Archive for the ‘politics’ tag
Last night Kelly-Marie Facebooked & Tweeted (and probably in other places where I don’t follow her) announced that she had been selected by the Guildford Liberal Democrats to be their candidate for the 2015 General Election. It wasn’t exactly a surprise as most people that knew the situation thought that it was going to go that way but it wasn’t a fait accompli.
With lots of talk within the party at the moment focused on women and the fact only seven of the 56 MPs (Mike Hancock currently is an Independent MP following his ‘resignation’ of the party whip earlier this week) are women has caused a bit of a stir shall we say. Seven of 56 is not exactly a great ratio and my GCSE maths comes up with that is one female MP for every seven men. As a party that promotes equality that is not a great figure and reflects poorly on the party.
However I think it is fair to point out that the Lib Dems do not have what you could call ‘safe seats’ where women can be parachuted into and then bring up those ratios and learn on the job as it were. This is why the party has to develop keen, hard working and ultimately electable women (as well as men) and get them in a position where they can win both nominations in target seats and also in turn win said elections.
I am on the record as saying that I don’t believe that sex is a barrier within the Liberal Democrats. I am also on the record that I don’t believe in positive discrimination. I want the local parties to nominate and back the best candidate in their opinion for their constituency based on whatever criteria they have laid down. Whether that is they want a young person to re-energise the local party and work from the ground up on a long-term project, whether they want someone experienced who can come in and win the seat at the next election or want someone local who has a long track record who the voters can relate to. Whatever it is I don’t think that gender, sexuality, race etc. should (and neither do I believe) it is a factor.
There has been some talk about what if Mike Hancock resigned not only the party whip but also his job as MP then who would the Lib Dems put up. The common consensus is that Gerald Vernon-Jackson would be the best placed to defend that seat. However many have argued that they would be disappointed by this because the party needs more women and this would be a good place to put one in a position to win despite them not probably being the ideal candidate. This also happened in Eastleigh with a significant proportion of Lib Dems unhappy that a white male got the nod. Sometimes the best candidate will be a man and sometimes it will be a woman, if it is a man then people shouldn’t (in my opinion) get mad because of this.
Now on to Kelly-Marie and I think she is a wonderful example not only to young women members but to all young members both men and women. To borrow directly from her own site and in her own words:
Always politically active, since joining the Liberal Democrats, Kelly-Marie has managed parliamentary and local election campaigns in Ashford in Kent, and is now an executive officer of Guildford local party. She was elected by the party to the Federal Conference Committee and Federal Policy Committee in September 2012 and chairs the Policy Equality Impact Assessment Committee. She is also a South East Regional representative and elected by the Social Liberal Forum to sit on their Council in July 2012.
So as you can see, she has put in the work and the time to gain valuable experience in many issues of politics and has shown she is an excellent candidate. You can read more about her at the site linked to above but if you know her or at least know of her then you’ll know she is a fantastic choice for Guildford and the local party there have put themselves in a position to really attack a seat that in 2001 returned a Lib Dem MP.
The best way for young people who aspire to serve is to work hard, work on campaigns, go to meetings and learn from those who have done it before. The more you absorb from others to add to your own ideas and opinions then you more rounded you’ll become and the more valuable an asset you’ll be. This is the same in any profession but in politics it is one of the hardest places to just bluff your way through.
So good luck to Kelly-Marie for her Guildford 2015 campaign. If the people of Guildford elect her then they will have an intelligent and hard-working MP. A pretty darn good combination you might say. For other young and ambitious Lib Dems I would say that Kelly-Marie is one of the people you should try and hunt out at conference or drop off an e-mail too because she would be a valuable source of advice for how to get to where you might want to be – a PPC in a seat that is winnable.
Yesterday I went through the formalities of renewing my membership. Today I am disappointed. Oh the emotions of being a member of a political party. As you all will have heard this evening Mike Hancock MP has resigned the parliamentary party whip to concentrate on clearing his name against a civil action against him. He will continue as an independent MP. Which basically makes his resignation sound so see through it is as transparent as I am when someone tells me that they’ve made me a mushroom and fried egg sandwich and I’ve said ‘ooo that sounds lovely’ – it doesn’t. It really doesn’t.
In a letter to the Chief Whip Mike Hancock writes:
Following our meeting today I have decided to offer to temporarily withdraw from the parliamentary party in the Commons until the civil court case against me has been concluded.
I can assure you that I will continue to vigorously defend my position and that I completely refute the allegations made against me.
I’m doing this in the best interests of the party nationally and in Portsmouth and for my family.
I will continue to work hard for my constituents in Portsmouth as I have always done.
He says he is doing it in the best interests of the party nationally and in Portsmouth and for his family. Considering up until a few hours ago he certainly didn’t think this then it is relatively clear that in his meeting with the powers that be today he was pretty much strong armed into this position.
Now we know Mike Hancock faces a very serious civil action against him but remember the police and CPS have investigated and decided there was no case to answer. At this point the party decided not to do anything. Now a civil suit has been forthcoming they have been extremely proactive and decided they want to put him at arms length (at best) until the case against him has been concluded.
Now I am in no position to judge the merits of the court case and I won’t. However I believe strongly that the Lib Dems decision to act has been influenced by the lack of action on Lord Rennard. The Liberal Democrat peer is under investigation from both the Met Police and the party but nothing has happened as yet and I think the party are keen to be seen as proactive in these situations – just like most companies are. The difference in my eyes is the fact it is not a criminal investigation, it is a civil action. To me that is an important distinction as to how an employer or representative should be judged.
The Lib Dems have decided that they want to judge and instead of letting the matter unfold they want him out. Of course the door is open to him to return should the case against him be unproven, the chief whip said, ‘If, at the end of your case, your name is cleared then I would fully expect to have you back in the parliamentary party to play again your role in the Commons.’ However I wouldn’t be so sure that Mike would want to return having been told that essentially the party want rid of him. Lets be blunt here. I know I wouldn’t if I were in the same situation.
I don’t think the party should pre-judge anyone and that is the role of the courts. The fact of the matter is that Mike Hancock not having the parliamentary party whip will do nothing to help the MP concentrate on his case. If that were the case he’d have resigned as an MP. This is all a PR situation and shows that the party either do not believe Mike Hancock’s side of the story or were just looking for a way to get him as far away from them as possible. Either way it is either disappointing to me that they have decided to judge Mr Hancock or they have used this situation to get rid of who they perceived to be a problem.
Reading through Twitter this evening and most Lib Dems are practically rejoicing his departure. To call Mike Hancock a ‘colourful figure’ would be doing the term a disservice. Some just think he is a bit too out there, some think that there is no smoke without fire whilst others think that anyone with serious allegations over them should be gone until they have proved their innocence. Yeah the old ‘innocent until proven guilty’ line doesn’t apply in certain circumstances when it suits… *vomit*
The reason I’m disappointed is because of this last line. The party have decided that they either think he’ll lose and/or that he is more trouble than he is worth. So instead of doing nothing they want to be seen as being proactive. As of this moment the MP for Portsmouth South has not been found guilty in a criminal court (and the police and CPS have decided there is no case to answer) and has yet to face a civil court. When Chris Huhne was facing allegations (albeit of a less serious nature) he was not strong-armed into a resignation. Whilst the allegations against Mr Huhne were far less serious they did come with the possibility of prison and they were criminal charges. The civil action Mr Hancock is facing does not.
The Lib Dems want to be proactive. Great. However I fully believe in innocent until proven guilty and certainly that is the case when it comes to civil action. The differences between a civil suit and a criminal case cannot be understated. Anyone can bring a civil suit and no weight of evidence is needed to get the ball rolling whereas in a criminal case it should be different. If the party now have the motto that anyone facing any legal action either civil or criminal needs to be suspended/strongly encouraged to resign from the party until that situation is resolved then we are going down an extremely slippery slope.
A cabbie has tweeted that he has ‘reliable sources’ that Nigel Farage will take on Nick Clegg in the Sheffield Hallam constituency in 2015 in what would be the most eagerly awaited battle since Tatton in 1997 when Neil Hamilton faced off against Martin Bell. The official announcement will come shortly before the summer recess says said tweeter.
The tweet has sent the twitter political sphere into meltdown but it is the Lib Dems on twitter who seem to be smiling most – and it is no surprise. If UKIP are serious about winning seats in 2015 then they have to ensure they target certain seats with the right candidates. In the local elections in many seats they did no campaigning and won based solely on the strength of the national tide. This of course is far easier in local elections when you can win with a few hundred votes. Getting 15,000 odd though without lifting a finger is slightly harder to muster.
Nick Clegg might not be the most popular person in the country. I won’t sit here and say he is but he also isn’t hated in his own constituency. The Lib Dems will struggle with the national vote in a couple of years but what we have seen is that where the Lib Dems have MPs embedded and a string local party then they are resilient. The Lib Dems could easily lose half of their votes in 2015 but could come away with 40-50 MPs. That isn’t an unrealistic look into the future.
So I have to ask myself why Nigel Farage would want to take on Nick Clegg? He is far more likely to win a different constituency and if he was serious about being an MP and leading his party into the House of Commons then surely he would find a far easier seat to run in? I think though that the previous sentence showed up an important piece of information, is Nigel Farage serious about being an MP? Lets be honest here. Had Farage run in Eastleigh then he may well have won. Not saying he would have but there was every chance.
Facing Nick Clegg would cause a media stir and would focus the campaign strongly on Farage himself and not his party. Is that what he wants to do? Does he want to ensure that the media solely focuses on him and the UKIP party in general are relegated to a secondary issue? If he does then that would be a pretty poor show on his behalf but secondly for the Lib Dems putting up Clegg mano a mano with Farage is not a situation that would phase the party.
So I think most Lib Dems would say ‘bring it on’ but as I say this was all sparked by one tweet so take it with a pinch of salt…
Just checking the date folks. Bear with, bear with, bear with…wait it’s not April 1st. What the hell? Seriously what the hell? Ok I suppose I should probably explain what I’m going on about. Well Salford Council are proposing not allowing takeaways from selling hot food until 5PM in the vicinity of a school in an attempt to force children to live a healthier lifestyle. In a way it is a noble cause because as a nation we eat worse and have less exercise than we used to. The health of us all should be a huge concern but where do we draw the line between individualism and the state dictating what we can eat and when?
Cllr Margaret Morris, assistant mayor for health at Salford Council, said: “Takeaways create jobs and provide a service but these ideas are to make sure that they are opening in the right places and not having a negative impact in our city.
“We don’t think they should be serving hot food over the counter before 5pm near schools, as children should be encouraged to eat healthily, so we have made this clear in our proposal.
“Public health and helping to reduce obesity levels are a top priority, and while planners cannot control the food that is sold, we would like every new premise to offer well promoted healthy alternatives so people can have an informed choice about the food they eat.”
Now the debate about whether takeaways have a negative impact is a fair one to have. Just today I saw a video from the local police appealing for help in identifying a man who decided to kick off in a local kebab place. There is certainly only a finite number of these establishments that should be in any single area. That is plain for all to see and dictating what hours they should be open is a legitimate issue for the local council but linking it to the health of our nation’s youngsters is something I can’t go with.
Children should be encouraged to eat healthily but at what point do the council stop? Do they stop newsagents from selling sweets? Do they rip out the tuck shops in schools? Vending machines? Should students bags be searched for chocolate at the gates? It is a slippery slope when you start saying that certain foods should be accessible to people at certain times but others should not be.
The problem with public health and obesity levels do not lie at the feet of local Councillors. It lies in educating people about being healthy and looking after themselves. Focusing on young people is all well and good but where do they learn from? They learn from us adults. If we don’t take good care of ourselves then why would the little ones? As a nation we need educating but we also have the right to choose how to live our lives.
I hope this idea never makes it into practice as all it does is open the door to Councillors to dictate far more than they ever should. People should have an informed choice about what they eat – the lady makes a fine point but also if they choose to eat the less healthy option then that is their choice and not yours. It just reminds me of the day when I was the foreman of a jury and the key witness was an 11 year-old girl and there was a mother in her 40s in the jury room who kept on saying, ‘I don’t think my 11 year-old daughter would lie’ and we’d constantly retort that it wasn’t her 11 year-old that we were having to decide whether they were a credible witness or not. Sometimes people think they should run other people’s lives how they would like to run their families and that my friends (and I suppose foes) is not the role of local Councillors.
When did we get to the point where the seemingly marginalised viewpoints of society stopped being so out there? Over the past few years as the economic downturn has gripped the country, people have looked for someone to blame and the easiest people to blame are those who are different. So politicians are easy to blame but the problem with that is of course someone has to govern so whoever gets voted in will be a politician. Bankers have seen blame laid at their feet but yet again bankers aren’t going away any time soon so the problem has been who can people blame who they can a) get rid of and b) don’t understand.
Step forward religion and foreigners.
The term, ‘I’m not racist but…’ has become a bit of a running gag, albeit not very funny. People say this with a completely straight face. The people that are saying it are not the people that you would generally look at and think they are racist either. However a spectre of what I won’t call hate, but will call intolerance now hangs over far more people than I’ve ever known in my 29 years on this Earth and that spectre is becoming an ever bigger presence in society.
My problem is working out where this has come from? It must have come from somewhere and looking around the most obvious parts of society I can point my finger at and believe they are the reason is the media and politicians. The media will always tap into whatever the mood of the nation is and then play up to it. If the nation are happy then the media will be happy. If the nation has a sense of unease then the media will portray that and start to feed off it. If we are being told constantly about bad things people are doing then it will seep into the public’s consciousness and I believe this is what has happened.
Look at the media coverage yesterday. It was by a person who seemingly was a Muslim. Now was he described first of all as a terrorist or was he first of all classed as a Muslim? You bet it was the latter and not the former. Whilst so many bleat that the English Defence League do not speak for us we must understand that just because people do terrorist attacks are of one faith, they do not speak for an entire religion. When the IRA where blowing things up left, right and centre did they speak for all Catholicism? I’m pretty sure they didn’t.
We though as a nation are far more scared of the unknown than we ever have been before. In this modern age where people can interact with anyone, at any time, people get disturbed. If you are on a tube and two people are speaking to one another in a foreign tongue then instead of being calm and ignoring it, more than ever people are worried because they don’t understand and there we get it the crux of the issue. People in general are far more afraid of what they don’t understand than ever before and we have to ask ourselves, ‘why is that?’
However I want to point a very stern finger at politicians because I see a distinct lack of leadership. In all honesty the last person who displayed leadership qualities was Tony Blair. Like it or not he led this country. Ever since politicians have been too scared to truly stand for what they believe in. As a friend put it to me last night, ‘they pander to the lowest common denominator’ and he was right. Politicians are afraid to say what they really think in case the most vocal of critics attack them. This needs to stop.
I would love to see David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband at a joint Press Conference where they said that intolerance would not be accepted. We live in a multi-cultural society and I love that. Great Britain isn’t just for those who were born here, it is for people who want to live and work here. Should people not be allowed to move from place to place to live with different people, different cultures, experience a different way of life? Should we go back to the day of ‘If you were born in Essex then you’ll live and die in Essex’ and so on? I certainly do not believe so. No-one owns the Earth or any country therein and people should be free to move around.
As we all know though this isn’t the way the tide is going. People think there is always someplace greener and those greener pastures might be to leave the European Union. Some want to leave the European Human Rights Act and have a British Bill of Human Rights instead. My fear though is what if we do this and still things are no better then who do people blame? Do they blame themselves for pushing this through or do they find another scapegoat? What if we started turning on all blondes? Would that be accepted in society the way that intolerance towards people of foreign backgrounds and different religions seemingly are?
The crux is no matter how hard David Cameron wants to bang on about fixing our broken society – the more he says this then the more people will look for where the cracks and the problems are. It is a bit like saying how terrible the economy is, the more you say it the more people will believe it. Society is not perfect. We all know this. However society is not perfect throughout the globe and there are bad people all over the world doing bad things every day. This isn’t just confined to us in the UK, it is a far larger problem than that and one that has to be addressed through education for the next generations coming through.
No matter what our differences are we all bleed when we are cut. We are all but one race – the human race. We all broadly want the same things for our loved ones and for society as a whole but the problems are some believe there are short-cuts and scapegoats to why we don’t all have what we would like.
Immigration is not a problem to the degree that people believe it is. People can live with people of different religious backgrounds. Not all people who are different are our enemies. The vast majority of people who practise the Christian faith are good people. The vast majority of those who follow Islam are good people. The vast majority of those who are Jews are good people and so on and so forth. Being different isn’t a reason to be scared of someone.
Our leaders need to step up to the plate here and now and stop this going forward. Do not pander down to the most vocal in an attempt to win votes. Stand for what you truly believe in. If you stand together and say that this type of intolerance will not be accepted then you’ll start drawing a line in the sand. This whole situation has meandered on for far too long. People can have different views on anything but still not persecute one another. Until such a time where this is the strong and constant viewpoint from our politicians (and in turn our media) then I fear the culture of intolerance will only grow and slowly shatter any illusions we have that we are a progressive society.
So MPs are currently discussing Equal Marriage and as is custom for MPs they have differing views. Some more extreme than other. Some think that this is just a starting point for something more in a sinister way and some are just flat out barmy. Happily many others are more middle of the road and don’t think that same sex marriage is the first strep to gay people taking over the world and enslaving and discriminating against straight folk.
A lot of this debate is revolving around what teachers should and shouldn’t be allowed to teach. If same-sex marriage goes against a teachers religion then should they be allowed to not teach it? Now last time I looked I’m pretty sure some science teachers come from strong religious backgrounds. A lot of science flies in the face of religion. Just start at the fact God created the Earth. There is a thing called the Big Bang Theory that is now widely believed to have been the way the universe was created and teachers if religious backgrounds teach this. How about the whole Adam and Eve thing and the fact that genetics has shown that human life developed in six separate places across the Earth. Are there five other Adam’s and Eve’s that they just couldn’t be bothered to write about in the bible? I doubt it somewhat.
Teachers are not employed to pass on their own personal opinions to the children they teach. They go into teaching to help young people understand either a subject or an overall view of the world. Minds are never as impressionable as they are when they are young. If a teacher disagrees with a topic they have to teach then they have to just put their personal beliefs to one side and teach the subject as it written. If a teacher teaches that homosexuality is wrong in their opinion then I fear they are not doing their job of teaching young minds about the world with open eyes.
I am positive that some teachers will struggle to teach something that goes against their fundamental beliefs and I can understand why it might be problematic. However that pales into insignificance when I look at how parents entrust teachers to bring up their children according to the curriculum provided.
If a teacher had a gay child in his or her class (which pretty much every teacher has in every single class if you look at the odds) and said teacher tells the class that homosexuality and same-sex marriage is wrong then how is that child going to feel? Do teachers really think that putting a child through such turmoil is a positive? I can’t believe that any teacher in good faith would want to do that. An adult can swallow their beliefs far easier than a young person can overcome prejudice.
I have my beliefs and I don’t think it will come as any surprise that I am pro equal marriage because I am pro equality. Equality is a core principle that I live my life by. I am not religious in any way, shape or form and my views of the world are not scoped by any religious conviction. This is despise being brought up in the church and spending two years at a faith school. Marriage is a way of expressing love between two people and to pigeonhole it between a man and a woman is not helpful or equal.
The best way forward is to give young people as much information as possible and give them help and guidance as to what it all means. I truly believe that the more information young people have then the more tolerant we’ll get as a society. I don’t want any young person to not be able to fully explore who they are because they feel that they are not ‘normal’ or ‘wrong’ or anything of that ilk. Exploring who we are is one of the most vital parts of the journey we all face of being a human being.
If someone has religious views that are opposed to equal marriage then I have no issue with that. That is their right and freedom as long as they do not actively force that views on to others. When it comes to teachers then they have a decision to make. Do they want to teach children about all different aspects of humanity and thus allowing children to understand the differences that we all have but that ultimately we are all human or do they just want to teach them about the parts of humanity they agree with? If it is the latter then that isn’t the type of person I’d want my (non-existent) children to be taught by.
Last point is this. Love is the hardest thing I think humans have to find. You love your offspring and in turn you love your parents but when it comes to love is the romantic sense so many people struggle to find true love. I’m 29 and I haven’t got even close to finding love – not even close – and yet if I were to love a member of my same sex I’d struggle in the knowledge that some members of society didn’t see that love as worthy of being of equal value to if I loved a woman (No mum, before you ask, this isn’t me coming out, still going down the female path…)
I think if two people love each other then there should be no boundaries that show that one set of love is worth more than the other in the eyes of both society and legally. To me it is pretty simple. As for how teachers or members of the clergy should deal with it then I think with teachers it is open and shut. They are not employed or paid to put their own opinions on to their students. If they disagree then teach the kids and say nothing bad about homosexuality or equal marriage. As for members of the clergy then things are different. The ‘sanctity’ of marriage being between a man and a woman is something important but so is not cheating on your partner and that happens all too often in marriages.
I hope equality wins out. I desperately believe that equal marriage and the teaching of all ways of life and love is vital to healing our society. Equal marriage might be crushing the older generations but as a race we need to become more open and tolerant to other ways of life and love and I genuinely believe that this is a big step for that. If the next generations are actively taught that homosexuality isn’t wrong but not just that – is actively fine and welcome in society – then I think we’ll go a long way to leaving a great legacy for the next generations to build on.
That Utopian society is a long way off but this is a baby step that could turn into a giant stride towards that idealistic goal.
Last night whilst perusing the interweb I was sent a link to the A Barristers Wife blog and promptly spent the best part of the next hour fully taking in all the content on said blog. I won’t lie when I say it was an eye-opening read however it is one that doesn’t surprise me.
The blog is (unsurprisingly considering the title) the blog of the wife of a Legal Aid lawyer. She is writing about some of the cases that her husband has dealt with and why it is vital that changes to the Legal Aid system as proposed by Chris Grayling do not succeed.
The first one I saw was Exhibit C – the “paedophile”. This is a case her husband worked on where a young boy had claimed that his daddy had been abusing him. It seemed a pretty open and shut case until it came out in court that the young boy in fact called both his dad and his stepdad daddy and that he hadn’t seen his real dad in over a year (because of the charges) and wanted to see him and cried. That doesn’t sound like the actions of a kid who had been abused by this man. The lawyer had worked out that it was in fact the stepfather who was the abuser.
Had the lawyer not taken the case diligently and not strong-armed his client into accepting a guilty plea (because the evidence on paper was pretty clear cut) then a completely innocent man would have rotted away in prison only to leave the real abuser still in control of the young boy.
As an aside here I have been the foreman on a jury in a very similar case. The similarities are uncanny and we fund the defendant not guilty due to essentially we didn’t trust the mother’s account of what happened. Her behaviour didn’t add up to us and that was the key. It is strange that evidence counts for so much but behaviour of witnesses do have a real impact. In the other case I sat on during my spell as a juror we didn’t trust the account of the two alleged victims in a GBH case because of the elaborate way they acted in court.
Anyway back to the case in hand. I continued to read the blog.
Next Exhibit B – the “murderer”. This case was a major national case including a Crimewatch reconstruction. The defendant spent over a year on remand awaiting his trial. The lawyer had to spend two weeks (unpaid) to read through all the background information and on the tenth day found the nugget that showed his client could not have been the murderer. In fact in time the Crown’s own evidence would prove he was incapable of being at the murder scene at the time. If we see the proposed changes of legal aid go through then we’ll get to a state where lawyers are just in the business for profit and not to act in the best interests of their client.
At the end of the piece she writes a summary of ‘Why this story should matter to you’ and if you haven’t clicked on the above link (which I would thoroughly recommend) then here is the summary reproduced in full:
Police & CPS procedure – it is clear that the officer in charge of the case had not done what my husband had done, and sat down and read everything. Evidence is collated and summarised in reports, which are passed up and up through the police rank structure. By the time it gets to the top it is a case of “Chinese whispers”. What the top guy reads is not always an accurate reflection of the evidence.
Performance targets – it is unrealistic to expect the police and prosecution to read all of the evidence in every case under the current system. It certainly won’t be possible, even for the defence, under the proposed system. The allocated defence lawyer will be working to targets, working for profit. He won’t have the time to take two weeks out to find the golden nugget. He’ll take a quick look at the evidence, see that it looks pretty damning, and advise the client to plead guilty.
The real scumbag criminal got away with it – as far as we know the real murderer is still at large. The proposed system will lead to more of this. Because if lawyers are to be paid the same whether clients go to trial or not, there will be less trials. Less trials mean less opportunity for upcoming solicitors and barristers to cut their teeth. Less practice on the more simple cases will lead to less proficiency on the complex ones. This will hold for both the defence AND the prosecution. The end result more innocent people going to prison, more guilty people getting away, quite literally, with murder.
It could happen to you – Exhibit B got picked up for this because he had happened to be in the right place at the wrong time. The Crown’s own evidence showed he could not have been at the murder scene at the right time. He served over a year in prison on remand waiting for trial for something he didn’t do. I’ll spare you the details of what happened to him while he was there. And even though he was found not guilty, mud sticks. He was a young man, just starting out. His life was ruined.
Innocence is not interesting – there was a journalist in court for Exhibit B’s trial. Every day there were articles in the local and national papers saying what a nasty piece of work he was. Once the case was thrown out my husband collared the journalist and demanded that he write the story up, listing the points as the judge had directed the jury. Guess what? He didn’t do it. No wonder the public always believe people are guilty until proven innocent.
Innocence is not interesting. Arguably one of the most damning indictments of modern society and she is right. Do we care about people who are falsely accused? Do we heck. The only time we do is if it happens to us or someone that we know. Until that point in general we couldn’t care less and that is something that saddens me. I’m proud to say that I don’t sit alongside those people and think innocence should be as big a news story as guilt. If a defendant is found guilty of a serious crime it will be front page of the local papers but if the same person is found innocent then it’s a snippet on page 17. That isn’t fair but not only that, it isn’t right.
Next up we have Exhibit A – the “child pornographer”. A tale that starts with a granddad’s computer going wrong and taking it somewhere to be fixed. On the computer were images of naked children and the computer repairer called in the police who then arrested the granddad and charged him with possession of level 1 child pornography. Until the trial no-one (including the CPS barrister nor the defence) had seen the photos and the defence lawyer would not advice his client to enter a guilty plea until he had seen the photos. They were eventually granted access to the photos and the CPS barrister upon seeing them offered no evidence and the case was closed.
The whole incident came about because someone pointed a finger (which in this day and age is pretty standard and we all want to be vigilant on these issues) but instead of the police going to see the accused and going through the case properly they just went for it. It turns out the children were his grandchildren and they had come over one day and had forgotten their bathers so were playing in a paddling pool and shooting water pistols naked. A perfectly innocent explanation and one that could have been nipped in the bud before any serious cost to the public purse. Instead police hours, CPS hours, legal aid hours, the court’s time and costs were all incurred when there was never any need for any of it.
On another blog we see the blog post So you’re a football fan, and think the legal aid cuts won’t affect you? which tells of a common tale that could happen to anyone. As a matter of fact a very similar thing happened to me in my teens and it was only the fact that the copper’s colleague really couldn’t be bothered that I wasn’t arrested.
Now I do not know how I’d have reacted as a what 14/15/16 year-old (I can’t remember exactly how old I was) but the context was it was a school INSET day so we were walking through town towards Seaclose Park to play a bit of football. I was saying to the guys something along the lines of ‘I bet we get pulled over by the police asking us why we aren’t in school’ and literally as I said that a cop car drives past eyeballing us. I point and laugh and say to the guys ‘just like that’ and then about 30 seconds later the car has swung around the block and young copper wants to talk to me/arrest me. Older copper (the driver) just stood there leaning on the car and I saw him just shake his head of the younger officer and so I was told to go away. He said I had sworn at him. I knew I hadn’t. However it was effectively my word against his so I’m hypothesising that the advice given to me would’ve been to accept a caution and not taken it to trial had he in fact done what he wanted to do and arrested me.
Of course it didn’t come to that and it was one rather small run-in with the law but I’m not going to lie. Even that incident affected me for quite a while and even years later it would blindside me and I’d think about it. Essentially it was one coppers decision that he couldn’t be bothered with the paperwork that stopped me potentially having a criminal record. How insane is that?
If the proposed changes to legal aid come in and the emphasis changing from putting the clients best interests first towards providing the best value for money and creating profit for the legal aid accredited companies then something has gone seriously wrong in our justice system. Seriously wrong. The cheapest contract is not always the best. I could say that I could school a whole school for £50 a night but that doesn’t mean I could clean it to a level that they expect and the same goes for lawyers.
We can all find ourselves in legal strife through no fault of our own. It can happen to any of us and that is what is so vital about not only the ability to have legal aid but also quality legal aid. Not all defendants are criminal scumbags and until they are found guilty by a jury of their peers they should be allowed the best possible representation from a diligent lawyer who puts the best interest of their client ahead of their own personal views or profit.
If you believe that everyone has the right to a good level of defence when they are only accused of a crime then you can sign the petition here. I did so last night. I would implore you to do so and if this blog post hasn’t convinced you then please read all the pieces that I have linked to. The right to a good standard of defence and advice is something that we all deserve but because of the way the media like to portray all accused as guilty scumbags until proved otherwise and the way society in the main has moved from innocent until proven guilty to suspicious presumed guilty until proven otherwise then it is all the more important that we defend quality legal aid for all who need it. I don’t use libraries but I can see many people that do and therefore don’t mind my taxes being used to keep them open. The same goes for quality legal aid.
My blood is boiling folks. There is one thing that I hold dear and that is that we are all created equal. One human life is of the same value as the next. So if I get murdered the person who killed me should get the same sentence as if they killed anyone else in exactly the same way. Now of course not all murders are equal, some are premeditated, some involve sexual crimes, some include torture before killing their victims but if I am killed in exactly the same way as another person then I’d expect sentencing to be the same.
Theresa May today outlined new proposals that will mean any police officer or prison officer slain would see the perpetrator given mandatory whole life sentences. This is because we ask them to put themselves in harms way to ensure that society are safe. However last I saw Army, Navy and Royal Air Force personnel did exactly the same. What about the coastguard who risk their lives to safe others? What about the Fire Brigade? Are we seriously saying that one section of society deserve more retribution than others?
What about when police officers kill members of the general public? Do these people deserve less time in jail and the opportunity of being free one day? Isn’t that kinda mad?
I am not a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ person. In fact I am quite the opposite. I believe there is a better way to deal with criminals but when it comes to serious crimes such as murder and rape then prison very much has its place. However mandatory life terms for a crime against one section of society to me seems wholly wrong and only goes to show that we are not all equal. All crimes are not equal. That is why we have judges who have leeway to use their judgement to decide on how long a guilty person should spend inside. Mitigating circumstances have to be taken into account.
This policy seems to me to smell strongly of the Home Secretary trying to get the police back onside and trying to sound strong on crime. That is what everyone seems to want. Labour have welcomed this policy and I don’t know what the Liberal Democrats think but I’d be disappointed if they are happy to say that one persons life is worth more than another’s. It goes against our very principles of equality.
Should people that kill police officers and prison officers face heavy sentences? Darn tootin’ they do but you know what – so does anyone who takes another human life deliberately. Whether that person is a police officer, a member of our armed forces, a teacher, a student, a homeless person or whoever. Taking another human life is a despicable act but you won’t convince me that killing one person is less reprehensible than killing another.
It is a question that comes and goes with various media stories and people have fairly entrenched views on either side of the debate. I am one of those people. I have strong views that due to the fact a not insignificant proportion of society equate an arrest or a charge sheet to guilt. I’ll ask these two questions and I want you to think about it and not just read past it.
If a friend of yours was charged or even just arrested for burglary would you treat them any different? If so, by how much? If the same friend was charged or even just arrested in relation with a sexual offence, certainly one involving children would you treat them any differently? If so, by how much?
Now i don’t have any statistics to back up my point but most people I know would be far more cautious with regards to someone who had been linked to a sexual offence. Certainly if you are a parent then would you want this person around your children? I’d pretty sure you wouldn’t even though they had not been found guilty of anything. An arrest or charge of burglary is a serious crime but there is a distinct different in how many of us perceive sexual crimes and all other crimes. We (rightly) find them more vile but we are also far more ready to err on the safe side in removing those people from our lives before the judicial process has played out.
The old adage of ‘mud sticks’ isn’t there because it isn’t true. It most certainly is true. Anyone who has been arrested or charged with a sexual offence will have that on file for the rest of their lives and it will follow them like a bad smell even if they were found not guilty or the charges were dropped or even if they were never charged. It is fair that innocent people are victimised (I don’t use that word lightly) because we as a society err on the safe side?
This brings me nicely on to my next point. At what point do we decide who the victim is? Do we decide that the victim is the person who has alleged a sexual crime against them from the off or do we decide they are a victim when a jury reaches a guilty verdict? Do we decide that the person arrested/charged is the victim if they are found not guilty or do we still perceive the person who alleges the crime as the victim?
Now clearly this isn’t an easy one to answer because there is a situation where both people can be victims, the person who alleges the crime may well have been the victim of a crime but the person arrested/charged with that crime might not be the right person. In that situation are they both victims or is one of them more of a victim than the other?
We all have different views on this case and one of the most prominent liberal voices out there, co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice Stephen Tall has his and they are vehemently to mine. In his post Rape anonymity for the accused: well-intentioned but wrong, he concludes that, ‘Ultimately the best safeguard for maintaining a free and open society is an accountable and open system of justice. Secrecy, however well-intentioned, is hardly ever preferable to transparency, however messy.‘
Whilst on paper that seems the best way forward I would contend that in the real world that is not plausible. Justice can be seen to be served in a not guilty verdict but that verdict cannot undo the months (and sometimes years) the accused has suffered on multiple fronts. They find their social circle dramatically decreases whilst they await trial as people don’t want to associate with someone charged with such serious offences. They probably are at best suspended by their employer but in many situations they will be fired and are unable to find any more work until they are cleared and if they do it is unlikely to be in a similar field. Also as I hinted at earlier a not guilty verdict doesn’t ex-sponge people’s memories nor does it disappear from your criminal record. Yes you can have a serious criminal record without even being a criminal. A rape/sexual offence arrest/charge stays with you forever.
Some would say they would prefer to know if someone they knew was arrested or charged with such a serious offence as they have to think of their safety as well as that of their children. This is a fair point but at what point does a person constitute a threat? An allegation? An arrest? Being charged? Being found guilty of the crimes? I honestly don’t know but what I do know is that innocent people charged with such serious offences are victims. I’m not saying they are more or less of a victim than the alleged victim but they are victims. Yes a not guilty person can rebuild their life but they will always carry baggage with them and they will also always be looked at through narrower eyes.
I think I should put it out there that I believe the vast majority, let me reiterate that, the vast majority of allegations are made in good faith. We all know there are a number of malicious allegations made but we’ll ignore them for now even though they are a relevant debate. This is about a situation where there is a victim who has been attacked but at what point does the person the police decide is the person who attacked them deserve to have their name made public?
I know many (including Stephen linked to above) bring up the Stuart Hall case where him being named brought forward more victims and ensured a guilty plea and a sexual predator brought to justice but that is but one example. You could make a case for any piece of legislation based on one example. However I always ask the same thing – if you were an innocent person arrested and subsequently charged with such an offence, you lost all your friends and your job and lived a life of limbo for say a year or so before being found not guilty, finding that your social circle still weren’t sure and most of them still didn’t want to know you and then you couldn’t return to your job – or a job of similar standing – then would you feel aggrieved?
Darn straight you would. Your life would have been turned upside down through no fault of your own. Now whilst it is true that rape victims have exactly the same in that their lives are completely turned upside down, do two wrongs make a right? No. No I don’t think so – and more than that – I never will.
So to round this thing up one of two things need to happen, We as a society have to learn the difference between someone being found guilty of a crime compared to being charged or even arrested in connection with a crime (which I don’t think we can do) or we need to keep both the accused and the accuser anonymous until we can find out which of the two (or even if both) are victims.
Local election campaigns are in full swing across the country (although not here in Southend-on-Sea) and there is only one story that seems to be coming out. This story isn’t about whether Labour will make gains against the Tories. The story isn’t about whether the Lib Dems will stop the hemorrhaging of votes/councillors. The story isn’t about whether the austerity will hurt the Tories. The only story I keep reading about is the surge of the UK Independence Party and what this means for the future.
I must admit my gut feeling is that UKIP will be like a fast burning love affair. They will burn oh so bright but they will not burn for a long time. The fact of the matter is there are a significant number of people who don’t like nor trust politicians. The whole expenses scandal has left politicians looking up at journalists in the respected by stakes, which is not a good place to be. Heck divorce lawyers are more respected than politicians at the moment. UKIP are promising a breath of fresh air and to put Great Britain first and not to kowtow to Brussels and the EU. It isn’t like the UKIP leader has taken (to 2009) around £2million in tax payers money from the EU in expenses. Oh wait…
They are basically scratching the itch of those who are disenchanted with modern politics. They are different they say. The system is crooked they say. Nigel Farage has seen a stronger eye on his party in recent days as it has come out that they have struggled to vet their candidates. Some of them seem to be less than desirable and certainly not the type of people you’d want in any position of power. The main issue is a lot of people vote for the party and not the candidate so if you don’t vet properly then you may find you have councillors representing the party who don’t truly reflect the views of the party.
The UKIP leader is not happy with all of this, ‘Have you met the cretins we have in Westminster? Do you think we can be worse than that?’ exclaims the 49 year-old. On one hand he has a point that all parties have the odd person who deep down you aren’t sure truly reflects the parties values and you get a sense they aren’t being their true self. When it comes to UKIP though who knows?
However this blog isn’t about that. It is about the talk over the possibility of more PM TV Debates in 2015. Stories in the press over the weekend have linked Labour to the Tories in wanting to keep out UKIP. Remember Labour do not want the Lib Dems in because they formed a coalition with the Tories so think any Lib Dem leader should share a platform with the Tories and Labour’s deputies because that is as high as they could ever be. Gotta love Labour’s stance on that. So in Labour’s eyes any debate would be two-way between them and the Tories. The Tories are happy for three-way with the Lib Dems also involved. We don’t know the Lib Dem view as yet.
My view though is extremely simplistic. If a party is putting up enough candidates to form a government then their leader should be invited to join the other leaders in these debates. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and others were unhappy about being left out last time but none of them were fielding enough candidates to form a government and their leader could never be Prime Minister so their place in any ‘Prime Ministerial Debate’ did seem relatively pointless. The likelihood though is that UKIP will be putting up enough candidates across the country and in the interest of democracy they deserve the to share that platform in my eyes.
We saw last time that Nick Clegg’s profile rose dramatically throughout the process last year and at one point, in one Sunday poll the Lib Dems actually led. As we all know though that extra exposure translated to over a million more votes but actually fewer MPs. It also led to far more scrutiny in the right-wing media as they went to town on the Lib Dems and on Nick Clegg in particular. This worked to some degree and should Nigel Farage and his party get the same exposure they would be subject to the same level of scrutiny.
My feelings on UKIP are pretty clear but I also believe in fairness and equality (good liberal traits there) and if UKIP are in a position where they could feasibility (no matter how unlikely) form a government if everything went right for them on polling day in 2015 then they deserve the right to share that platform. It is up to the other parties and particularly their leaders to show UKIP for what they are and to get the public to vote for them and not Nigel Farage’s lot.
The thing is we all know that the moment UKIP get any power (either at local or national level) the public will quickly realise what they have done. At a local level voting UKIP will not change anything to do with the EU or tax rates or immigration which is basically what UKIP are all about. So a vote for UKIP locally on Thursday is basically saying, ‘we hate them all and even though they can’t follow through with their primary objectives in local governments we’ll vote for them as a symbol of our anger towards national issues.’ When it comes to national issues though their rhetoric of being anti-EU and anti-foreigners is actually something they could act on.
UKIP are unlikely to ever have a Prime Minister, they are unlikely to ever be in a position to form a coalition but as they say – you never know. UKIP’s core support is with the older generation – a YouGov poll in February found that only 15% of UKIP support comes from those under 40 – the fact is the older generation are more likely to vote.
For me I don’t see UKIP as a viable party and are just a protest against the status quo and the current financial climate. The moment the economy pulls itself out of its funk and the countries finances are balanced then the need for a protest party will dissipate. This will happen but it won’t happen before 2015. So let UKIP play with the established parties and give them the opportunities that they deserve. I just hope they shoot themselves in the foot when they are under a serious national spotlight. It is easy to protest when their are few repercussions but when it comes to a General Election protests are harder because actions (and votes) have consequences.