Daily Archives: 11 April 2006

Caution about rape figures

Sorry to go over yesterday’s news, but I do find this latest story about cautions issued for rape rather problematic. I’m sorry to state the bleeding obvious, but you cannot detect a trend from just two statistics, especially when they are such small figures. In the grand scheme of things 40 cautions across the whole of England and Wales is a pretty small number. For all we know in 1995 there may have been 60 cautions while there may have been a notable drop between 1996 and 2003.

None of this is to say that rape isn’t serious, but on this issue more than anything else we need to have calm heads. I fail to see how sensationalist stories like this help anything or anyone.

Chucking in the Lords

The Lib Dem appointments to the Lords were made by Charles Kennedy, not Ming Campbell. Unfortunately, it has to be said they demonstrate a lot of what was wrong with the Kennedy administration and why, however it was done, we are better off without him.

Firstly, the bizarre appointment of John Lee, a former Conservative MP. This was widely covered in the December edition of Liberator which is now available online, so I’ll simply quote it here:

John who? Lee was Tory MP for Nelson and Colne and a former tourism minister who joined the Liberal Democrats in 2001, since when very little has been heard of him.

Kennedy’s decision to elevate Lee will surprise the few people who have read Lee’s autobiography Portfolio Man. After a few pages on his decision to join the Liberal Democrats, Lee notes: “However, although enjoying my involvement, I found that I did not really have my original appetite for party politics and finally withdrew from Lib Dem activity in the autumn of 2004. Currently and metaphorically I view the political scene from the crossbenches.”

If this is how Lee describes himself, what possible justification is there in wasting one of the party’s peerages on him?

Indeed. But the other howler is the number of appointments. Back in 2003, Kennedy insisted that Blair allow him more appointments than the number that was originally offered; Blair relented, mainly because he couldn’t afford not to. Yet this time we have settled for a figure that essentially entrenches our lack of representation in the Lords.

Labour have repeatedly committed themselves to ensuring that the appointments to the Lords broadly reflect the previous General Election. They signed up to it in the Cook-Maclennan Agreement, announced it in their 2001 manifesto and at no point have indicated that they would abandon the policy. Yet in nearly 10 years we are still grossly under represented. Before the latest tranche, Labour and the Tories had around 41% of all working peers while the Lib Dems had 15%. After this latest tranche, Labour and the Tories will have around 41% each, while the Lib Dems will still have 15%. Quite how this can be justified when Labour currently enjoy the lowest mandate of any government in history while the Lib Dems are at their highest point in 70 years, would be interesting to hear.

It is time we stopped accepting this. A few years ago, a friend of mine suggested we should simply refuse to appoint any one, a la the SNP. I didn’t think it was appropriate at the time, but I certainly think there is a case for it now if Labour continues to flounder on Lords reform and offer us such slim pickings. It would certainly be a more principled stance than the party’s present pantomime of “electing” a panel from which the leader can select candidates, which has resulted in a ridiculous pantomime with some seriously inappropriate people ending up on the list.

We’re all snobs now?

I’ve occasionally wondered if John Harris is in fact Johann Hari in a strawberry blonde wig – the two names are virtually identical. Now, it seems, he has taken to quoting from his own articles – Johann wrote an almost identical piece, albeit with more brevity, a few months ago.

All this tut-tutting though, to me, misses two important aspects. Firstly, regarding “chav” parties. I’m not sure this says much more about society other than the vacuity of the upper classes. Just as the working class lad visiting Oxford was surprised to learn about such parties, I was surprised to learn that one of the people I went to school with had been to an “Alice in Wonderland” party in his first term at Oxford, something which he clearly thought was the most wonderful wheeze ever.

The second point is rather more important though. This is as much a phenomenon of working class self-loathing and insecurity as anything else. They watch Little Britain in their millions. And while Jon Cruddas might bemoan how Labour now demonises the working class, he must surely be aware that such policies are wildly popular on the average housing estate. Indeed, I would argue that one of Labour’s biggest mistakes has been to indulge such prejudices – abstract policies such as the “Respect Agenda” look tough, but achieve nothing of substance and merely heighten fear. I dread to think what sort of draconian measures will have to be conjured up in order to meet the public’s endless thirst for “tough on crime” if trends continue.

Any politician who publicly attacks such measures is dismissed as being out of touch with working class people; indeed this is the contention of both Harris and Cruddas about the Lib Dems. It’s terribly easy to blame everything on “public schoolboys” like Blair and Cameron, but it really does let the “working class” off the hook. Isn’t portraying them as helpless victims just as negative a stereotype as Vicky Pollard?