Posts Tagged ‘Alexis Jay’

Could Labour lose the South Yorkshire police commissioner by-election?

29/10/2014, 10:58:25 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Tomorrow, Labour faces a massive electoral test that hasn’t, so far, garnered much publicity. Forget Heywood and Middleton, if Labour loses the by-election for a new Police and Crime Commissioner in South Yorkshire, deepest red Labour territory and the political backyard of Ed Miliband and a swathe of the shadow cabinet, the fallout will be immense.

Twelve months ago, the concept of Labour faring badly here would have been unthinkable. In the 2012 Rotherham by-election, caused by the resignation of Denis MacShane for fiddling his expenses, Labour held on comfortably, with more than double the share of the vote of second-placed UKIP.

That was then. Now, with the Rotherham child grooming scandal still reverberating – in all its three-dimensional awfulness – bookies have UKIP hot on Labour’s heels as we enter the last day of campaigning.

As I wrote at the time, the party’s initial response to the Rotherham scandal was slow and uncertain. Not much has changed since. Indeed, there have not been, as far as I am aware, any visits by Ed Miliband to reassure people there that this bleak episode in the party’s management of the town will not be repeated. Contrition has been thin on the ground.

Let’s be clear: the systematic abuse of children and young girls by gangs of Pakistani-heritage men in the town was unforgivable. Girls in care were thrown to the wolves by inept council officials who put political correctness ahead of decency and common sense. Grooming was seen as girls making “informed choices”. The police couldn’t have cared less. There is no other way of dressing it up. There is no missing context. This was a vile episode. Some heads have rolled – and deservedly so. Others should follow.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report made clear that there were at least 1,400 victims. This is her conservative estimate, as young Pakistani girls and boys were also abused, but are less like to report it for cultural reasons.

And the shame for it rests squarely at Labour’s door. The ‘wicked’ Tories weren’t to blame. Neither were the Lib Dems or UKIP. Between them, a Labour council and Labour-controlled police force created this mess. Meanwhile, the town’s MPs were apparently blissfully unaware.


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We need a dose of PR to improve our municipal one-party states

04/09/2014, 01:47:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

One of the unremarked parts of Alexis Jay’s shocking report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was her finding that the council’s scrutiny function had completely failed to do its job.

As in so many areas where a single party dominates the electoral landscape (Labour has 49 out of 63 seats on Rotherham council), responsibility for keeping tabs on the decisions of the council falls to councillors of the same party. The problem with this arrangement should be obvious enough.

Labour has controlled the town for 80 years. Even a bruising by-election campaign back in 2012, when it’s MP, Denis MacShane, was sent to jail for fiddling his expenses, did little to stop the Labour juggernaut, with current Labour MP, Sarah Champion, slotting in as his replacement.

It’s worth considering, however, that the Conservatives received 9.5 per cent of the votes back in June’s local elections, but won nothing for their trouble. ‘That’s how it works’ comes the unsympathetic reply, but the uncomfortable fact remains that big majorities in politics seldom create better administrations.

Rather than producing strong, outward-looking leaders who need to compete to succeed, stacking-up large majorities can result in fiefs run by complacent, inward-looking political hacks instead.

The effort needed to manage a large group absorbs political energy. Stymieing internal dissent becomes a preoccupation. There are only so many top jobs to gift to people, so cliques form. Back-biting begins. Fixing becomes a necessity.

In the interests of administrative efficiency, electoral fairness and voter engagement, a bit of competition can mix things up.

This is where the impulse of any political party to hoover-up seats and dominate all it surveys intersects messily with the need for good government and political plurality.

However, rather than try to remedy the situation with a move to full-blown proportional representation, which would shatter the valuable link between politician and local community, there is a simple hybrid reform to level the playing field a bit that could be applied to larger, three-member ward unitary councils.

Two seats in each ward should be contested on the usual first-past-the-post system with the remaining third of council seats allotted on the basis of parties’ share of the vote across the borough. (In Rotherham, this would leave the Tories with six seats out of sixty-three).

This would be fairer, energise the local political culture, create some useful political competition and lead to better scrutiny of council decisions. At the very least, it would force governing parties to up their game.

After all, Rotherham shows us what happens when that doesn’t happen.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse should apply to politicians too

01/09/2014, 11:56:41 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has pledged that a Labour government will bring in a new obligation to report suspected child sexual abuse and to make its concealment a criminal offence. As she told The Observer:

“We are still seeing the same mistakes being made, victims not being listened to. It is now time to have the mandatory duty to report, to make clear that cultural change has to take place in every institution. It will also challenge the idea that any professional should be tempted to think that things can be solved quietly or privately by brushing them under the carpet. A clear signal needs to be put out that people should not put institutional reputation before protecting children.”

Of course, it is depressing that this even needs to be codified in law, but after the sheer scale of institutional failure revealed in Alexis Jay’s report into Rotherham, pledging to enact what most decent people would regard as the bleeding obvious is sadly necessary.

But this new law should stretch beyond social workers, teachers and council officials. Any requirement for mandatory reporting should also apply to councillors and MPs too. They should be made to record, in writing, any approach from a constituent about child sexual exploitation and offer up any third party intelligence they receive, referring the matter on to the police and social services.

They must be included in the new law as they are often the first port of call for families seeking justice and for those trying to tip-off the authorities about an issue. Frankly, good councillors and constituency MPs should already know what is going on in their areas and be perfectly willing to share this with the authorities.

But, unfortunately, they sometimes face other considerations. As Rotherham’s Labour MP (between 1994-2012), Denis MacShane, put it the other day: “I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat if I may put it like that.” While maintaining that no-one came to him with details of child abuse, he concedes that he should have “burrowed into” the issue.

Damn right he should have. And so should his colleagues. So as well as being obliged to report abuse, might we also consider a charge of wilful neglect in public office? MPs and councillors who don’t know that their vulnerable constituents are being raped and abused on an industrial scale right under their noses are not fit to represent them and should be drummed out of public office.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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Why has Labour been so slow to react to Rotherham?

28/08/2014, 09:04:05 AM

by Kevin Meagher

No-one can plausibly say they didn’t expect Professor Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual abuse in Rotherham to be ground-breaking. The signals have been there all along.

There was the damning Ofsted report into the council’s children’s services in 2009. The conviction of a gang of five Pakistani men for child abuse in 2010. Times’ journalist Andrew Norfolk’s further expose in 2012.  The Home Affairs Committee’s report in 2013. Then Rotherham Council commissioned Professor Jay to investigate and provide recommendations on what went wrong.

So, given it was nigh on inevitable that her report would identify grievous mistakes were made by public agencies in dealing with child sexual abuse, why was Labour not ready this week to dole out suspensions for those who had manifestly failed in their roles as Labour representatives?

Why was Roger Stone, the leader of Rotherham Council, not pushed out as soon as it was clear the scale of the abuse in the town was far worse than previously thought?

Why was South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, not also told he would have to go, given the gravity of the offences on his watch as cabinet member for children’s services, when key reports alerting the council leadership to the problem were not actioned?

Why were Rotherham’s four MPs not out there from the start, reassuring the town that they too shared the anger of local people? Why were journalists complaining this week that they had to chase them for a reaction to the report?

Indeed, why was it hours before Labour’s frontbench responded? And why does Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper’s statement skate around the central issue: that the main perpetrators of this abuse were Pakistani men?

And in a week when the party announced a new frontbench portfolio for violence against women and girls, why was Seema Malhotra not immediately despatched to Rotherham to show solidarity with the abused young women of the town – and to engage with Pakistani women who told Professor Jay that the problem facing their community was being ignored?

Ultimately, why has Ed Miliband simply not demanded action? To show leadership, reassure core Labour voters, show he is in touch, or even just to defend Labour’s battered reputation?

And so we are left with Shaun Wright quitting the party in order to hang on as police commissioner and ride out his term, trousering £85,000 a year as he does so.

By dawdling, Labour, has now deprived itself of the opportunity to send him packing.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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Shaun Wright should go, but, really, why would he want to?

27/08/2014, 07:20:08 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Of course Shaun Wright won’t resign as the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, why would he? For starters, he’s earning 85k a year and surely knows his political career is shredded. Ed Miliband has no mechanism to remove him, and if he can withstand the personal brickbats, he may think he can hang on in until his term of office ends in 2016. After all, he’s directly-elected so it’s his mandate, even it came courtesy of just 14.9 per cent of the electorate.

Indeed, given the government’s original intention with police and crime commissioners was to encourage independents to stand, Wright may consider that, unencumbered from party allegiance, he is an embodiment of the true spirit of what an elected police and crime commissioner should be.

He may even delude himself that he is the best person to actually fix what he is, in part, responsible for breaking. He was, after all, Rotherham Council’s executive member for children’s services between 2005-2010 when the abuses laid bare in Alexis Jay’s report were first reported to council chiefs but no action was taken.

For South Yorkshire Police, dealing with a snaking line of scandals ranging from Hillsborough to the fact it tasers someone every two weeks, Wright’s predicament represents something of an opportunity. With the commissioner effectively emasculated, power drains away from him and back to the Chief Constable and senior officers.

For South Yorkshire Police, this is the natural order of things. This is the force, let us not forget, that instituted a cover-up so large and mendacious after the Hillsborough disaster that it stretched from the then Chief Constable to frontline officers, who were instructed to fabricate witness statements to lay culpability at the door of innocent Liverpool fans. If ever a police force needed the disinfectant of public accountability, it is South Yorkshire’s.

None of this is to argue that Wright shouldn’t resign, he should. He is a disgrace. A busted flush. An embarrassment. But he is, unfortunately, symptomatic of a municipal political class that takes the money for ostensibly making decisions, but pays no attention, or simply isn’t smart enough, to actually understand the implications of those decisions.

This explains why he didn’t act to protect young girls from gang rape when he should have done.

And it is because of that shaming failure that he should quit today.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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The poor girls of Rotherham were victims of institutional anti-racism

27/08/2014, 04:48:01 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council – where everyone matters’. It’s an easy boast to emblazon on a corporate logo, but it’s a claim that didn’t stretch to the 1,400 local girls groomed, abused, raped and terrorised by vicious gangs of Pakistani-heritage men in the town.

There is no getting around that central fact. Yesterday’s independent report by Professor Alexis Jay into child sexual exploitation in the town was an indictment of the ‘institutional anti-racism’, that led educated, middle-class professionals in the council and police to ignore the evidence before them.

The report makes clear the perpetrators were overwhelmingly of Pakistani-heritage, although council and police officials sought to “downplay the ethnic dimension” through  a misplaced desire not to stoke community tensions. But denial of reality simply leads to inaction.

And what a sorry tale of inaction this was. Professor Jay quotes the council’s former deputy leader, Jahangir Akhtar, (forced to resign in 2013), who thought a spate of convictions against Pakistani-heritage men for child sexual exploitation in 2010 was “a one-off”. This, Professor Jay concludes, was “at best naïve, and at worst ignoring a politically inconvenient truth.”

The real truth is that Labour wants Pakistani votes, and, as in some many other towns, simply sub-contracts its relationship with minority communities to self-appointed community leaders who ‘deliver’ at election time. There is no interest in exploring problems from within these communities. This led, the report notes, to a “widespread perception” throughout the council that the race of offenders was a no-go area. Yet one of the most telling observations in the 153-page report came from Pakistani-heritage women in the town who believe there is “wholesale denial” of child sexual exploitation within their community.

But the girls of Rotherham were also guilty of shameful indifference by public authorities. Officers from South Yorkshire Police simply regarded these poor young women as “slappers”. This dovetails with the warped view of politically-correct social workers that girls as young as eleven were somehow making “informed choices” about whether to have sex with gangs of men. The net result was the same: this was not abuse as they had consented.


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