Was Champion right to “resign” from front bench over Sun article?

Trigger warning for child abuse.

There are kind of rules – good rules that are there for good reasons – governing how we talk about racial issues, when we must. Properly contextualise. Look for similarities rather than differences. Don’t make or appear to make generalisations about groups of people.

When I was at school we had leaflets thrown over the school fence with the faces of white people who had been killed by black people. The object of the leaflet was to encourage racially motivated violence to “even up the score” using crimes that, if they happened at all, probably weren’t racially motivated. Accuracy is not a defence here.

Racists, even when they don’t break these rules will seek to test the boundaries, to “dog whistle”, and the natural and proper reaction is to apply the rules strongly and without exceptions.

It is pretty clear that Sarah Champion MP broke these rules with her article in the Sun, and breaking these rules is something that you will normally, and rightly be resigned from something for doing.

Predictably, the right wing press is hysterical that political correctness is censoring an important debate.

And it is an important debate. Champion’s constituency includes a great many victims and their families who she represented when other members of her party were telling her that the CSE crisis was all BNP smears. That is to her credit. It makes her a good person to ask for comment when the Sun reports on the conviction of an Asian grooming gang in Newcastle.

While Champion’s views were put bluntly, and the Sun has sensationalised the issue in defiance of the rules as you would expect, there clearly is a pattern of crime with a racial characteristic. I am not sure it is possible to talk about this entirely within the rules.

The Drew report (pdf) into South Yorkshire Police provides figures for CSE crimes referred to the police in 2014-15.

Ethnicity of suspects
White, North European 65.1%
White, South European 2.4%
Black 3.7%
Asian 19.1%
Other 4.3%
Not known or recorded 5.3%

This is a very different picture to the Sun headline but is not actually inconsistent. A wide range of offences is covered, not just grooming and exploitation by gangs, and the figure for Asian suspects is higher than the 3.4% of the population in South Yorkshire as a whole.

What other patterns exist? Drew:

For example, the view that child sexual exploitation was about red light areas, and was about gangs of men principally of Pakistani heritage, led not only the force but also probably the whole partnership to look for signs of exploitation in the wrong places. One superintendent, describing the exploitation challenge today in his area, characterised the local problem of revolving around ‘white European males, in their mid 40s, making extensive use of the internet for initial grooming, often of boys, and not operating as gangs at all.’ This is a very different profile.

Have I now contextualised enough to meet the rules? I hope so. I don’t feel as if I have just thrown racist leaflets over the school fence.

Do read Drew’s chapter 5 judgements on what went wrong in South Yorkshire Police. He analyses 5 causes

  • a lack of understanding about child sexual exploitation;
  • too narrow a definition of child sexual exploitation;
  • the distorting impact of national priorities which did not include child sexual exploitation;
  • the impact of a top down culture combined with a lack of professional curiosity; and
  • attitudes to young people.

This is followed by two speculations: corruption, and “political correctness”.

The right wing press will present the least of these problems as the greatest, and the left will shoot the messenger as they have Champion.

I don’t really care whether Champion is on the Labour front bench or not, the important thing is that the message is heard – that we are able to debate this problem openly and honestly including the racial dimension. No Asian man in South Yorkshire I have spoken to about this wants any less; they have been wrongly tainted by the police’s failure.

Sack the odd politician if we must but let’s focus on supporting victims and convicting criminals.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I see the awful Boycott has been at it again. I do wish the BBC would get rid of this egocentric individual.

    Geoffrey Boycott: Former cricketer sorry for ‘unacceptable … – BBC

  • Phil Beesley 22nd Aug '17 - 1:31pm

    How about police officers and social services staff “not doing their jobs”? Looking after young people was part of their job descriptions, after all.

    Given the duration and extent of abuse, why are excuses like alleged “political correctness” deemed acceptable? If there was bullying or pressure within organisations, surely there are records (personal diaries, complaint reports) worthy of examination. There is no way that such child abuse persisted without it being noted internally by police or social services.

  • Nonconformistradical 22nd Aug '17 - 2:38pm

    @David Raw
    “I see the awful Boycott has been at it again. I do wish the BBC would get rid of this egocentric individual.”

    Seconded. But worth bearing in mind some cricket history – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/county-cricket-clubs-plagued-by-racism-1154579.html – quoting from this 1998 article:

    “Racial segregation has been well-documented in Yorkshire, one of the country’s cricketing heartlands, where hundreds of Asian players compete in teams in Leeds, Huddersfield and Bradford as part of the Quaid-I-Azam League. Despite the level of enthusiasm among Asian Yorkshiremen, no native Asian has ever made the grade with Yorkshire County Cricket Club.”

    Says it all really

  • Phil Beesley 22nd Aug '17 - 2:59pm

    A quote from the Drew report:
    “I recommend that you ask the Chief Constable to undertake a comprehensive stock take, of all reports and investigations to date, using gap- analysis methodology to review the findings. This would then form the basis for a new, thematic Action Plan, clear milestones and measurable, timed objectives, linking to the wider force Child Sexual Exploitation plan, as well as the plans of each Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB).”

    That’s one way of doing it. Another way might be to ask police and social services to deliver their mandates.

  • Phil Beesley 22nd Aug '17 - 4:13pm

    Joe Otten: “Sack the odd politician if we must but let’s focus on supporting victims and convicting criminals.”

    No. That perspective has maintained the power relationship — the one where survivors shut up when confronted by the controlling man. I do not have an answer.

  • paul barker 22nd Aug '17 - 4:55pm

    I agree with most of the article but Champion went well beyond answering questions. She wrote for The Sun & approved the Headline – those were the offences for which was sacked.

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Aug '17 - 5:12pm

    Well said. About the most sober and intelligent reflections I’ve yet seen on this dreadful business.

  • A question for Joe Otten. Can I take it that you’re in agreement with Corbyn’s action on this business, and what consideration did you give to the Rotherham Independent Inquiry ? I suggest you also have a look at the Huddersfield Examiner.

    @ Nonconformist radical “Says it all really” It says, nowt…..these days. You can do better than that – instead of bringing up tired 19 year old stuff out of your bin have you considered that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has moved on even though the dreadful Boycott hasn’t ?

    The Yorkshire first team includes : Adil Rashid, born in Bradford, has now taken nearly 500 wickets for Yorkshire and England. Azeem Rafiq from Barnsley is a first team regular, former captain of the under 20 team, and has captained the first team. Others are coming through.

    And this……. “A PHOTOGRAPHIC exhibition celebrating the history of Asian cricket across Bradford and the rest of Yorkshire has gone on display at the Yorkshire Cricket Museum at Headingley”, Telegraph & Argus, last September.

    Time for you to retract, gracefully, Sir…………… as Boycott should.

    An interest to be declared. Yorkshire member who saw Len Hutton play, and actively opposed the old nonsense you refer to..

  • Nonconformistradical 22nd Aug '17 - 6:31pm

    No I will absolutely not retract. I’m very pleased that Yorkshire CCC has moved on – but the era when Boycott played for them seems better represented by the article I cited.

    This one shows them moving on https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2006/jul/23/cricket.sport

  • jayne Mansfield 22nd Aug '17 - 6:51pm

    @ Joe Otton,
    Sarah Champion’s words were ill chosen, but I can’t argue with her main point. In the past I have been horrified by the attempts to disparage Anne Cryer and Yasmin Alibhai Brown for having the moral courage to speak out about Type 1 Child sex offenders. Those indulging in the particular pattern of child abuse that we saw in Rotherham ( and which many people in Rotherham believe is still happening).

    When attempts are made to shut people up who are concerned about voiceless, young girls who were treated with contempt, not only by their abusers but by the authorities who should have protected them, a space is created for the extreme right. It was a space exploited by the BNP.

    I find the use of the term ‘Asian’ unhelpful. There are many people of different ethnicities encompassed within that term. Sarah Champion was correct to be more specific in certain cases. However, in Bristol the gang was Somali and in Keighley, Bangladeshi. As John Mann MP has argued, it would be more correct to describe them as predominantly Muslim men.

    When Catholic priests were using their power to abuse children we were not afraid to mention religion. It was their religious authority that gave them power to abuse.

    When a perpetrator makes disgusting claims specifying ‘white girls’, in my opinion, there is a clear racial element to the crime, making it deserving of a longer sentence.

    It is important that Sarah Champion is reinstated. Nobody but a racist would think that the criminals are representative of a whole religion or race. It is decent law-abiding Asian Pakistani or Muslim men who are at the sharp end when we feel frightened to mention the actual background of the perpetrators. It is a sign that we are not comfortable about race and religion and that we really do think they are ‘other’.

  • @ Nonconformist radical. “no native Asian has ever made the grade with Yorkshire County Cricket Club.” – which bit of contradicting yourself don’t you understand ?

    To say Rashid and Rafiq haven’t made the grade makes you as stubborn as the ridiculous Boycott.

  • Lester Holloway 22nd Aug '17 - 7:27pm

    By linking those in Newcastle convicted with these sex’s with an entire community Champion is guilty of perpetrating ugly stereotypes. There are echoes of the way African-Caribbean men were painted as ‘muggers’ in the 1970s and 80s.

    Both depictions have real-life consequences to the way people from these communities are treated, including discrimination in the jobs market.

    Champion, MP for Rotherham, has been a great campaigner against child abuse. Such campaigns are necessary to root out the abusers. But the moment people begin to racialise crime, particularly in this crude way, they not only cheapen important issues but also insult the very communities that they seek to engage.

    Child abuse is abhorrent and is still far too common. It is perpetrated by people from all races, communities and faiths. Suggestions that this disgusting crime is a problem only for one community gives abusers from other backgrounds a free pass. And that is a disservice to their victims.

    Within the overall problem of child abuse, there is clear evidence of abuse by a tiny minority of men who are of Asian heritage. This subset of abusers are mostly of a Pakistani background. Very few sensible people would deny that, but to frame this debate as an ethnic problem belies a shocking truth that the vast majority of men sexually abusing young women and young boys are white English. To the latter we simply call it criminality, no cultural baggage or ethnic stereotyping, just awful crimes.

  • Lester Holloway 22nd Aug '17 - 7:36pm

    Tackling the specific challenge and the general requires working with local communities, the police, social services and other agencies. Rooting out abuse requires investigations, community cooperation, a flow of intelligence, joined-up government, and trust-building. It is about identifying signs and knowing what to do, not just about the predatory gangs, but also the many more predatory individuals.

    Nowhere in this mix does hyperbole fit. Stirring up anger and hostility between races is the opposite of what we need. The same is true of child abuse in churches, boarding schools, broadcasters or state institutions.

    What can the people who work or live with the abusers do if they suspect or are subject to abuse? Where can they go, who can they talk to? How can we have a difficult conversation without, demonising whole communities. Champion failed to address any of these questions.

  • Richard Cripps 22nd Aug '17 - 7:49pm

    i believe that one of the reasons why the EU referendum went the way it did was because of frustration that debates about the impact of relatively large-scale migration were shut down. I am not referring to racists who don’t want a discussion but a swathe of people who just wanted answers as to how we could, as a society, absorb the resulting demographic changes. The Sarah Champion issue has perpetuated this, being caught between the (blinkered) politics of Jeremy Corbyn and the hysteria of the Daily Mail. However, if more houses had been built back in the late 80s with the money raised from the sale of council houses, the discussion would have been less needed, as pressure on housing is the major factor (in my view) of concern/anxiety in the first place.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 22nd Aug '17 - 7:55pm

    As someone who has been involved in the criminal justice system for over 35 years and as an academic in such matters I am aware of Sub-Cultural influences to deviance but not a “racial dimension”.

    I am keen to see the research that supports such the assertion that certain ethnic groups are outside of a deviant subculture are prone to commit specific crimes.

    We really need to be very careful about racialising crime for this is simply wrong and promotes intolerance and hatred.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

    Chair – Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD)
    Senior Lecturer in Criminology
    Former Researcher and Advisor (The Police College)

  • Nonconformistradical 22nd Aug '17 - 7:59pm

    @David Raw

    When the 1998 article which I cited was written Adil Rashid was aged 10 and Azeem Rafiq 7. Hardly in any position to have ‘made the grade’.

    I’m very happy that they have made the grade – happy for the players themselves, the wider ethnic minority community and the sport of cricket. But that does not alter the issue of Yorkshire CCC having an apparent history of racist attitudes – and it is those attitudes which I suspect may have been a major influence in that so-and-so Boycott’s recent comment.

  • jayne Mansfield 22nd Aug '17 - 9:03pm

    @ Lester Holloway,
    We can’t have a difficult conversation because every time someone tries to start one, for example, Nazir Afzal, former Crown prosecution Services’ lead on child sexual abuse, there are claims that there is demonisation of a whole community.

    Anne Cryer MP, says that she sat and cried when she read about the Rotherham child abuse. She used to sit and help asian women learn English, and when she became an MP mothers of girls reported the problem to her so she raised the subject of type 1 abuse. Despite being an MP she was vilified and ignored by police, social workers and Imams. How many more girls were subjected to this type of abuse because of denial, or fear of being branded racist, or claims that one is demonising a whole community?

    In Rotherham, fathers who tracked down their daughters were the ones who were arrested. The Jay report was not hyperbole. We still don’t know the scale of the problem , and there are claims that some of the perpetrators are still walking the streets and the criminality continues.

    I know many people in Rotherham, they are not racists or Islamophobes, but they are angry. Sarah Champion is correct in saying that there needs to be research into why this particular pattern of abuse exists.

    My last post has not appeared, but I have to say that you don’t speak for the Asians and Muslims that I know. What they say about these gang members is unrepeatable.

  • I just Googled ‘why no FGM prosecutions’.

    There’s a great deal of reading material in the resultant list, but one of the defining reasons of why there are no FGM prosecutions can be summarized by the repeated statement “ the enduring cultural sensitivity of the topic”

    We might frown on the term ‘political correctness’, but when enduring cultural sensitivity, becomes a blockage to solving persistent and repeated misdeeds on our children we must soul search, and at the very least review our society’s tolerance levels of what is acceptable ‘culture’.
    It seems to me that one of the flaws of a tolerant society is that once any particular culture grasps the talisman of ‘victim’, it becomes almost impossible to ask that very same culture to behave differently, lest we appear to reproach the victim into further victim-hood.

    A whole culture is not to blame for the few wrongdoers. But by the same token, we cannot allow the few wrongdoers to use their culture’s victim status as a cloak of protection from criticism. Where some group see cultural ‘norms’, whilst society sees unacceptable cultural deviance, we should be brave enough to say so.

    Sarah Champion was bullied from her job, because she had the audacity to open our eyes to ‘cultural sensitivities’ that we would rather not countenance. The shame is on us, not Sarah Champion, and the protection of our children is all the poorer for it.

  • No, she shouldn’t have resigned.

    This article also didn’t require a trigger warning.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Aug '17 - 11:48pm

    Joe as he does at key points, writes with a concern and thoughtfulness that is not appreciated enough, as with his excellent work as a Sheffield councillor.

    I share the concern of Lester and Ruwan, both expressing that which is necessary.

    But I agree with Jayne, overblown the language, the tone and that wretched newspaper, Champion should not resign for saying what she felt to be so.

    Voices such as Maajid Nawaz, a member of our party, are able to be almost brutal at times in saying it as it is, or as they see it , and need to , from within and about members of their own community.

    A minority must not be made to seem more, but it must be looked at in reality and not with the sort of cover up the police can no longer get away with, and nor can councillors, often in this case from the same party as Corbyn , and Champion.

    This is no party political issue, but corruption is rife when hegemony is too.

  • Daniel Walker 23rd Aug '17 - 8:58am

    @James “This article also didn’t require a trigger warning.”

    Given some people may find the content does indeed cause them pain, and the cost of adding a trigger warning is effectively zero, why wouldn’t you add one?

  • Daniel – because we shouldn’t be infantilising people. The article isn’t graphic in any way. If the mere mention of ‘child abuse’ causes somebody ‘pain’ then they should simply stop reading.

  • Yes! She was right to resign…Not because of what she said but because she felt that having said what needed to be said the backlash, as in some posts here, would detract from her ability to perform her position (Women and Equalities) without continuing controversy….A moral stand that is becoming rarer and rarer in politics…

    As for it being in the Sun? Few are more scathing about the Sun/Mail/Express than I but, if it had been on page 7 of the Grauniad it would have disappeared without trace….
    I also accept her contention that, although the words were hers, parts had been taken out of context to make a headline worthy of that ‘newspaper’…
    As for, “It stereotypes all Muslims/etc”…Those that label all Muslims in that manner don’t need such articles to reinforce their twisted views….

  • Denis Loretto 23rd Aug '17 - 11:27am

    I am very largely with Jayne Mansfield on this. She mentions Nazir Afzal, former Crown Prosecution Services’ lead on child sexual abuse and I see he was on Victoria Derbyshire this morning saying once again that Muslim men were clearly disproportionately involved in the plethora of cases of abuse of this nature in South Yorkshire. He said Sarah Champion should not have resigned. Our own Maajid Nawaz has also been categorical on this. Clumsy though some of Sarah Champion’s published words arguably were, the danger is that her sacking – and this to the shame of Jeremy Corbyn is what it was – makes it more likely that others who seek frank and honest examination of all aspects of this dreadful and I gather continuing abuse will feel inhibited from doing so.

    None of this must be seen as accusing all Muslims – just as no-one suggested for example that all Catholics in Northern Ireland were involved in the IRA .

  • As always, the issue comes down to careless use of language. There is a danger in our current society that saying things that might be misconstrued as racist prevents them ever being said. I think there is a problem here that needs to be tackled and trying to push it under the carpet or not speaking about it will mean that it continues to be a problem. After all, that’s what SYP and Rotherham council did for years. If one wants to call out a particular group of men for child abuse then one has to be absolutely specific and ensure that the comments cannot be seen as referring to a much wider group. It should make no difference what the religion of the group is or whether the men involved are black or white. Lester is quite right to point out that child abuse covers all kinds of groups in our society, but wrong to call those who seek to point out unwelcome truths racist. I think Corbyn should have stood by his shadow minister. Her ‘crime’ was in the language she used, not in pointing to a truth too many wish to hide.

  • Full disclosure. I haven’t read the article in the Sun, and I’ve not studied the statistics on crime rates among different demographics in any detail, so this comment is more in line of some suggestions for noting before drawing any conclusions, or making any comment, about difficult topics.

    One shouldn’t really assume that an observed difference is a causal factor in an observed behaviour, without a) in depth (ideally large scale) study, b) accounting for the effects of any other possible causal factors, c) replication of any such findings and d) ensuring that any such findings can be applied more widely. If research evidence exists that satisfies the aforementioned criteria, either for demographic differences in crime rates or for the effect of perceived societal norms on policing and social work policy and practice, then this is what should be used to inform any commentary, assumptions or decisions.

    On the subject of language usage, it is perhaps worth considering whether there are differences in the effects of commentary on specific groups (with different levels of power or acceptance within a society). In a society where a specific group already experiences barriers to education, employment, and general acceptance by virtue of specific characteristics, efforts to address such discrimination might also need to include the avoidance of language that can be seen to reinforce negative perceptions of difference. Of course, such considerations would need to take into account the relative effects of language usage between all such groupings, including young women (for example).

    Ultimately, it would seem advisable to treat all difficult topics very carefully where language usage, and the drawing of conclusions, is concerned. That said, the need to tread carefully is unlikely to be sufficient grounds for failing to discuss, or study, difficult topics.

  • It is worth reading Maajid Nawaz on this http://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/maajid-nawaz/sarah-champion-is-right-maajid-nawaz/. He uses plain language, simple statistics and is unequivocal in his condemnation.

  • Lester Holloway 23rd Aug '17 - 5:58pm

    jayne Mansfield: “My last post has not appeared, but I have to say that you don’t speak for the Asians and Muslims that I know. What they say about these gang members is unrepeatable.”

    I didn’t claim to speak for Asians and Muslims. First, the Pakistani community are but one part of the Asian group. Second, I said that child abuse is abhorrent – which I everyone here and I imagine people from all communities would agree with.

    Joe Otten: “Lester, did Champion link the crimes to an entire community?”

    Yes, she linked the crime to Pakistani men in general.

  • jayne Mansfield 23rd Aug '17 - 7:02pm

    @ Lester Holloway,
    I am usually in sympathy in what you say, DNA research demonstrates that ‘race’ is a cultural concept. However, I am not blind to the common view, and the power of the concept of ‘race’ to harm and provide a rationale to unfairly discriminate . But in this instance I am not in sympathy with you. In fact, your position makes me angry.

    The people who are perpetuating ugly stereotypes are the men who are disproportionately represented on this particular pattern of child abuse.

    i think that if you read the link that Joe provided. Sarah Champion mentions that more than 90% of abused children know their abusers – it is someone usually within the extended family – and the vast majority of convictions are against white men acting alone. Most responsible people who talk about child abuse provide the statistics.

    I mentioned that I find the term ‘Asian’ unhelpful when describing the perpetrators of type I sexual abuse, Hindu organisations and Sikh organisations have complained that their ‘communities ‘ have been besmirched by the term in an attempt to divert attention to who is disproportionately committing this sort of crime.

    I have read comments from apologists who in their desire to treat all white people as racists have said, ‘Ah but do white people criticise Jimmy Savile’. Well, the simple answer to that, is yes. Absolutely. Just as we say that type 2 sexual exploitation is a white crime.

    Child safeguarding V racial, cultural, religious sensitivities. No contest as far as I am concerned. I would prefer that there was no ‘versus’.

  • Simon Banks 6th Nov '17 - 12:27pm

    Statistically, there are differences between groups of people. If you’re a white male 60 year old Glaswegian you’re more likely to drink heavily and less likely to vote Liberal Democrat than an Asian female aged 30 living in Surrey. There are even differences based on genes rather than culture: more women fail the Fire Service weight-lifting test than men and when the Police had a height requirement, more Japanese and Bangladeshis failed it than African Caribbeans or Punjabis. What is unacceptable is to apply this to individuals: “Black Caribbeans aren’t accountants so he can’t study accountancy.” As for political correctness, there are problems both ways. It can stop people thinking critically or even referring to real issues. At a writing group recently when I read a piece in which a snobbish, prejudiced Englishman displayed a belittling attitude to the Welsh, one person (not Welsh) criticised this because it might encourage other people to be prejudiced in the same way. In the subsequent debate, I asked if people should not mention the Holocaust for fear it might encourage imitation – and she said yes, they should not!

    However, just as common away from The Guardian is the attitude which allows people to dismiss as “political correctness” someone politely objecting to grossly offensive words, or characterising as “censorship” an editor’s decision to do what editors do and not print a piece (s)he dislikes and thinks harmful.

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