrace.

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Jan '15 - 9:30pm

    Oops, didn’t listen to Question Time. The above query related to the discussion on the Green party where the introduction of free school meals were mentioned.

  • It seems to me entirely irrelevant what a 16-year-old girl did or did not do. People of that age simply do not have a well-formed capacity for judgment in these matters. When they exhibit inappropriate behaviour, it is the duty of adults, particularly those adults who are in a position to be guiding and guarding them, to discourage that behaviour and to indicate what is appropriate; not to fall in with, participate in, or encourage that behaviour. And that is true all the same whether it is a matter of sexual behaviour, or, let’s say, a juvenile spree of vandalism. There is no point in focussing on the misbehaviour of a youth unless it is to exculpate or mitigate the misbehaviour of the adult. And when I see words such as “weakness” used for the adult’s behaviour, and “stalking” for the youth’s behaviour, it suggests that such is the ultimate aim.

  • Caron – The way you put it is probably correct – ie, if someone has abused someone, then the other person in the relationship which has been deemed inappropriate cannot be at fault. The problem here seems to be that “the official line” on these things seems to have jumped from “only take reports of sexual abuse of young people seriously if they are very nice, decent people unlikely to have sex with anyone”, to “any relationship with anyone under age must be the result of the older person abusing the younger”. Now it is quite clear that many of the relationships encouraged (or forced) by appalling people like Savile, and a number of the historic cases were entirely abusive, hurtful, damaging, exploitative etc, but this can’t be made to apply to all cases. A number of people on here suggest that this man’s crime was “weakness”. The recent clarification, I think by the Attorney General, that we “should take seriously and investigate ALL cases” reported of this nature, is greatly useful, and may provide proper balance as against the ideas commonly expressed that “all victims should be believed” (by which people seem to mean” potential victims”).

    Helen Tedcastle’s point also needs serious consideration. I think society is being very patronising to young people to suggest that in all cases of this type that they simply can’t resist abuse. The alternative explanation is that in recent years public pressure has overturned the principle expressed in the Children Act of 1989 of child views being the heart of the matter, and has reverted to a model where we believe that adults should have absolute control of behaviour (especially sexual) until an arbitrary age has been reached.

    There is an unhealthy dualism in all this – which stretches across different crimes and behaviours, that there is always an offender and a victim (or several) who are mutually exclusive. This is not always the case, and media have a heavy responsibility in spreading this half truth. As Liberals, we have a great interest in reducing both crime, and harm to others, but we should not encourage black and white thinking, as in other complex areas of life.

  • David 1
    I think this post is in the category I mention in my previous post, patronising. It is, of course, true, that we all have to learn about human behaviour, but it seems pretty unrelated to age how much, or when, or what type of things people learn. As liberals, I thought we tried to give people maximum scope to make up their own minds, not to designate people as “not having capacity for judgment in these matters”. This sounds like a reprise of arguments against extending the franchise in the 19th Century!

    If this were a real concern, that we protect people from making their own judgments, then surely we need something a bit more sophisticated than an arbitrary age cut off! The last 40 years, for instance, has seen the growth of whole systems of skill measurement and accreditation. Why don’t we use this. Or perhaps David 1 doesn’t want certain people disbarred for ever from sexual activity / family formation etc?

  • To David-1: you appear to be adding to the suggestion that one is not allowed to mention the possibility that the girl stalked the teacher without it seems as though one were “focusing on the behaviour of the youth” and”mitigating the behaviour of the adult”.

    Again, people need to learn to separate the two issues and stop making wild inferences as to others’ thoughts. It’s getting quite offensive, given that I’ve had to repeat myself several times. Many of us who have posted here have merely discussed David Starkey’s wholly correct assertion that teenagers can be manipulative, stalking, sexually sophisticated creatures. It is a statement of fact. Starkey is right on that point.

    The reason that this has come to be such a prominent public discussion in the first place is *not* because some people are wishing to mitigate the teacher’s behaviour but because other people have queried the judge’s use of the words “stalking” and “grooming”. Their inference may be that the judge is being too lenient on the man. Leniency has barely been mentioned here. Some of us, Starkey and all, are merely agreeing with the judge specifically in the context of the behaviour, sophistication and obsession of the girl in question. We are talking solely of that fact and it relates solely to our opinion as to whether teenage girls can be manipulative stalkers.

    Read my lips: I don’t think anyone is using the girl’s behaviour to mitigate the teacher’ s “weakness” or to suggest that he didn’t really commit a criminal offence. . He did commit a criminal act with a student in his care.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan '15 - 1:10pm

    “He did commit a criminal act with a student in his care.”
    I’m reluctant to join this very nuanced debate, but I guess it is only a criminal act because he was the girl’s teacher. If he were her neighbour, would that make it acceptable? Would it change any of the points being made above?
    If it were a 44 year old woman and a 16 year old boy would Caron and those who have responded in this thread take different positions?

  • Jayne Mansfield 18th Jan '15 - 1:38pm

    David Starkey is a very rude man, but the significance placed on the fact that he called Mehdi Hassan, Ahmed is ludicrous. Apparently, Ahmed was the name of the questioner.

    Dr Starkey is 70 years old, I used to laugh at my ageing parents when they confused me with my sisters, calling me by their name. Now at the same age as Dr Starkey, I find myself calling my own offspring by the names of their siblings and momentarily confusing the names of friends, much to their amusement. No doubt Dr Starkey will be offered an appointment for the dementia test routinely offered to people of our age and will outscore people like myself.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jan ’15 – 1:10pm
    “., If it were a 44 year old woman and a 16 year old boy would Caron and those who have responded in this thread take different positions? ”

    I was rather hoping Caron might answer this question as she has a record of using LDV to promote her view that it is “always the man’s fault” whatever the decision of a court or an inquiry might have been.

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