Posts Tagged ‘Ken Clarke’

Corbyn has doomed Labour. Time to vote tactically for the strongest opposition to Brexit

20/04/2017, 11:02:32 PM

by Robert Williams

Let’s get the expectation management done quickly. Labour is going to be decimated in the election, and likely to be destroyed as a serious party. Not convinced that I’m being too pessimistic? Well, try this.

Ask your Labour candidate, especially if he or she is a sitting MP, two simple questions. Firstly, do they have any confidence in Jeremy Corbyn being Prime Minister? As 80% of them have no confidence in his leadership and refused to serve on his front bench, leaving almost entirely without talent, how on earth can they be taken seriously campaigning to win an election for a Corbyn premiership?

Second, why did Labour MPs, with the honourable exception of 52 rebels, vote to implement Article 50, despite arguing repeatedly that leaving the EU will cause irreparable damage to the country, and hit the poorest hardest (most in Labour seats). And with a leader who has now explicitly ruled out a second referendum and thinks “Brexit can work”.

The main opposition offers no alternative to Brexit. The leader and his shadow chancellor welcome it, because they believe it will hasten the day the electorate realise their historic mistake and embrace far left socialism.

We all know about Jeremy Corbyn’s inept and incompetent leadership. For those that don’t know enough, the ,media will ensure that he makes the headlines every day, in every way. A 50 day campaign relentlessly highlighting his sympathy and support for the IRA, for Hamas, for Hezbollah, reminding us the stench of anti Semitism surrounding many of his allies, the comments he made comparing Osama bin Laden’s shooting with 911, bringing up, unprompted, the Falkland Island’s sovereignty, the nuclear submarines without missiles, the list is almost endless.

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Labour should support the government’s ministry of justice reforms

08/07/2013, 05:00:18 PM

by Ian Moss

Whisper it quietly but there is a long overdue transformation going on in the ministry of justice and Labour should support some of it. Ignoring the tired idea that parliament is at its worst when it agrees, there are a number of proposals coming from Chris Grayling that, if successful, will help reform the shabby, out of date operations of the justice system and produce efficiencies and positive reforms at the same time.

In my short time in the ministry of justice I ran a few heretical ideas up the flagpole, and it is nice to see some of them fluttering away proudly. From my lofty position within criminal justice strategy I had the luxury of not having to actually deliver anything, but equally I had the benefit of being able to roam across the system and look at the hard numbers and the operational approach.

The departmental budget was a mess, and there was no sophisticated plan to deal with the problem, with senior officials putting all of their eggs in to the basket of “reducing prison numbers” and “cutting legal aid”. When Ken Clarke was appointed as secretary of state one director general in my near view literally leapt up and whooped, punching the air. Said official had palpable relief borne out of the belief that, with Ken, they could roll through their unsophisticated plans for cuts. They had to, as there were no other plans.

Unfortunately letting prisoners out was never going to be politically acceptable and slashing legal aid, as we have seen, is a crude and unjust way of getting the budget numbers in order. Ken Clarke may have been a big beast of old but slept through his time in MoJ without any obvious interest in tackling the questions of reform that were necessary. The reforming zeal on which he built his reputation in the 80s and 90s was not in evidence.

MoJ required a wholesale transformation of its operations to release value and improve the system. I think Grayling has got to this conclusion very quickly.  Policy Exchange has also proposed some sensible measures in its Future Prisons report. Labour should take these proposals seriously and lend its political support to a long overdue overhaul and reform of the ministry’s operations.

Firstly, and importantly, large amounts of value in the department are tied up in assets that are in prime locations. Stand on Southwark bridge and look longingly down the beautiful view of the Thames. On the right bank, within plain sight will be the crude, ugly brick building of Southwark crown court. Look upstream and you will see the unedifying sight of city of lLndon’s coroners court.

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Tuesday News Review

06/09/2011, 06:49:16 AM

MPs to examine Murdoch’s claim

MPs will test James Murdoch’s assertion he knew nothing about a crucial email in the phone-hacking scandal when they quiz former News Of The World executives today. The News International chairman has reportedly cancelled a trip to Asia to monitor first-hand what is said at the select committee hearing because he knows his credibility as a witness and a business leader is on the line. When James Murdoch appeared with his father Rupert before the Culture, Media and Sport committee in July, he was asked if he knew about a document known as the “for Neville” email which is seen as critical to the hacking inquiry. The email indicates that the practice of hacking was more widespread than News International (NI) originally admitted. James Murdoch said he was unaware of the document at the time he sanctioned a payout totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Professional Footballers’ Association chief Gordon Taylor, whose phone was hacked by the News of The World (NOTW). His denial of knowledge of the email was subsequently contradicted by Colin Myler, the NOTW’s last editor, and the paper’s former lawyer Tom Crone, both of whom will give their side of the story to the committee. –  Sky News

The former legal manager of the News of the World (NOTW), Tom Crone and the paper’s former editor, Colin Myler, today face questioning from the Commons committee investigating phone hacking, after Scotland Yard confirmed no formal charges were imminent in their own criminal investigation into the scandal. MPs on the culture, media and sport select committee had been concerned that their probe into phone hacking was on the verge of being halted as police investigations throughout the UK intensified and threatened formal charges being brought against key figures at the centre of the hacking affair. However, the Metropolitan Police’s specialist crime directorate investigating phone hacking, will now allow MPs to pursue an uncompromised re-examination of Mr Crone and Mr Myler. In 2009, the two gave evidence to earlier hearings of the committee, saying James Murdoch, News Corporation’s chairman and chief executive, had been informed of the background behind an out-of-court settlement of £700,000 to a hacking victim, football boss Gordon Taylor. – the Independent

Rioters were known criminals

The justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, has blamed the riots that swept across England last month on a “broken penal system” that has failed to rehabilitate a group of hardcore offenders he describes as the “criminal classes”. Revealing for the first time that almost 75% of those aged over 18 charged with offences committed during the riots had prior convictions, Clarke said the civil unrest had laid bare an urgent need for penal reform to stop reoffending among “a feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream in everything but its materialism”. Writing in the Guardian, Clarke dismisses criticism of the severity of sentences handed down to rioters and said judges had been “getting it about right”. However, he adds that punishment alone was “not enough”. “It’s not yet been widely recognised, but the hardcore of the rioters were in fact known criminals. Close to three quarters of those aged 18 or over charged with riot offences already had a prior conviction. That is the legacy of a broken penal system – one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful.” – the Guardian

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has blamed last month’s riots on a ‘broken penal system’ that has failed to rehabilitate what he describes as the hardcore ‘criminal classes’. He revealed that almost 75 per cent of those aged over 18 charged with offences committed during the riots had prior convictions. Mr Clarke said reform was vital to prevent reoffending among ‘a feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream in everything but its materialism’. He also expressed concern at ‘the instinctive criminal behaviour of apparently random passers-by’. His remarks will be seen as bitterly ironic by right-wing Tory MPs, who blame the Justice Secretary for threatening their party’s reputation on law and order with a series of ‘soft sentencing’ policy proposals, which had to be overruled by Downing Street. – Daily Mail

Cameras to be let in the courts

David Cameron is expected to pave the way for the move in a speech on crime planned for later this month. The televised coverage is expected to be limited and will not allow cameras to record witnesses giving evidence. Television cameras are currently banned from most courts in England and Wales, although the proceedings of the new Supreme Court can be broadcast. It is understood cameras will first be allowed in to the court of appeal. That move could be announced today, but the Government is keen to expand it to other courts and is in talks with the judiciary on how that might work. Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, backed the move, comparing it to the broadcasting of parliament. “I’ve been a supporter of this for years,” he said. Baroness Kennedy QC, a human rights lawyer, has argued that cameras would distort trials. – the Telegraph

Lawson invited to join UKIP

With impeccable timing, the UKIP leader Nigel Farage today wrote to the former chancellor Lord Lawson to invite him to join his party. Farage fired off a letter after Lawson called on David Cameron to use any future EU treaty negotiations, in the wake of the crisis in the Eurozone, to call for an end to greater European integration. This is what Farage says: “Nigel Lawson has come to the conclusion that the very approach of the EU is against Britain’s interests, and is calling for the concept of ‘Ever Closer Union’ to be struck from the Treaty. He calls for a new Constitution that makes explicit the limits of EU power. He is also wise enough to know that his proposals have not a cat in hells chance of being accepted by the other 26 countries of the European Union. What Lord Lawson leaves unspoken is what happens when inevitably the EU rejects his idea. If the changes he calls for are not made, then Britain must reserve the right to leave the moribund European Union and strike out as a free-trading good neighbour of the European Union.” – the Guardian

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Thursday News Review

14/07/2011, 06:09:13 AM

Murdoch’s mess

Rupert Murdoch has capitulated to parliament and abandoned News Corporation‘s £8bn bid for BSkyB, as he faced the prospect of appearing in front of a judicial public inquiry to salvage his personal reputation and the right for his company to continue to broadcast in the UK. After 10 days of sustained public outcry over phone hacking, and facing the prospect of a unanimous call by MPs to withdraw his bid for total ownership of the broadcaster, Murdoch succumbed at a morning board meeting in Wapping. The News Corp deputy chairman, Chase Carey, said the bid had become “too difficult to progress in this climate”. The withdrawal represents the biggest single reverse of Murdoch’s mercurial career, but may presage even further commercial damage not just in the UK, but worldwide. News Corp’s current 39% stake in BSkyB could also still be at risk from the “fit and proper” test for ownership being conducted by regulator Ofcom. On a cathartic day at Westminster in which politicians acted as if they had been liberated from the thrall of the Murdoch empire, David Cameron announced a sweeping public inquiry into widespread lawbreaking by the press, alleged corruption by police, and the failure of the initial police investigation into phone hacking. – the Guardian

Rupert Murdoch’s grand plan for a huge expansion of his media empire was in tatters last night as the ‘firestorm’ over phone hacking forced him to withdraw his bid to take over BSkyB. The tycoon shelved his £10billion offer for the satellite broadcaster as it became clear that David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were joining forces in a Commons vote urging him to back off. It came as Mr Cameron relented in the face of intense pressure from Labour and the Liberal Democrats and agreed to a judicial inquiry into press standards, regulation and ownership, and allegations of illegal phone hacking by the News of the World and police corruption. The probe will be headed by Lord Justice Leveson, who prosecuted Britain’s worst female serial killer, Rose West. The Prime Minister said News Corporation had made ‘the right decision’ in dropping its bid to buy the 61 per cent share in BSkyB that it does not own. Mr Cameron also vowed that media executives responsible for the scandal would be barred from owning newspapers or broadcasters. ‘The people involved – whether they were directly responsible for the wrongdoing, sanctioned it, or covered it up, however high or low they go – must not only be brought to justice, they must also have no future role in the running of a media company in our country,’ he said. – Daily Mail

Summoned, but will they turn up

Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and his son James may appear before MPs next week over the phone-hacking scandal, according to the Culture Committee’s chairman. The News International (NI) chief executive, her News Corporation boss and his son, the NI chairman, could be questioned in Westminster next Tuesday. MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee want to ask Mrs Brooks about her knowledge of alleged payments to police, Labour politician Tom Watson said. The committee also wants to quiz James Murdoch on his involvement “in authorising payments to silence” the Professional Footballers’ Association boss Gordon Taylor after his phone was hacked, Mr Watson said. Commons Culture Committee chairman John Whittingdale told Sky News he earlier understood the trio had agreed to give evidence to the committee. But he later clarified that while NI has agreed to co-operate he did not know if that extended to all three appearing before the panel of MPs. – Sky News

MPs are to meet later to decide whether to summon News International chief Rebekah Brooks to appear before them over the phone-hacking scandal. The Commons Culture Committee also wants to question News Corporation executives Rupert and James Murdoch but may be unable to compel them to appear. The company has shut down its News of the World newspaper over the scandal and dropped its bid to control BSkyB. US politicians are also demanding a probe into phone hacking allegations. On Tuesday, the Commons Culture Committee invited Ms Brooks and the Murdochs to give evidence about the phone-hacking scandal at the House of Commons. In a statement, the MPs said that serious questions had arisen about the evidence Ms Brooks and the News of the World’s former editor Andy Coulson gave at a previous hearing in 2003. – BBC News

Gordon goes for it

After years of being courted by Mr Brown and other senior Labour figures, the tabloid dramatically announced it was switching its allegiance to David Cameron’s Conservatives. “Labour’s lost it” proclaimed the best-selling daily paper, alongside a big picture of Gordon Brown. The announcement was timed to cause maximum embarrassment to Labour and dominated the headlines on the day after the then Prime Minister’s keynote conference speech. As a result, Mr Brown is alleged to have said that he would “destroy” Rupert Murdoch. Yesterday, we discovered that during this period in 2009 Mr Brown attempted to order an independent inquiry into the growing allegations of phone hacking at News International. He was blocked by the country’s most senior civil servant, partly on the basis that it was just months before a general election. However, it now appears that Mr Brown secretly orchestrated — or at the very least supported — a campaign among Labour MPs to bring public attention to the phone hacking scandal. On Monday, with political opinion virtually united against Mr Murdoch, Mr Brown finally decided to break cover and “go public” over his alleged long-held concerns over News International’s activities. He spoke of his “tears” at allegations that his son’s medical records had been hacked by The Sun, at the time edited by Rebekah Brooks, and, for good measure, accused another Murdoch paper, The Sunday Times, of hacking his bank accounts. – Daily Telegraph (more…)

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Cameron’s sleight of hand distracts from sentencing reform shambles

22/06/2011, 12:00:19 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Cameron fools the tabloids into thinking he’s delivered his promises on ‘jailing knife thugs’ and ‘bashing burglars’ to distract from the shambles on sentencing reform.

Two weeks ago on Uncut I criticised Cameron’s cynical opportunism over knife crime: exploiting the moral panic in summer 2008 by promising to send everyone caught carrying a knife to jail, a promise he clearly had no serious commitment to delivering. As the latest figures show, never mind everyone caught carrying a knife going to jail, in fact a smaller proportion are going to jail now than under Labour.

In a now familiar pattern, Cameron had managed to escape direct personal damage for this broken promise, shifting the blame on to his coalition partners and cabinet fall-guys – this time Ken Clarke, who has come under sustained and vicious attack from the Sun. But it must have worried Cameron, and when he needed a tough-sounding announcement to distract from the shambles of the U-turn over 50% jail discounts for guilty pleas, it was knife crime he reached for.

He still had no intention of actually delivering his pre-election promise, even if he fooled some, including the Spectator, into thinking he had. What he proposed was different: a new offence of ‘aggravated knife possession’, carrying a mandatory minimum 6 month sentence – but applying to a much narrower category of cases, around 10-15% as many as are caught carrying a knife.

‘Aggravated knife possession’ means using a knife to threaten someone. This is, of course, already a crime – and not one which needs much clarifying. Not only is it already a crime, the sentencing guidelines – dating from that summer of 2008 – already recommend a minimum prison sentence of 6 months. So what Cameron actually announced, was a way to wriggle out of his original promise by narrowing it down to a small minority of cases, an unnecessary new offence to distract from this, and – the only genuine change – a new mandatory minimum in place of a recommended minimum sentence.

Luckily for Cameron, the Evening Standard among others ignored all this boring detail, and fell nicely into his trap with the hoped-for front page splash: “ALL KNIFE THUGS TO GET 6 MONTHS as David Cameron Cracks Down on Crime”.

So far so good. But Cameron had clearly been worried enough about how the day would go, to feel he needed more than one diversion. The second, splashed across today’s Mail and Express front pages, was his plan to “put beyond doubt that home owners and small shop keepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will not be prosecuted”. This predictably sent the Mail and Express into raptures (the Express wins the prize with its “NOW YOU CAN BASH A BURGLAR”) but again, a longer memory – or a few minutes searching the web – would again have revealed Cameron’s history on this issue, and raised questions about how new this announcement really is.

In early 2010, Cameron successfully courted the front pages with another promise, to change the law on self-defence, to allow anything short of a “grossly disproportionate” reaction to a burglar or robber to escape without charge. That would have been a genuine change – albeit an unwise one. Yesterday’s proposal, which retains the quite different test of ‘reasonable force’ for people protecting their lives or their families or their property, appears simply to restate the existing legal position.

When Labour did this kind of thing – announce a new offence, or new legislation, seemingly to distract from how effectively or severely existing laws were being enforced – both the Tories and the Lib Dems complained. In 2008, for example, the then Tory shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling derided it as “using legislation as a public relations exercise”, while Nick Clegg sniffed that “weighing down the statute book with new laws is no substitute for good government”.

But leaving aside the politicians’ hypocrisy and the journalists’ gullibility over these diversionary tactics, what about the U-turn itself – should Labour gloat with the tabloids, or join the Guardian and Independent in mourning it as a setback for liberal reform? As usual, this is a false choice. Today’s impassioned Guardian editorial is right to call Ken Clarke’s original sentencing proposals “the revolution that never was”, but wrong in its analysis.

It is right to criticise Cameron for “backing the Clarke plans in private, then emerging to trash them in public”, but wrong to pretend that Clarke “stood ready to unlock 20 years of failed thinking”. I support sentencing reform, but these were the wrong reforms: carelessly thought out, badly framed, confusingly argued, and ineptly and weakly handled. Rather than lamenting their demise, we should charge Clarke along with the rest of his colleagues with clumsily wasting a once in a generation opportunity, and reinforcing the general assumption among the political class that reforming sentencing is impossible. It isn’t – but it is difficult, and that means careful thought, and careful handling. A smarter approach would have kept Labour onside and spiked the worst of the tabloid attacks. Instead we got an incoherent mix of Clarke’s view that “prison is an expensive way to make bad people worse” (which you can call liberal if you like, though I tend to see it as old-fashioned Tory pragmatism), Osborne’s cuts, and Cameron trying to be all things to all people.

Until yesterday, when Cameron came down against reform, and for the status quo. When he intoned at the press conference that “we will always pay the costs necessary to protect the public and to punish criminals, and we will not reduce the prison population by cutting prison sentences,” you wondered where he was in October, when his Justice Secretary and Chancellor announced that his government would do precisely that. You also wondered if you had slipped back in time to the Labour era. Blair Gibbs of Policy Exchange noted approvingly that “the objective now seems to be to ‘stabilise’ the prison population at around 85,000, not reduce it” – back to the Labour position. Mandatory minimum sentences – favoured by Labour, dismissed by Clarke as “ill-thought out, overly prescriptive, and over-used” – are back.

Cameron’s “three principles” were lifted straight from a New Labour script: “the first duty of government is to protect the public… Serious and dangerous offenders must go to jail and stay there for a long time … breaking the cycle of reoffending needs to be at the heart of the criminal justice system” (yes, even the third: Labour had a target for cutting re-offending, not for increasing the prison population).

We heard the same tired bromides we’ve had from successive Prime Ministers, Home Secretaries and Justice Secretaries about prisons being full of foreigners, and people with mental health issues and drug problems. We heard that the ‘drug free wings’ which were being piloted in a handful of prisons in 2009 have been renamed ‘drug recovery wings’ and are being piloted in a (different) handful of prisons. We were reminded about the Peterborough pilot for getting innovative social investment into schemes for tackling re-offending – a pilot started by Jack Straw.

It is not all bad news. There are sensible proposals which take forward the New Labour approach, including taxing the earnings of prisoners working on licence in the community, and channelling the money to victim support services. And Clarke still plans to go further than Straw or any other Labour minister in tackling the rising legal aid bill. This is both necessary and overdue, and those who oppose the detail of the planned cuts should suggest alternative savings, ideally within the legal aid budget itself. But overall this is a confused, confusing, and hobbled set of proposals.

The Ministry of Justice rather pathetically continues to describe it as ‘radical’, and Cameron gamely asserted yesterday that it would still somehow ‘transform’ the system. But the truth is, having talked up the problems – society was broken, crime rising, the justice system a failure and Labour’s policies hopeless – the Government has abandoned most of the radical solutions, with no replacement in sight. Even the solution urged on Cameron last night by his favourite think tank, Policy Exchange, expanding private prisons, they admit is “a continuation of a process that began under Jack Straw”.

Cameron wants to slip back into the Labour narrative and policies he spent years trying to discredit, and hope that everyone will forget this ever happened. But it’s not so easy. The budget cuts which drove the previous proposals remain in place, and the U-turn has done real damage. For all the ambitious talk, what we are left with for the remainder of this parliament is a cautious nervy incrementalism, implemented by a confused and demoralised department, living under the shadow of future budgetary crises. It reminds me of the Ministry of Defence in recent years – hardly the most reassuring parallel.

Matt Cavanagh was a special adviser on crime and justice under the last Labour government. He writes in a personal capacity.

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Thursday News Review

09/06/2011, 06:46:46 AM

U-turn after U-turn

Dithering David Cameron was ridiculed yesterday after performing yet another spectacular backflip over Government policy. He ordered a rethink on controversial plans to halve jail sentences for violent criminals – shelving proposals put forward by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. It came just two days he was forced into an embarrassing climbdown on sweeping health reforms. And it showed that, unlike one of his predecessors, Margaret Thatcher, this Tory PM definitely IS for turning. The hapless leader’s latest about-face is seen as a humiliating blow for Mr Clarke. – Daily Mirror

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke faced embarrassment yesterday after David Cameron vetoed his proposal to cut by up to half the prison terms for rapists and other violent offenders who make early guilty pleas. It was the Prime Minister’s second major policy U-turn in less than 24 hours following his concessions on NHS reform. Mr Clarke’s plans to cut up to 50 per cent from sentences of offenders who plead guilty early (an increase from 33 per cent) faced savage criticism from Tory right-wingers. The Independent understands that ministers are considering a two-tier scheme, under which a maximum 33 per cent discount will be retained for the most severe crimes such as rape, assault and armed robbery but 50 per cent could be introduced for less serious offences. The latter option is being backed by Mr Clarke and Liberal Democrat ministers, while many Tories are pressing for the 50 per cent proposal to be scrapped outright. – the Independent

Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke has been forced by Number 10 to abandon a plan to give rapists, and other serious offenders, a 50% sentence discount in return for early guilty pleas, but he is fiercely resisting Treasury demands to make his justice ministry bear the multi-million pound cost. Clarke had proposed to increase the discount from 33% to 50% for all offenders, so saving £130m from a departmental budget being slashed by a quarter. Following talks with David Cameron over the past 48 hours, Clarke accepted rapists will now be excluded, but he is battling to retain the extra discount for less serious offences, a policy that would free up badly needed prison places. In difficult talks yesterday with the Treasury chief secretary, Danny Alexander, Clarke pointed out he had last year won Treasury agreement that if the government’s so-called rehabilitation revolution did not deliver a lower jail population, then the Treasury would bear the costs from the reserve. – the Guardian

Another U-turn on pensions possible

Senior Liberal Democrats are understood to be determined to reverse the plans. Jenny Willott, the Lib Dem backbench spokeswoman on pensions, has also called for the proposals to be reconsidered. But the Treasury is likely to fiercely resist attempts to unpick the state pension age changes, which will save the taxpayer billions in the years ahead, unless they can be made to pay for themselves. Former Lib Dem party leader Charles Kennedy, John Hemming and Annette Brooke are among those who have opposed the changes. While Tory MPs Peter Bottomley, James Gray and Chloe Smith have asked for the rules to be amended. She told the Commons: ‘Women currently in their late 50s are getting a very bad deal. No men will see their state pension age increase by more than a year but half a million women will.’ – Daily Mail

Tory and Lib Dem rebels sided with Labour in raising concerns about the impact a decision to raise it to 66 by 2018 will have on around 300,000 women born in 1953 and 1954. They have been given just seven years notice. David Cameron was challenged over it by Lib Dem Annette Brook at PM’s Questions. She urged him to review it, saying: “The women affected will be asked to work up to two extra years over and above what they had planned for, whereas men will be asked to work only an extra year. The discrimination concerns me.” Mr Cameron said he “understood” but argued pensioners would be better off in increased pension payments agreed by the Coalition. – Daily Express

Politicians pay tribute to Prince Philip at 90

Taking time out after Prime Minister’s Questions to propose a “humble address” to be presented to the Queen to mark the occasion, Mr Cameron described the Duke as “a source of rock solid strength” during his record-breaking 59 years as consort. Ed Miliband, the leader of the Opposition, was equally effusive, saying the Duke “embodies qualities of duty, loyalty public service and good humour – great British qualities”. But it was the two leaders’ frequent references to the Duke’s famed sense of mischief that drew the biggest response from the House. Mr Cameron promised to keep his speech short, quoting the Duke’s observation that “the mind cannot absorb what the backside cannot endure”, and shared his favourite blunt comment by the Duke, when he was once asked how his flight had been. “Have you ever been on a plane?” the Duke had told a dignitary. “Well, you know how it goes up in the air and comes down again – it was like that.” – Daily Telegraph

Its up to you Carwyn

Labour leader Ed Miliband has said that policies taken forward by Carwyn Jones’ Welsh Government would shape his party’s next UK manifesto – and he gave the First Minister a free hand to negotiate coalition deals with either Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats. Speaking in a London press conference yesterday, Mr Miliband made it clear he would not oppose Assembly link-ups with Plaid or the Lib Dems if the Welsh Labour leader considered these necessary. He said: “These are decisions for him. He’s an excellent First Minister. “He’s done a brilliant job since he’s taken over from Rhodri Morgan. Those kind of decisions are for him.” – Western Mail

Encouraging for Labour, but worrying figures for Ed

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are struggling to improve their image with voters while David Cameron remains almost twice as popular as his two rival leaders.  After a mini-revival early this year, the Liberal Democrats are back at the 11 per cent rating to which they slumped last year after their tuition fees U-turn. Labour (40 per cent) enjoys a four-point advantage over the Tories (36 per cent). Mr Cameron, dubbed “Teflon Man” by Tory aides, appears to float above the political fray. Mr Clegg seems to be the fall guy for ministers’ unpopular decisions while Mr Miliband makes little impact on voters. Mr Clegg’s personal ratings have hit a new low. ComRes found only 21 per cent believe he is a good leader. Professor Curtice said: “There must now be question marks about Clegg’s ability to recover from his unpopularity, which is beginning to be on a par with that endured by Gordon Brown. Leaders rarely recover popularity once most of the public have decided to write them off.” There is little either for Mr Miliband to celebrate. ComRes found only 22 per cent deem him a good leader, compared with Mr Cameron’s 39 per cent. Ominously for Labour, none of the last three opposition leaders with a negative satisfaction rating after eight months in the post – William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Howard – went on to become prime minister. – the Independent

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Knife crime: Cameron’s pre-election lies and subsequent betrayal

06/06/2011, 03:00:54 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Five years ago, shortly after he became Conservative leader, David Cameron made a speech in which he called on politicians to “stop making incredible promises that the public do not believe they will keep”. He announced a “taskforce” that would help him sort out this problem. The man he asked to chair it was Ken Clarke.

Last week, Ken Clarke’s department released figures showing how he and Cameron are getting on with one particular promise Cameron made loudly and often while in opposition: that anyone caught carrying a knife would go to jail.

In fact, Clarke had already let slip back in December that this promise had been abandoned. But the latest figures show that, never mind everyone caught carrying a knife going to jail, in fact, a smaller proportion are going to jail now than under Labour. This was greeted with predictable outrage by the Sun, Telegraph and others who have campaigned for tougher sentences on knife crime.

Tory MPs have also reacted angrily, blaming either Clarke, the Liberal Democrats, or the judges. But on this issue, the blame must go to the top. Back in 2008, it was David Cameron who personally led the Conservatives’ attack on Labour’s response to the moral panic over knife crime then gripping the country. He encouraged the media and the public to believe it was the job not of judges but of politicians, and in particular the prime minister, to ensure that people caught carrying a knife were getting the punishment they deserved. He made his position clear in July 2008, in an exclusive interview with the Sun: “anyone caught carrying a knife will be jailed under a Tory Government, David Cameron vows today. The Conservative leader declares automatic jail terms for carrying a dangerous knife is the only way of smashing the current epidemic gripping broken Britain”.

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Let’s leave the lapel badges in the 1980s and focus on what matters

01/06/2011, 09:46:17 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Labour’s history is pockmarked with prolonged periods of opposition following ejection from office; none more so than during those 18 wasted years in the 80s and 90s.

The explanation for that generation in the wilderness is familiar enough: the party’s pitch to the country was tone deaf. On the economy, law and order, defence and a hundred other issues Labour had nothing to say that chimed with what people wanted to hear.

The party was more bothered with pleasing its own fissiparous cliques; the wannabe Dave Sparts, the bedsit revolutionaries, the local government crackpots who refused to set a rate, the headbangers of Militant.

The “loony left” were responsible for torpedoing Labour’s reputation and sinking the party’s chances with their puerile antics in Labour councils up and down the country and through their reckless control of the party’s policy-making machinery.

Fringe causes were put before mainstream concerns, with many in the party seriously accepting the flawed logic that stapling together a collection of special interest groups would create a counterweight to Thatcher’s electoral coalition of aspirational voters.

No prizes for guessing how successful that idea was.

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Lessons from Ken week: the fake allure of “false choice”

24/05/2011, 07:00:41 AM

by Dan Hodges

“It’s a false choice”, we were told. Labour could let the liberals have their cake, and allow the squeezed middle to gorge on it as well.

Those warning that their party must decide between appealing to the “progressive majority”, and our lost small “c” conservative base, were trouble makers. Jaded soldiers, trying to fight the last war. Blairite “ultras”, unwilling or unable to come to terms with the brave world of the new politics.

There was no need to choose. To do so would be painful and divisive. Premature. We have had our fill of pain and division. Surely we’ve earned the right to rest awhile?

So rest we did.

Until last Wednesday. When the justice secretary barged in on Victoria Derbyshire, told her to stop being such a silly girl, and blithely explained that some rapes were worse than others and letting out the perpetrators half way through their sentences was a jolly good thing for their victims, and a jolly good thing for the country as well.

At which point, the centre-left rose as one. Took a deep breath. And went screamingly, maniacally, insane.

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There’s no excuse. Ken Clarke should be sacked.

21/05/2011, 10:30:40 AM

by Dennis Kavanagh

It’s 1991. A young and charismatic Bill Clinton indicates that he will seek the nomination of the Democrat party for president; the Super Nintendo is launched; the first gulf war is in full swing and good old Lord Lane in the UK abolishes the “anachronistic and offensive” marital rape exemption in R v R.

Shocked? Don’t be. The current rape debate really is taking place in a country where you could quite lawfully rape your wife up until the invention of 16 bit gaming technology. While Bush Snr was threatening to bomb Sadaam back to the stone age, Fred Flinstone sexual values were in full swing over in Blighty. Little surprise, then, that the backdrop to the latest discussion over rape takes place in a country where around 60,000 women are raped every year – the majority by partners or men they know – and only a tiny fraction, around one in ten, report it to the police. Of these few cases, less than 7% result in conviction according to rape crises England and Wales.

Rape and offences of assault by penetration are in this unique position because they’re often difficult evidentially. They’re not taken seriously and a set of myths have grown up around rape that make securing convictions the exception rather than the rule.

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