When asked about her application, Jacqui Smith replied...
"How did you know I had applied. Fuck off."
"How did you know I had applied. Fuck off."
In a couple of weeks I shall turn 61. London has been hot. Online tide tables said that there would be high tides, midweek, in the small hours. My partner (fiercely opposed) was away.
“Come on,” I thought. “Do it.” I told Jonathan, an LSE student who’s working for me. “I’ll come too,” he said. High tide, 03.35 on Thursday morning. Tom would be there on balcony duty. Supper, a few hours’ sleep, then . . .
Astonishing, how fearful I then became. How had I got myself into this? Why hadn’t I kept my mouth shut? Now I understood the subliminal reason I’d never done it before. All that thinking about it and boasting about it had scared me. At midnight, as I lay my head on the pillow, at first sleep would not come.
It’s being woken in the dark that’s worst. I donned trunks and an old singlet to swim in, and some discardable flip-flops. We stood on the balcony. The river was very black. We called a minicab just after 3am to take us under the nearby Rotherhithe Tunnel to the other side. We crept down the Globe Stairs wordlessly, so as not to alert any flat-dwellers, and undressed. Each wondered if he’d be going ahead if it wasn’t for the other...
...The water was choppy but not too cold, and I could feel no current. We swam silently, breaststroke, surprised at the ease. Except that across the water, perspectives were altering unaccountably. Then I saw trees moving behind the buildings on the other side. Why? When I turned to look for Globe Stairs behind us, they were far over to our right. We were being carried upstream. Fast. The tide was still coming in. Fast.
We were breathless, and getting cold. We could see the stilts of a riverside boardwalk some way away, near the Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping... We pulled our way round to a little creek, plunged across and climbed a high iron ladder on to a road. We had been in the water for perhaps half an hour.
It's a great article about a very daring deed. I've done a few stuid things in my time, but none of them matches that!
Full story HERE. It's certainly radical and will be fought tooth and nail by Labour and vested interests, but it's right that we have a debate. It's not about thinking the unthinkable, it's doing the doable. And IDS seems determined to go for real change.
All out-of-work benefits and tax credits could be scrapped and replaced with a single payment as part of a "radical" shake-up of the welfare system. The idea is one of three options being considered by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to make work pay.
He says the current system is "on the verge of breakdown". Labour have said the start-up costs of a new system could be as much as £7bn. Mr Duncan Smith has refused to be drawn on the cost, but argues that billions could be saved each year in bureaucracy and fraud with a much simpler system.
Since coming to office, Mr Duncan Smith has vowed to tackle what he says is a "culture of worklessness" and "entrenched" welfare dependency and poverty in parts of the country.
The Supreme Court today ruled in favour of UKIP over a case of party donations.
Between December 2004 and February 2006, Alan Bown, a retired businessman had donated a total of £349,216 to the party. During that time, due to an oversight Mr Bown was not on the UK electoral register which, under the law suggested that he was not a British resident. This was obviously not the case.
UKIP had argued that the forfeit should amount to £14,481 donated after the party became aware of the oversight, as did the initial Court ruling. The Electoral Commission believed that the whole sum should be forfeit.
In a 4-3 judgement the Supreme Court found that the spirit of the law counted more than the letter.
Speaking after the judgement Alan Bown said,
"I am pleased and relieved that this is all over. I feel no animosity towards the Electoral Commission, we understand they have a job to do. I always had confidence that British Justice would play fair. Now I have evidence that this is the case. Now intend to launch a UKIP membership drive, through a concerted leafleting campaign".
Lord Pearson, the UKIP leader said,
"We are delighted with the result. We can now concentrate on our job... working towards Britain leaving the European Union".
The Supreme Court Press Summary
With the usual caveat of admitting I was not in court to hear the proceedings, on the face of it, this is exactly the kind of short prison sentence which shouldn't happen. It uses up another prison place for a comparatively harmless crime, when surely there could have been other ways of punishing Mr Reid. For all I know he may have 'previous' but if not he may well emerge from prison in six weeks (or even three) as a hardened criminal or with a drug habit.
Surely there are alternatives to a six week jail sentence in cases like this?
UPDATE: The original version of this post had the sentence at six months. Apologies for the error. The fact that the sentence is six weeks actually makes the wider point of this post even more relevant.
I think I am going to have to listen tonight. What other program offers David Miliband and anal fissures in the same programme?
But wouldn't it also be a good idea for the Trade Minister to go along too? The pity is that more than two months into the coalition government, we still don't have one. I find that incredible. Apparently several leading business figures have been approached and have all turned down the job.
It's time the position was filled, and filled quickly.
The Seven Days Show is back with a vengeance following my return from his holiday.
In the show this week (episode 33) we spoke about whether comedy classes are a good idea in prison; what the primary aim of prison actually is; whether tough choices have to be made in all areas from prisons to the NHS; why David Davis made his Brokeback mountain comment; whether a merger between the Tories and Lib Dems is likely; whether the Palace was right to rescind Nick Griffin's invite; whether we should be more ambitious in cutting the number of MPs, and if the MP for the Isle of Wight can represent over 100,000 constituents why can’t everyone; and finally whether Ed Balls should pull out of the leadership race.To listen to the podcast click HERE, or you can also subscribe to the show in the Tory Radio section in the podcast area of Itunes.
Introduced in 1992, there are about 6,000 speed cameras across Britain, generating an estimated £100m in fines each year. Oxfordshire’s raised more than £1m in 2009.
The government says it is “delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist”, but a prominent road safety campaigner said that the effects could be disastrous.
A 40% reduction in central government money for road safety has led Oxfordshire council officials to recommend a cut of £600,000 in funding to the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership.
The body, which operates the county’s fixed speed cameras, says it will no longer be able to afford them.
All will be switched off if, as expected, a meeting of the county council on Tuesday ratifies the cut in funding.
The camera networks in Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Northamptonshire are also under review after the government’s decision to claw back £38m from English local authorities’ 2010-11 road safety budget of £95m, and to remove funding for new speed cameras.
The money raised in fines goes directly into Treasury coffers despite complaints by local authorities that they should be able to retain the proceeds for spending on road safety.
Mike Penning, the road safety minister, said: “In the coalition agreement the government made clear it would end central funding for fixed speed cameras.
“This is another example of this government delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist.
“Although I recognise that the reduction of the road safety grant means that difficult choices must be made, I would hope that councils will use the funds available to put in place new measures to tackle road safety problems.”
He had previously told local authorities that although evidence showed speed cameras were an “effective way of helping manage safety risks” in some places, there was overreliance on them.
A Boot and Flogger Parliamentary Club would be an ideal name for a guerrilla "Real/Continuity 1922" backbench force.
ID: You hit the ground running when you first got here. How long is it now? Six, seven weeks?
EP: Something like that, yeah. These are precious times. If you don't set things out now, it's just not going to happen. There's got to be a combination of stopping things - and there are some pretty obvious things that need to be stopped - but also you need to set in trend the things you're announcing. I've got a whole raft of announcements, right the way through virtually until Christmas Day. I've done nothing that hasn't been part of the plan of what I wanted to fit in.
Even my unfortunate remarks about the uselessness of chief executives have all been part of the process of trying to get authorities to move together and recognise that they needed to do something, other than an alternative source of power to the leader of council. I discovered a new word, which is my new favourite word on that, which is German. I hope I'm pronouncing this right: doppelsplit, like doppelgang, meaning to be competing. The idea that a chief executive in a small district has any real prospect in the modern world of surviving without merging with neighbouring authorities in terms of administration or being involved with other organisations is well over.
Where you given any hints that this was the job you'd be given after the election?
No, I read you tipped me for it, so I thought it was a done deal.
Unfortunately David Cameron didn't follow all my other recommendations.
Well, he can't look like your puppet, can he?
What happened when you walked through the door to No 10 after being given the job?
It was a nice moment. Andrew Griffiths, who's now the MP for Burton and Uttoxeter and my former chief of staff, came to sit with me, which I thought was quite sweet - waiting for the call or the non-call. We walked across to No 10 and it was like having my mum take me to the school gates. I'd not been to No 10 for 13 years and it had changed a bit so I couldn't work out how to get in at all. A very nice camera crew from Channel 4 showed me how to get in. I went in and got appointed. I worked with David closely for a year and a bit. I'd seen him walk out to the Palace and all of that kind of thing. It was quite emotional really in its own way. I'd seen various folks and asked, what happens now? "Someone will ring you."
I went to have some lunch and sat there waiting and the telephone rings. "It's Nick outside. Is that the secretary of state, Eric Pickles?" I thought, yes it is!
He said: "I'll meet you outside. The department would very much like to meet you." I thought, well that's very nice. I said: "It's at the end of Victoria Street. I'll wander down." He said: "Don't worry, we'll send a car for you. I'll meet you outside in ten minutes." I went outside into New Palace Yard, but I couldn't see anybody. So I thought, what if he meant St Stephen's? I went and had a look there and I couldn't see anything. By now I'd forgotten his name, so I had to ring Central Office, to ring his department and it turned out he was waiting for me in Downing Street. He comes round. I sit in the cab and off we go.
I arrive at this North Korean moment. The entire building is out there, right up into the atriums, politely applauding me. You can see them saying: "Is it the fat guy? Is it the fat guy that's been appointed?" I made a little speech saying I normally only get applauded when I go round Tesco in my constituency. Then I came up here and just started.
After that the various ministers arrived, we divvied up what we were going to do and tried to work out a protocol in terms of the coalition. It was massively important that nobody could ever play games inside here, playing both ends against the middle. We have a meeting at 8.30am on a Tuesday for 45 minutes then a political meeting for 15 minutes with my Liberal colleagues, which sets out the rhythm of the week. Andrew [Stunell, Lib Dem CLG parliamentary under-secretary] has just been saying that we have been keeping them informed.
It must be odd though sitting down at a political meeting with a Liberal Democrat there?
Funnily enough, the way in which I think Oliver [Letwin], George [Osborne] and William [Hague] did the negotiations was unusual. The way these things usually work is almost on issue by issue. But, by and large, they had spent some time on the four big issues. They'd put together a position paper and they'd worked out areas of dissent well in advance. So we're actually working on agreed policy more than we probably would've done had it just been us.
Do you find that because you've got a political opponent there, that actually policy is tested more than it might have been otherwise?
The last thing you want, the last thing you need, the last thing that would screw everybody up, is if you marched folk up the hill and somebody "coughs" and you have to march down again. I would lose authority, this place would lose authority and suddenly it would be absolute anarchy. It would be like it was under Labour, where you have competing ministers fighting each other for authority within this building. This building was the Balkans until I arrived. I don't say this with any disrespect for John Denham or to John Healey but they were two competing positions in the way that [Caroline] Flint and Hazel [Blears] were. Ruth [Kelly] never really had much authority anyway. I needed to be absolutely certain that when I said something, it was never going to be contradicted.
Effectively you've come in to be a "change agent" in management speak. Parts of the civil service are there to resist big change. Probably in this department, you've got to institute some of the biggest changes of all.
Yeah, you are acutely aware that you are saying to people, who spent most of their professional life building it up into a particular model: "Thank you very much for doing that. But I'm afraid it's got to be different and we don't want to do that."
I want to put this politely, but occasionally you do things that surprise them. For example when we got rid of the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA), we were just talking about it. They said: "You want to replace it with what?" Nothing. "Yes, okay. But what things do we want local authorities to be judged on? What's the regime?" Nothing. "So just to be clear secretary of state, when you say nothing, what do you mean?" Nothing. I mean nothing, absolutely nothing. It's pointless. It doesn't do anything. It doesn't get a bin emptied. No sure, of course we are going to inspect children's services but it's going to be in terms of life threatening right through to personal liberty. Those kinds of things are going to be dealt with. But some of the stuff was pointless. You just became quite good at filling the tick boxes. Nothing actually happened.
I've always thought "community" was an intrinsic left-wing word when used by government. Are you tempted to rename the department?
I'm not going to change the letterhead. I suppose I feel a little bit like Scrooge and Marley. Community is going to stay on. I do think it's about neighbourliness. I want to make neighbourhoods, long term, the residue of finance in local government, and short term, the residue of service delivery. You're not going to find anything restyled here. I don't know if they've cleaned the settees since John [Denham] left but he always looked to me like a pretty neat sort of guy. I can't imagine it was ever needed. The paintings... I've put my Che Guevara portrait up there.
I've noticed that. What is the point of that?
Che is there to remind me that if we let the system take over before we stop in any way, then the cigar-chomping Commies take over again. The cigar-chomping Commies are not going to take over on my watch.
There are a fair few of them in this department.
Bless their hearts. I don't mind what they do in their private lives. There is a default mechanism that exists and its intention which is big state, this is how we're going to do it. We've had quiet tussles. I've tried to do a number of things. Basically, I'm not mad keen on reports longer than two pages because after that most things are just word processing. I do think it helps to refine the argument and to try to get the argument out. We've done a number of things: going for shorter reports - I try to reply to letters on one side of A4, again because you just need to. We now have a terrific record of replying to MPs. You will find the odd one will sometimes drift on for about three or four weeks, but that's mostly because we don't like the draft. For most MPs, we get a turnaround well within a fortnight, which is quicker than most departments do.
Localism is a buzzword that everybody seems to subscribe to nowadays. You have, in the first few weeks of your tenure, made some decisions which people have criticised because you're issuing edicts to local authorities...
I've exalted. I've urged. We've asked them to do the transparency and, by and large, they've responded to that. But localism doesn't mean you go along and do what you like and never hear anything from me. I'm an opinionated so and so. Yes, folks have not been terribly happy with the things I've said about chief executives and pay. But it needed to be said. Have I introduced a pay scale for chief executives? No, that's none of my business. But that doesn't mean to say I don't have an opinion. Authorities need to know if they're talking about a lack of resources and they're a little district and paying £180k for their chief executive, or if they're a county with a chief exec on over £200k, I am not going to take them seriously. There's been a rush of increases in members' allowances. I'm not going to introduce a national scale. I'm not going to cap them. But I have to say to them, I don't take it terribly seriously at all. Don't tell me that some independent people agreed to this. You are the politicians. You've got to see the political climate is such where you've got set an example. You've got to be reducing what you do. You're going to be asking your staff to take a pay freeze. How can you look them in the eye when you've taken an increase?
What about local government structures? Labour wanted to have this regional agenda and elected mayors. Have you got any plans in that direction?
We want to see this in our larger cities. But, by and large, I'm not very interested in a restructure. Every single mistake people make is usually tied up with restructuring. I can't afford for local authorities to take two years out while someone decides who the new chief executive is, where they're going to have their headquarters, what does their paper look like, going back to the rebranding and all that kind of thing. I'm much more interested in the formal power structures. Now, I think it makes a lot of sense at a managerial level to merge functions at lower tier authorities.
Are you at all attracted by the idea of saving money by stopping annual elections in councils?
I've been thinking about that a lot. By and large, my stance is that people came to a decision when authorities were created. I am attracted to the idea of an all-out election because you can actually have real change created there. But it is something that might get wound up in the constitutional reform that the coalition is considering. But I don't think it's a bad idea.
The cabinet system in local authorities is very unpopular with a lot of people. If local authorities wanted to change that and go back to the committee system, what would your reaction be?
Fine. We will be putting something into the Local Government Bill to let them do that. I don't care how things are organised. They can have it on the basis of a committee system, on a cabinet basis, on the mayoral system. If they want to introduce it on a choral system with various members of the council singing sea shanties, I don't mind, providing it's accountable, transparent and open. That's all I need to know.
With regard to local government finance, successive governments have really ducked out of revaluations. Any views on entering that bear pit?
We are going to have a review of local government finance. We're not really ruling anything in or out. But, I have to say, revaluation in many ways is a red herring. What is immensely important in revaluation is keeping the property value between the north and south on roughly the same kilter. They are almost exactly what they were when they were first introduced. We certainly won't be getting in a spotter plane and saying: "I see No 27 has got themselves one more gnome than they are entitled to." We're not going to do any of that.
Have you made use of the relaxation room yet?
Harriet [Harman's] green monument to tranquility. I haven't. I just don't think I've got the karma to be there. I haven't even sat on those lovely couches. What are they called? Contemplation suites. It's funny, I was looking around the office on my first day. I saw these and asked how much they cost. Two grand a pop!
What's the most shocking thing you've discovered?
We've stopped a lot of things. There were all kinds of things that we were going to do in terms of meeting staff, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds when I could just walk around the office instead to meet them. Press cuttings were costing ten grand a month. My papers are the only papers now because I think I'm the only person that reads them. They come up and they're covered in ketchup and God knows what. There are other things but I really don't think I can go into that kind of detail here because we're in the process...
What do you think Lord Ashcroft is going to say about you in his book, which he is apparently writing?
I've got enormous respect for the good Lord. Bless his heart. I don't think I'd be sat here without him. But the guy is caustic and jolly and, whatever he has to say, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. We would not be here without him. I know he's very controversial. But ultimately we're here because of what he did.
Did you enjoy the election campaign?
Yes, I did. The ups and downs I did enjoy.
Do you think it was a problem though that there wasn't one person in charge. There wasn't a Lynton Crosby figure?
I thought George [Osborne] was very focused throughout the whole campaign. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, exactly the mountain we had to climb and he played a pretty good hand. He was the guy that was in charge. Right from the beginning people were saying: "Oh it's going to be dreadful with Ashcroft doing this and George doing that." But I always took the view that my role was to get the best out of them, to try to smooth any channels of communications, to be someone they could come to. I have to say it was a pleasure working with them all.
What was the worst moment of the campaign?
There is not a chance I'll answer that.
You clearly just thought of something.
I'm not going to lie, there were moments.
Are you happy with your public image? And what do you think it is?
Sort of fat, kind of... I think because of the job I did, being the party chairman, you cannot have a view other than the leader's view. You cannot see things in shades of grey. Labour is wrong, the Lib Dems are wrong, we are right. I've always been more consensual than my image has been - a kind of hard man that pushes things through. But that's largely because of the jobs I've had to do. I just had that thing on Radio 4, a profile, which I thought was pretty accurate. I don't think I know what my image is. Sometimes you see things on Twitter and you think, these people have no comprehension of what I'm actually like. But I don't care.
After Crewe and Nantwich, you supposedly got a lot of flack from people around Cameron. They were saying you had become too big for your boots. How did that affect you?
I didn't mind it. There might have been some truth in it. I don't think you could ever point to a single interview I did at Crewe and Nantwich where I didn't talk about the team and I didn't praise Stephen Gilbert [campaign director] and I didn't praise the people around us. I think I've consistently done that. You can never entirely predict how things... because I know who was responsible for the victory in Crewe and Nantwich, me or Stephen? Stephen by a mile. But I was working very closely with him. He asked me to take the weight of the press off and he asked me to be the campaign spokesman. Some people may have been unhappy that I did that very well but there was never any intention to be anything other than part of that team.
Doesn't it slightly irritate you when you see yourself written up as David Cameron's bit of Northern rough?
I see myself as a diamond geezer.
Was Question Time the worst experience of your political life?
No not by a mile, not by a country mile.
It's one of those occasions where you could see the shovel, but you couldn't quite resist picking it up.
We rehearsed what I was going to say as well, that was the worst thing. I was as out of touch as other MPs. I was so irritated by it, I didn't actually tell the audience that I stopped claiming some time ago before the controversy arrived. I was just as out of touch as anybody. I've still got the disc and if I do something really well I always make sure to play it late at night just to remind myself. I can virtually recite it. We had rehearsed it. It wasn't that I was caught unaware. But I was unaware in the sense that I was as unaware as most MPs. My claims were tiny but that didn't matter.
Do you think it's possible to make real friends in politics?
Yeah, you've got to understand that nothing is forever. If you sit at a table and plan out your career, a bit like telling God your plans, it's not going to work. Life is not a rehearsal for something else that's coming. I've seen too many people just eaten up by unfulfilled ambition that then destroyed their political career, their family life, without leaving any trace of a human being you'd like to have a drink or a chat with. So yes, it is possible to have people you can actually trust.
Tell me something that few people know about you.
I really like opera.
What would Mrs Pickles like to change about her man?
My weight, I'm sure.
One thing you wish you had known at 16?
That you aren't always going to be 16.
The worst gift you've ever given someone?
I was once given a musical farting Santa by my staff.
To read the full interview click HERE.
...This is Labour’s problem when opposing the cuts now. Their own policy, on which they fought an election, was to halve the deficit over four years. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies demonstrated, this would mean public spending cuts, for each department, in the region of 20 per cent. Nonetheless, Labour tried to fight an election on the investment vs cuts narrative. With no credibility on the deficit, it is hardly surprising their campaign was a disaster (as Mandelson freely admits in his book).
Now Labour’s leadership candidates find that the debate has moved on. The coalition government has persuaded the public that cuts are inevitable, that Labour was profligate and had turned public spending into a false idol. The Lib-Con government is thereby absolved of all responsibility for these cuts. So when the axe starts to fall in the autumn, with the 25 per cent cuts that the Chancellor warned about in the Budget, Labour will have difficulty complaining given that their own plan was for cuts of a similar magnitude.
Some of the leadership candidates believe they can argue that Labour’s cuts would have been more compassionate, in contrast to the ideologically driven and unfair cuts being planned by the government. Some candidates are striking out to the left. Ed Balls, for a few weeks now, has been saying he regarded the Brown–Darling deficit reduction plan as too aggressive. This frees him to oppose government cuts now.
Another leadership candidate (with a better chance of winning) is, I understand, developing a similar stance on the public finances. To the all-important question — where to find that clear, red water — he proposes a simple solution. First, he would declare that the public finances are better than Labour had thought when it drew up its own deficit reduction programme. So, it can be argued, Labour’s cuts would not have been so harsh as it had previously imagine. Next, propose higher taxes, thereby reducing the need for further cuts.
But whoever is elected Labour leader on 25 September will face a substantial logistical problem. By then, there will be just four weeks remaining until George Osborne announces his spending review. It is a tight deadline on which to forge an economic policy, especially if the new leader has to wait until the results of the shadow Cabinet elections to find out who the shadow chancellor will be.
Labour's leadership contest has been very uninspiring. None of the candidates has even tried to think the unthinkable or launch a real 'change' manifesto. It's 'same old same old' from all of the main four contenders. Most of them still act as if there in government and as if the deficit hardly exists, and if it does, it's not their fault.
Compare this with the Tory leadership contest in 2005. That contest captured the imagination and lots of new ideas were batted around. It showed a party wanting to learn from its past and move on to a new future. The 'change' message was one which the party responded to, even though it knew it could be an uncomfortable journey. Ed Miliband is possibly realising this at last and adopting the same message as the Cameron campaign in 2005 - Change to Win.
But is it too late? Will anyone notice if they have been switched off already?
UPDATE: Mehdi Hasan's NS column last week is probably the best analysis of the state of play in the leadeership contest so far.
So Jack Straw has banned prisoners at Whitemoor Prison from learning about how to write a comedy script or do stand up. They were taking part in an eight day course as part of an education programme. What harm can possibly be done by learning about comedy script writing and improvisation? I'd have thought learning how to diffuse potentially harmful situations by the use of humour was a good thing. Instead, Jack Straw has jerked his knee and responded to synthetic tabloid outrage. Not only that he's ordered an inquiry! you couldn't make it up.
Prison is a balance between punishment and rehabilitation. I don't believe in going soft on people in prison - but nor do I believe that activities which make them want to learn and develop should be discouraged.
Jack Straw cancelled all arts projects in HMP Whitemoor and issued a Prison Service Instruction to all Governors, telling them that, when making decisions about arts interventions, they must ensure projects “meet the public acceptability test” and consider how the activity might “be perceived if open to media scrutiny.”...
Surely if rehabilitation is to mean anything, the arts have a key role to play in helping prisoners discover some self esteem and maybe a talent they never thought they had. Our prison system is set up for punishment, but rehabilitation takes a back seat.
I hope under a Conservative government that will change. Being tough doesn't just mean locking people up and throwing away the key. A tough politician will take tough choices - and that means locking fewer people up and devoting more resources to preparing prisoners for life on the outside. Only in that way will reoffending rates drop.
I want to mention one other proposal from Churchill that struck a chord with me. Churchill noted that
‘we have got a class of men in our prisons who need brain food of the most ordinary character.’
He notes that
‘There have from time to time been occasional lectures given in the prisons, and a few months ago the Somerset Light Infantry, quartered near, had their band in Dartmoor Prison and it played to the convicts. It was an amazing thing the effect which was produced on all these poor people, and their letters for a month after had been eloquent in recognition of the fact.’
I have to say that not all Members of the Commons were quite as enthusiastic about military music with one suggesting that:
‘The music will be an added punishment to some.’
But there is a serious point here. We recognise that arts activities can play a valuable role in helping offenders to address issues such as communication problems and low self-esteem and enabling them to engage in programmes that address their offending behaviour I confess before getting this job I was not aware of Prison Service Instruction number 50 of 2008, though was vaguely conscious of some row in the tabloids about offenders being recorded as enjoying themselves. As a measure it was typical of the last administration’s flakiness under pressure. At the slightest whiff of criticism from the popular press policy tended to get changed and the consequence of an absurd overreaction to offenders being exposed to comedy in prison was this deleterious, damaging and daft instruction. I’m pleased to have marked the actual day of the 100th anniversary of Churchill’s speech on Tuesday by rescinding it.
I'm glad he did that. It was the brave and the right thing to do.
So, go on, call me a woolly liberal, or a LibDem. It'll be water off a duck's back. We need to run our prisons policy very differently. It is not working, and we need to think more about the kind of person we put back into society at the end of their sentences. At the moment the majority can't read or write and they're hooked on drugs. Is it any surprise that they then reoffend? it's all very well saying that we should keep offenders in prison for longer, so they can't offend, but we will be heading for a situation where the prison population heads for 200,000. We simply cannot afford that, even if we thought it was a good idea. And it isn't. The key to lowering reoffending is to improve in-prison rehabilitation. And education via courses like arts and comedy courses is all part of it.
ID: The cabinet system in local authorities is very unpopular with a lot of people. If local authorities wanted to change that and go back to the committee system, what would your reaction be?
EP: Fine. We will be putting something into the local government bill to let them do that. I don’t care how things are organised. They can have it on the basis of a committee system, on a cabinet basis, on the mayoral system. If they want to introduce it on a choral system with various members of the council singing sea shanties I don’t mind, providing it’s accountable, transparent and open. That’s all I need to know.
While shopping at my local Homebase today, I saw two young women, seemingly of south east Asian origin, attempting to buy a saw - the sort of all purpose one you might use for cutting shelves to size, or perhaps taking some branches off a tree. The assistant explained that 'Home Office rules' meant that they could not sell the saw without seeing proof of age, and indeed the counter was displaying a leaflet explaining that Homebase and the Home Office were working together to clamp down on knives sales to under-16s. Though as far as I know, blade-wielding hoodies don't tend to go in for wood saws.
Is there a hidden crime wave of saw-wielding twenty something Chinese lady carpenters, or has common sense gone completely out of the window?