UNCUT: The CPS was right on Evans. Prosecution of the powerful is vital in a democracy

17/04/2014, 10:25:53 AM

by Sam Fowles

There are many things the CPS does wrong; the test to prosecute sexual assaults is not one of them. MPs should stop playing politics with prosecutions and take a look at “acceptable behaviour” in the Palace of Westminster.

In my final year at St Andrews I read a story in a student newspaper. A girl described standing on the mezzanine of a popular student bar when one of the university sports teams came in. It started with the familiar catcalls, the stereotypical suggestion that she should get her tits out for the lads. Unsurprisingly she told them all to fuck off. It was at that point that one of the sportsmen stood behind her, pinned her to the balcony rail and pulled up her shirt, exposing her chest to the bar below. To accompanying cheers and jeers from his teammates. The police were called. They declined to take the matter further. My point is this: Being falsely accused of sexual assault must be unbelievably traumatic. Being sexually assaulted with impunity must be indescribably worse.

Politically charged calls for fewer prosecutions of sexual assaults are misinformed and dangerous.

Prosecution isn’t a zero sum decision. Criminal justice involves more than just the rights of the accused. An innocent person’s interest in not being convicted must be balanced against untold innocent people’s interest in not being the victim of crime. Tipping the balance too far in favour of the latter leads to tyranny but tipping it too far in favour of the former simply leads to tyranny of a different kind.

If the CPS raises the evidential threshold for productions for sexual offences against the person then it decreases the risk of an innocent person undergoing trial. But it also increases the risk of a guilty person escaping justice.

Every year around 85 000 people are raped and a further 400 000 sexually assaulted. In 2011 – 12 there were 91 000 prosecutions for Sexual Offences Against the Person (SOAP), 67 000 were successful. The balance is clearly not tipped too far towards prosecutions. Three failed prosecutions does not justify a tip in the balance.

As the experiences of Messers LeVell, Roache and Evans have so publicly demonstrated, the innocent man has another line of defence: a fair trial. There is a certain irony in supporters and members of a party, such as Roache and Evans, which has systematically eliminated so many of the rights on which citizens rely to hold their government to account in court, should now be calling for that same government to prosecute fewer cases.

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UNCUT: If Cameron was smart, he’d recapitalise the food banks

16/04/2014, 08:32:46 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Britain’s food banks are doing a brisk trade. And unlike their commercial namesakes, they’re doing it without a bean of government cash.

The Trussell Trust, which runs the largest network of food banks, today reports that 913,138 adults and children were provided with food parcels last year, up from just 61,468 in 2010.

David Cameron should love food banks. Well, perhaps not love, but he should recognise their existence is proof that the Big Society, that concept we thought had been buried under 20 tonnes of concrete, has something going for it.

After all, food banks are examples of well-meaning, civic-minded people and organisations stepping up to the mark to provide a volunteer-led response to make a difference in their local communities.

In pretty much every other instance, the Big Society simply exposes the utter naiveté of ministers in glibly assuming that by removing public provision we would see a flourishing of voluntary effort instead. It hasn’t. It won’t. It never was going to.

But because of the shock value of what they do – feeding the absolute poor in one of the richest countries in the world – every time food banks are mentioned in earshot, Cameron has the good grace to squirm.

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UNCUT: Ukraine: at some point, Labour will need more than warm words

16/04/2014, 09:06:43 AM

by Rob Marchant

To date on this blog, we have not spoken much about the events in Ukraine: reflecting, perhaps appropriately, the priority it currently has in the agenda of both the British public and its politicians. After all, foreign policy does not win elections in peacetime.

But given that we are surely living through the most tense moment of East-West relations since the height of the Cold War, it behoves us to take a moment to see how Labour might be affected.

Britain, like much of the West, is clearly living through a period of reluctance, even quasi-isolationism, with regard to foreign conflicts. Interventionism may not be dead, but it is most certainly having a nap. A perception that fingers were burned in Iraq and Afghanistan pervades almost all foreign policy thinking, to a greater or lesser extent. And nowhere is this to be seen more clearly than on the fringes of British politics.

On the left fringe, Stop the War Coalition and their fellow-travellers within Labour’s hard left have decided that the West is so fundamentally evil, that they must oppose it so strongly as to apologise for some deeply unpleasant regimes who oppose it (in this case, the borderline-despotic Russian regime). Exhibit A: the Stoppers’ Putin apology pieces, or their frankly bonkers assertion that NATO is “itching for war”, when in fact its constituent nations are going to great pains to avoid the merest hint of military involvement.

On the right fringe, there a few odd backbench Tories along with UKIP; owners of a “little Englander” mentality all, seasoned with an instinctive mistrust of the Establishment and a longing for the smack of firm government. This strange combination ends up with their views converging on, paradoxically – as we saw recently with the Putin-admiring Nigel Farage – the same lines as the left.

Then there is the mainstream of both parties; as we saw on the Syria vote, many of these on both sides are happy to opt for happy isolationism and call it statesmanship.

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GRASSROOTS: Why Labour should fear the blowback from its war on business

15/04/2014, 11:22:40 AM

by Samuel Dale

During his doomed leadership contest David Miliband said Labour could not afford to go into the 2015 general election with no business support.

One year ahead that election and that is exactly what is happening. Labour is at open war with business with signs it is about to step up the offensive rather than build bridges.

The list of proposed interventions into industry is dizzying with almost every major sector targeted.

I’m told Labour is planning a policy blitz on no fewer than eight sectors ahead of party conference later this year. It is part of an ambitious agenda to significantly boost consumer rights and hand power back to consumers and away from huge corporations. 

Ed Miliband positions himself as US President Teddy Roosevelt breaking up monopolies and boosting competition. His modern incarnation has been called many names from pre-distribution to progressive austerity or socialism with no money. In 21st Century Britain let’s see what Miliband is actually proposing in your crucial industries.

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UNCUT: Chilcot will wag a long bony finger at Labour, but his report may miss the general election

14/04/2014, 03:50:25 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like scorpions, official inquiries are unpredictable, require careful handling and invariably come with a sting in the tail.

The news that Sir John Chilcot’s much-anticipated Iraq inquiry will not now report until at least next year causes Labour some obvious difficulties. Clearly, reminiscing about why the country went to war at the start of the general election campaign wouldn’t be much fun.

Then there’s the question of how all those fickle Lib Dem switchers Labour is relying on will react when the report finds fault – as surely it will – in the case made for war and its subsequent prosecution.

Before the last election, the timing of Lord Justice Saville’s inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings was a cause of similar consternation after officials in the Northern Ireland Office realised that his mammoth report would have to be stored while Parliament was prorogued during the election campaign.

The families of the victims were not happy at the thought of ministers or officials having access to it during the interregnum, preparing their defences or leaking extracts to the newspapers.

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UNCUT: Labour should put the Lib Dems out of their misery

14/04/2014, 11:07:36 AM

by Jonathan Todd

When was the last time a Labour leader uncompromisingly made the pro-EU case in a head-to-head dual with Nigel Farage? Or floated licensing “head shops” for the sale of drugs? Or offered free sex to everyone in the former Yugoslavia?

It’s the Liberal Democrats, not Labour, that have reached out to liberal left voters on these issues. Their desperation to recover some of these voters, lost to Labour since forming a government with the Conservatives, has not extended to sexual favours. I just have a memory of Chris Morris “reporting” that Bono Vox, as he called the U2 singer, had made this proposition to the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. And I wonder whether the Liberal Democrats will get to that stage.

Because, while their tactics are getting more exotic, their poll ratings steadfastly refuse to get off the floor – in fact, the latest Comres poll sees them at 7 per cent, falling below the floor. Paradoxically, the polls also indicate that there is a decent chance that they’ll be in government in the next parliament. It can be debated whether Labour or the Tories are most likely to win the largest number of seats. But they both face a steep challenge to win a majority.

The battlefield is akin to World War I. Lions slogging it out on #labourdoorstep and the like. Donkeys unable to break out of their cultural and political citadels. Unless Labour can convince enough voters, predominantly in the south, that we have the competence to govern or the Tories can persuade sufficient, particularly in the north, that they have the heart to do so fairly, then neither will hold a majority. And the largest party in such a hung parliament may be tempted to come to an arrangement with the Liberal Democrats, creating the likelihood of them being in government for a decade.

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GRASSROOTS: Where now for Labour on pensions?

11/04/2014, 11:12:39 AM

by Samuel Dale

It has been a chastening month for Britain’s pensions industry as regulators and the government have finally cracked the whip on its excesses.

In a series of policy announcements the government has launched a self-proclaimed “full frontal assault” on the industry. Pensions providers have entered the realm of banks, energy firms and politicians with a special place of distain in British hearts.

To tackle the problems, the government has ripped up the existing rules on annuities in the Budget sending insurers’ share prices south. It has imposed a 0.75 per cent cap on pension charges from next April and imposed full transparency of all costs.

And in a further blow to the sector the Financial Conduct Authority is launching a review into close-book pension funds to make sure savers are being treated fairly. Again, this sent insurers’ share prices tumbling.

No one can seriously accuse the government of bowing to vested interests in the pensions industry. They are at open war.

Former chancellor Nigel Lawson tells me the pensions industry is “the most powerful in the land” and he found it difficult to take on so this is no mean feat.

For Labour this creates a major political headache. Shadow pensions minister Gregg McClymont has been one of the most effective opposition ministers. He has a superb command of his brief and has made the political weather on pensions regularly.

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UNCUT: As Labour attacks Sajid Javid’s appointment, new figures reveal how the party is failing on ethnic minority representation

10/04/2014, 02:37:01 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s not been a good twenty-four hours for Labour on diversity.

First, there was the ludicrous attack on the appointment of Sajid Javid to the equalities brief because he was a man, totally ignoring the fact he is the first British Asian to become a secretary of state as well as being someone who comes from a genuinely working class background.

Then there was the attack on him for having the temerity to be successful , so acutely dissected by Dan Hodges over at the Telegraph.

Now Uncut can reveal that Labour is failing on ethnic minority representation.

An analysis of selections in Labour’s 106 parliamentary target seats, and the 12 seats where current Labour MPs are standing down reveals that the party has managed to select just 13 candidates from minority backgrounds out of a total of 118 contests.

This means just 11% of Labour’s candidates in winnable seats will be from black and minority ethnic communities, compared to an ethnic minority population in the UK of 18% at the time of the 2011 census.

By the time of the next election, as the UK’s minority population approaches 20%, Labour’s best case scenario in the new intake will be non-white representation of just over 10%.

This is in stark contrast to the party’s performance in selecting women where shortlists have helped guarantee that 50% of all winnable seats will have female candidates.

Labour’s immediate response yesterday to Sajid Javid’s appointment was to complain that he wasn’t a woman. This mindset, where women seem to be considered more equal than ethnic minorities, clearly extends through the party into local selections.

Its a sad testament to the poverty of minority representation in the parliamentary Labour party that such a poor performance in selecting new candidates is still better than the current position where just 6% of the PLP is from a minority.

How the party addresses this abject failing is difficult: quotas are rife with problems, not least their political manipulation by those in control of which seats are designated as an exclusive short list.

However, what is undeniable is that Labour has a major problem.

Perhaps a little more attention to the party’s own record on minority representation and less flailing about to attack Sajid Javid is in order.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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GRASSROOTS: Respect for Tony Benn is right, completely rewriting history is not

10/04/2014, 02:00:16 PM

by Kevin Feeney

When any controversial public figure dies, it is both normal and entirely natural for their followers and those inspired by them to whitewash their image a little in an effort to smooth out their rough edges.

Like most of those within the Labour Party who were rather less enamoured of the legacy of the late Tony Benn than other colleagues, I was entirely prepared to overlook the rather telling gaps in his more sympathetic obituaries. It was fine that they passed over his views on Mao, fine that they ignored his practical impact on Labour’s electability in the 1980s, fine that they left unquestioned his own claims as a tribune of democracy.

These were eulogies in the heat of the moment after a figure who they admired had passed on; the time for full and balanced reflections was later. Equally fine were those seemingly obligatory lists of “Issues where they were right” which we expect with any such figure; Benn certainly many of those, from Mandela to gay rights.

Except after a while, I started noticing something else creeping into that last list in Benn’s friendly obituaries. Owen Jones celebrated him not only for all of the above but also for ‘calling for peace talks when it was controversial to do so’ in Northern Ireland; praise he has reiterated in more than one place. It may be no surprise for Jones to rewrite history in such a manner, but less stridently left-wing voices have done so too; the editor of one prominent Labour website claimed that the presence of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Benn’s funeral was a ‘reminder of the difference he made’ as though this were a positive thing.

Indeed, “Northern Ireland” has begun inexplicably to seep into several lists of the man’s positive contributions. These claims cannot be allowed to endure unchallenged; nor can they be allowed to become part of that acceptable list of “good things” we all agree Benn stood for.

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UNCUT: Miller’s gone but expenses are still toxic. What’s Labour’s plan?

09/04/2014, 11:18:59 AM

by Atul Hatwal

So Maria Miller has resigned and Sajid Javid has replaced her, meh. Contrary to some of the over-heated reports, Miller’s particular passing will have little lasting impact.

True, there’s one less woman in the cabinet, but Javid is from a minority community, an area where the Tories and Liberals are even less representative of Britain – let’s not forget that while there were previously 4 women in the full cabinet of 22 Ministers, there was no-one from a minority community.

The circus will soon  move on and there will be another crisis over which politicians and media can hyper-ventilate.

However, while Maria Miller’s political demise is ultimately unremarkable, there is a legacy from the affair; one that will persist regardless of whether she had stayed, resigned, or did the hokey-cokey daily on College Green.

The expenses issue is back as a fixture in British politics.

It won’t be as toxic as in 2009 (how could it be?), but as Andrew Lansley suggested on Newsnight last night, there are likely to be other Miller-type transgressions which come to light, that predate the new expenses regime.

And just as with Miller, each time the parliamentary standards committee (which is dominated by MPs) waters down or even changes the punctuation in a ruling by the parliamentary standards commissioner, the same battle-lines pitching media against politicians will be drawn.

The press will be in full cry and the most resonant soundbite to emerge in the past week will be repeatedly trotted out: “politicians should not be allowed to mark their own homework.”

The outrage of the fourth estate is understandable: a variant on this line was central to defining the public’s perception of the Leveson debate. In that case, it was the media who were not to be allowed to mark their own homework. 

Then, as now on expenses, the line also happens to be true.

Self-regulation doesn’t work. The experience across financial services, politics, media and schools everywhere is quite clear: teacher needs to mark the homework.

So politicians from all parties face a quandry.

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