Talking Politics
  • By Jenny Bourne

    The family and friends of Sandra Bland have questions. They want to know how on earth this young and healthy black woman, who was pulled over by police for a minor traffic violation in Texas on July 10th, ended up dead in a Waller County cell from asphyxiation three days later.

    The officials imply she took her own life by hanging. Her supporters say that’s not credible.There has been an outcry in the US over this suspicious death in custody - just one of the many recent deaths of African Americans in custody or on the streets at the hands of trigger-happy local police officers. According to a survey by the Guardian, 664 people have died in policecustody in the US this year, of which 174 have been black. They are four times more likely than whites to be custody death victims.

    These recent US deaths and the subsequent community protests have made the headlines in the UK, too. This is somewhat ironic since the stories of black people who die in custody here rarely make the

    Read More »from Where is the outrage over Britain's Sandra Blands?
  • You don’t have to wait for the psychoactive substances bill to become law for the absurd spectacle of its enforcement. If you want a quick preview of what happens when society truly loses its mind over drugs, pop down to Lambeth after August 17th, when they’ll be imposing a ‘public spaces protection order’ banning…. well, pretty much everything.

    People within the 'restricted area’ will not be able to “ingest, inhale, inject, smoke, possess or otherwise use"… "substances with the capacity to stimulate or depress the central nervous system” according to the order.

    As has been well documented, virtually anything can “stimulate or depress” the central nervous system, including oxygen, flowers, incense, or paint. There’s no point going on. The list is endless. They might as well have written this thing up in crayons. Except it’s possible the crayons themselves would be banned by it.

    There are exemptions for alcohol (of course) as well as “substances used for a valid and demonstrable medicinal

    Read More »from The madness begins: Lambeth bans everything in legal high crack-down
  • By Steve Moore

    Cast your mind back to November 15th 2012. A new dawn for democracy in England and Wales, was it not? Alas 85% of us had better things to do rather than take the time out to vote for a local police and crime commissioner (PCC). But 41 were duly elected anyway to provide direct local links between the public and the police.

    Hardly anyone noticed or much cared. Like so much of the ‘big society’, the innovation survived just about unscathed from its first exposure to public apathy. No wonder the then-Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude proclaimed that “transferring power out of Whitehall was like trying to pull chewing gum of your shoe”.

    Then last week Ron Hogg emerged into the light. Hogg is an avuncular Scottish teacher turned police officer, who previously made his name by heading up the police unit attached to the England World Cup supporters in 2002. He’s served as a PCC for Durham for four years. During his tenure Hogg started a dialogue with Michael Fisher (aka Ziggy

    Read More »from Police commissioners offer fresh hope for cannabis reform
  • On the morning of June 30th, they banned smoking in Melbourne prison. By afternoon, one of the worst riots in recent Australian penal history had broken out. Hundreds of inmates lit fires, broke walls and smashed windows in a 15-hour outbreak of disorder. Staff were evacuated and police units sent in. Footage from news helicopters showed prisoners wandering the grounds with their faces covered and sticks in their hands knocking down doors.

    By the next week, Western Australia’s correctional services minister, Joe Francis, decided he wouldn’t be following Victoria’s example. But in the UK, a recent court battle has seen a judge rule that there is no prison exemption from the smoking ban. Under fierce pressure from Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) and other anti-smoking groups, the government is planning on a pilot scheme banning smoking in prisons in Wales and the south-west, with a view to an eventual nationwide roll-out.

    “It would be crazy,” former prisoner Stephen Gedge says. “If

    Read More »from 'It'll be hell': The view from inside prison about a smoking ban
  • One key aspect has been missing from Michael Gove’s growing commitment to a more liberal prison policy: an understanding of numbers. After a very well-received speech earlier this month in which he outlined his thinking on the subject, the new justice secretary was asked if he recognised that without reducing the number of prisoners, and therefore improving the staff-to-inmate ratio, it would be impossible to give them the attention they needed for rehabilitation.

    Gove parked it. He gave what I thought to be a certain nod-of-the-head – or at least he did not rule it out. But he refused to say that prisoner numbers needed to be reduced.

    Today, in a remarkable statement from chief prison inspector Nick Hardwick, that point was made again, this time more forcefully. It came at the end of a damning report on conditions in Wandsworth prison, which holds 1,630 adult men – 70% of its certified normal accommodation of 963. Meanwhile, there were “severe staffing shortages” – where staff were down

    Read More »from Prison inspector to Gove: You need to reduce prison numbers
  • After a very drab and lifeless Labour leadership race, the sudden surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn has at last provided some entertainment by scaring the hell out of most media commentators. A private poll reported by the Mirror this morning showed he had actually extended his lead over his rivals, with Yvette Cooper skipping over Andy Burnham to take the second spot while Liz Kendall, the only one of the candidates who has even a flicker of a chance of winning, trails in fourth.

    The idea that a left-winger could win the Labour leadership is being treated as akin to a swarm of locusts blotting out the sun. The newspapers which spent so long praising Nigel Farage’s hard-right agenda as plain-speaking, man-of-the-people political genius are now falling over themselves to warn Labour off electing someone radical on the left. Labour officials are double-checking everyone who signs up to the party as a potential ‘entryist’. The party is as terrified of democracy as it has ever been. Its

    Read More »from What Jeremy Corbyn could learn from Liz Kendall
  • Britain loves to pat itself on its back. We love due process and the rule of law. But if the last couple of days demonstrate anything, it’s that we’re as susceptible to mob rule as anywhere else. But instead of pitchforks we use grand phrases like ‘bringing into disrepute’ and 'undermining public confidence’. It adds up to the same thing. The rules and laws don’t matter. What matters is whatever the press and the public demand.

    This morning Lord Sewel quit the House of Lords. The pressure on him was immense. The police were battering down his front door, the prime minister was making critical statements, the radio airwaves were jammed with parliamentarians crawling over themselves to condemn him. He had been judged quite independently of any formal process.

    Two reasons were given for why he had to go immediately rather than be investigated by the standards committee: that it would take too long and that they might not come to the conclusion everyone had already decided they had to come

    Read More »from Lord Sewel is the latest victim of British mob rule
  • As surely as night follows day, calls for departmental cost-cutting are met by promises to privatise more services. It seems intuitive - farm it all out to the private sector and cut your costs. And that’s not even to mention the media-saturated propaganda about how much more efficient the private sector is, how the profit motive means it gets more things done better for less money than the public sector.

    So with Michael Gove facing up to 40% cuts to his department, he’ll likely be tempted to follow the same route. Before he does so he should look at the statistics his owndepartment published earlier this month. At the request of the justice select committee, it was asked to separate out the data for private and public prisons.

    It categorically disproves the claims of private sector efficiency.

    Twenty-three per cent of the prison budget is spend on private prisons. But private firms don’t run a quarter of the prisons. In fact they run just 13 of the 124 prisons and National Offender

    Read More »from It's official: Private prisons cost taxpayer more than state prisons
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    It’s time to get on the scandal bus. Lord Sewel has been photographed taking cocaine with prostitutes. He’s dressed up in a leather jacket with a bra, in a manner which suggests he is relaxed about having a good time. He sits about chatting politics with women of the night. Let’s all have a laugh. We can all gather round with the reliable English mixture of protestant moralising and lewd childish jeering and have a good old time at his expense.

    It’s time to dust off the weird, faded lexicon of the sexual scandal. Lord Sewel gets the “disgraced” moniker – a phrase which implies, but has no actual connection to, legal judgement. It is the tabloid editors who decide when someone is disgraced, although they obviously never choose to apply it to themselves. He has apparently been “cavorting” with prostitutes in a drug-fuelled “romp”. No-one ever seems quite sure what a romp entails. Does a kiss entail a romp, or does it need to be full-on sex? It is like a perfectly-preserved bit of 1980s

    Read More »from What Lord Sewel gets up to is none of our business
  • Yvette Cooper is a B candidate in a C candidate race. In a sane world, she wouldn’t get a look-in to a contest for the leadership of Britain’s main opposition party. But this is not a sane world, so she is probably, overall, the most intellectually impressive of the candidates.

    Andy Burnham has no intellect to speak of at all, Jeremy Corbyn is a warmed-up meal from the 1970s without any of the political ingenuity to make that a palatable dining option in 2015, and Liz Kendall is a tactic in search of a strategy.

    There is a sliver – one wouldn’t want to put it any higher than that - of intellectual substance to Cooper. Which is why it was a disappointment to listen to her Today programme interview this morning. Unfortunately, it typified her approach to the campaign.

    It’s not inadequacy which leads her to behave this way. It’s cynicism. There’s plenty of evidence that Cooper is a relatively interesting political figure. She just refuses to reveal it.

    Take her response to George Osborne’s

    Read More »from Yvette Cooper's campaign is just a string of platitudes

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