Talking Politics
  • As former justice secretary Chris Grayling used to regularly say: there is no prison crisis. It’s too early yet to know if his successor, Michael Gove, agrees. But one of the items which will undoubtable make its way across his desk this week is the report into Pentonville prison. It suggests otherwise.

    In September 2013, prison inspector Nick Hardwick warned that Pentonville was performing badly and needed to be urgently turned around. There followed several months in which the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) did very little, except for deny that there was a prison crisis and berate those who suggested otherwise. In those 17 months the situation deteriorated.

    It is, beyond anything else, a question of capacity. The Victorian prison holds 1,200 adults and young adult men, including some of the most “demanding and needy” prisoners. It has an extremely high turnover, with 100 new prisoners arriving every week. There are very high levels of staff sickness and ongoing recruitment problems. The

    Read More »from Pentonville: An imaginary disaster in an imaginary prison crisis
  • After six weeks Michael Gove has emerged from studying the state of the justice system and issued his opening proclamation. He’ll have been pleased by the reception. Despite there being very little meat on the bones, it has won considerable press attention with big write-ups in the major papers.

    Partly that’s due to good timing. We’re not quite in silly season, but political news from Westminster is growing increasingly scarce and news desks are desperate to move on from Greece and the Eurozone. But the coverage dedicated to this speech is partly a testament to Gove himself. He’s known as a fighter. So even though there is more rhetoric than policy in this speech, it’s being treated as a preview of the battle with the legal industry which Gove will invariably end up in. The newspapers today are like those kids at school who would notify everyone in the playground of a fight when two boys looked like they were about to go at it. “Fight! Fight! Read all about it”

    Before the fight starts –

    Read More »from Gove decoded: Is the new justice secretary serious about fixing the justice system?
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    One of the ironies of the BBC is that it conducts its battles with government so nervously, given their comparative levels of public trust. As poll after poll shows, people don’t trust the government, but they do trust, and like, the BBC. And yet two stories from this weekend – Cameron’s might-have-been-a-joke comment that he’d close the BBC down and director general Tony Hall’s acceptance that the licence fee would only last another ten years – showed how disconnected the BBC’s confidence is from its performance.

    Nick Robinson’s odd revelation yesterday that the prime minister had said he would “close them down after the election” could have been a joke. But, as he wrote afterwards, “it doesn’t really matter… the people who did [work for the BBC] regarded it as yet another bit of pressure and a sort of sense of ‘don’t forget who’s boss here’”.

    A sense took hold among senior Tories during the election that the BBC was fighting for a Labour victory. It was an absurd charge which did more

    Read More »from BBC must have confidence in itself if it's to survive coming battle with government
  • The government’s drug experts could not be described as radical libertarians. They are a conservative bunch, assessing drug harms and usually reaching a decision which recommends maintaining or adopting a prohibitionist stance against various narcotics. But even they have now become too liberal for the Home Office.

    One of the least-noticed aspects of the new psychoactive substances bill is that it effectively scraps the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). For years this relatively timid body has been a thorn in the government’s side. Its former boss, David Nutt, had to resign when he pointed out various statistical truths about the minimal risk of ecstasy to the then-home secretary, Alan Johnson. It recently advised the government not to ban the relatively harmless drug khat, which it ignored. It then recommended that it refrain from banning the even more harmless drug nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. It ignored this too.

    It is now clear that the council’s days are

    Read More »from The government is silencing its own drug experts
  • David Cameron wants you to look at the causes of terrorism, but not too closely.

    His speech on extremism and terrorism today suggests the Muslim community is “quietly condoning” anti-Western ideology and that this is behind the rise in British Muslims travelling to fight and die for Isis in Syria.

    This is how Cameron operates, in case after case. It is not quite his fault. It is the fault of conservatism. When your primary analysis is that things should stay roughly as they are, you are liable to come up with highly superficial assessments of why they might have gone wrong.

    The key section of Cameron’s speech – which was briefed to journalists overnight – is worth quoting in full. It is rather clunky, I’m afraid, but revealing.

    “The question is: how do people arrive at this worldview? I am clear that one of the reasons is that there are people who hold some of these views who don’t go as far as advocating violence, but do buy into some of these prejudices giving the extreme Islamist

    Read More »from We are all victims of Cameron's complacency on terrorism
  • Last night confirmed what everyone already thought: Labour is in serious trouble. Any Tory tuning in will have been immensely comforted by the spectacle of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall in Labour’s first leadership hustings.

    None of the candidates are particularly inspiring. None offered a political assessment of the country or the party which was in any way original or revealing. Two of them - Burnham and Cooper - seemed to have no political assessments to offer at all. The remaining two were playing old tunes, Corbyn from 80s, Kendall from the 90s.

    Kendall’s politics happen to be the most misguided of all the candidates. She wants to embrace the right in a way which does not correspond to the evidence of electoral demand but instead follows the prescriptions of right-wing newspapers. Such a move would give up on Scotland, worsen the party’s performance in its heartland and try to fight the Tories in a battlefield of their choosing, where they are

    Read More »from Labour hustings verdict: The candidates are awful, but Kendall is probably the least awful
  • Fight for medicinal cannabis reaches the Lords

    By Peter Reynolds

    Yesterday, Baroness Molly Meacher asked a question about cannabis in the House of Lords. The question was whether cannabis could be re-scheduled out of schedule one - which determines that it has no medicinal value - to schedule two or three, which would allow doctors to prescribe it and researchers to use it more easily in studies and clinical trials.

    The government behaved exactly as expected.  The most generous interpretation is that its spokesman, Lord Bates, was misinformed. His first response to Lady Meacher’s question was to parrot the Home Office’s usual line on cannabis about it being a harmful drug etc etc.

    A video of the eight minute debate is available here.  A full transcript is here.

    This, of course, is nothing to do with medicinal use.  Most medicines are far more harmful than cannabis and any potential harms are traded off against therapeutic benefit.  The government’s standard and dishonest line is to answer questions on medicinal use with wildly

    Read More »from Fight for medicinal cannabis reaches the Lords
  • By Marissa Begonia

    For a month, I couldn’t make-up my mind if my charity would celebrate International Domestic Workers Day.  Justice 4 Domestic Workers was still reeling from our defeat over the modern slavery bill. Some felt we had nothing to celebrate. We  had campaigned and lobbied MPs and the Lords tirelessly, asking them to give foreign domestic workers in the UK the right to change their employer and thereby escape abuse. We dreamed up publicity stunts – cleaning the pavements of Whitehall, or delivering ‘No To Slavery’ postcards to No10. We are a small charity, run entirely by current foreign domestic workers living in the UK, and we use our only day off each week to organise, campaign, and protect each other.

    It was a 'ping pong’ bill, bouncing between the Lords and the Commons. At the last moment, we convinced members of the House of Lords to include a clause removing the disastrous “tied visa”, a regime introduced by the government in April 2012 which prevented domestic

    Read More »from Modern day slavery - how domestic workers are left at the mercy of their employer
  • There are some political speeches which are so brazenly hypocritical you have to presume they’re doing it on purpose. David Cameron’s Magna Carta speech today is firmly in that category. In a short statement, the prime minister will reel off accomplishments which he himself has done his best to destroy during his time in government. It is a quite staggering moment of insincerity.

    “Eight hundred years ago, on this day, King John put his seal to a document that would change the world,” the prime minister starts. “We talk about the ‘law of the land’ and this is the very land where that law – and the rights that flow from it – took root.”

    He then lists what the law of the land entails:

    “The limits of executive power, guaranteed access to justice, the belief that there should be something called the rule of law, that there shouldn’t be imprisonment without trial. Magna Carta introduced the idea that we should write these things down and live by them. That might sound like a small thing to us

    Read More »from Cameron has betrayed every principle he mentions in his Magna Carta speech
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    A despairing assessment has conquered Labour since the general election. Roughly speaking, it goes like this: a left wing proposition was put to the country and failed, revealing the fundamentally conservative mentality of the British electorate. But even if the party darts to the centre-right, which it must, it will still not be able to win in 2020. With Scotland lost (you’ll notice this assessment implicitly gives up on ever winning it back) and the Tories set to launch a self-serving boundary review, the party will need a 12.5% lead over the Tories to win. The new leader will only be able to lay the foundation of a win in 2025.

    It is a song of despair, based on nothing but pessimism and failure of imagination. The truth is that even with a systemic advantage, the Tories are beatable. They won just 36.9% of the vote. They are about to enter into a two-year civil war over Europe. They have a majority of 12, which will be chipped away at by by-elections and made torturous by a

    Read More »from Labour can win in 2020 – but it has to pause this leadership contest


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