Thursday, 19 May 2011

Rape is rape, but...

I've read a few posts regarding Ken Clarke's well publicised  radio interview regarding prison sentencing which has turned into a nightmare for him.  I am unsure about writing this post as I don't expect a positive reaction but in the whole I am about to defend him.  If anyone feels the need to object to what I am about to say that is fine, but please make sure you've read (or listened to) the full transcript of his interview first.

Firstly let me say rape is a serious crime, it deserves to face the full force of the law and the criminal duly punished.  It's not for me to say whether the guideline punishments are too lenient or not, but I will comment on the issues raised in the interview.  I do not want whatever I go on to type to be misconstrued in anyway as me thinking that punishments are too light or that the victim has brought it onto themselves.

The main criticism levied at Mr Clarke seems to be based on that people are implying that there are varying degrees of rape and that perhaps he his implying that sometimes it's not a serious crime.  However at the time he was talking about sentencing.  The interviewer (Victoria Derbyshire) was trying to get into the listener's mind that on average rapists receive a 5 year sentence, therefore under these plans (50% off for an early guilty plea) they would only be required to serve 30 months, which once good behaviour is taken into account would result in them being back on the street in 15 months.  My interpretation of Mr Clarke's response is that he was trying to distinguish that each case is different and by using an average you can distort the true picture.

Not every rapist receives 5 years, many receive much more than that, some less, it depends on the severity of their crime.  Take these following examples:

  • A 17 year old having sex with a willing 15 year old (say just a week away from her 16 birthday), they have been seeing each other for quite a few months and believe that they are "in love" - this is classed as rape (statutory rape, and I don't know if it counts in the 5 year figure quoted but Mr Clarke was trying to indicate that it does).
  • A person having sex initiating sex with another person who is asleep next to them, they slept together earlier that night and they would probably have slept together in the future.  This is rape.
  • A person following a random stranger in a dark lane at night, then using violence to force them into engaging in sexual intercourse. 

I would hope that everyone would agree that these are all rape, yet in my mind the latter is more serious than the former two - that is not to say that they are not all bad, rape is a very serious crime, but none the less I would find the latter more serious.  In the UK we have different classifications of sexual assault because the do range in severity.

Having listened to and read the interview I just think Ms Derbyshire is going for the tabloid news headline style of reporting of trying to make people morally outraged when really they shouldn't be.  

Lets look at those figures again, even if sentenced to 5 years - 60 months, serve 15 months.  Now, what Mr Clarke was trying to point out is that people already get a discount for pleading guilty, they receive around a third off, however they can do this at any point - the first day of their trial for instance.  This would result in an actual sentence of 40 months, 20 for good behaviour.  Just 5 months more than the proposed legislation would allow.  However in the proposed legislation they would have to plead guilty much earlier, saving the trauma of going through the trial for the victim.

The real terrible issue regarding this is highlighted by this blog, one of the few I've read which I agree with.  Conviction rates are far too low, because reporting is too low, charging is too low and then the actual convictions themselves are low (this may not be too low but I doubt 42% of the time the defendant was innocent).  This proposal was an attempt to increase conviction rates. 

Since starting to draft this I've read one more good post, this on the Independent.

Overall, I think the only thing Mr Clarke should apologise for is letting his words get twisted and perhaps not choosing them as wisely as he might have.

Finally, I'd like to just point out that I have chosen the sexes in this blog carefully, men get raped too.  Obviously the vast majority of sexual assaults are on women, I'm not trying to deny that, however I'd wager that even fewer men report such an assault on them as there is likely to be more stigma attached. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Liberal Democrats to form a minority administration...

As I mentioned in my blog regarding the recent council elections, my area bucked the national trend.  It was therefore pleasing to read today that Labour have agreed to back a minority Liberal Democrat administration.  

I don't think I'm being to partisan by saying that this was the correct choice.  There is a fair amount of policy agreement between the two parties at local level having seen the Conservatives do (what I believe to be) a poor job for so long and from my experience talking to people they did want a change.  This should result in some pet projects being scrapped hopefully resulting in better value for money for the local residents - as well as nationally with respect to the BRT.

The BRT is something I will be more than happy to see scrapped - the old phrase is "not in my back yard", this would have literally been through my back yard.  I can be a bit more objective as I don't intend on still being in the property by the time the compulsory purchase comes through admittedly it has made me a bit bias.  The system itself would have been a transport system aimed at cutting congestion, however experts have said that the effect would be minimal if anything.   There are two good youtube videos that illustrate this, firstly:

The second isn't done at the best time of day but they do help to highlight why little time will be saved.  

With Labour's help these projects will be well and truely shelved and hopefully the new council will be able to actually do something towards improving the city.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Innocent until proven guilty...

I wrote about this yesterday but it appears to have disappeared...

One of my most fundamental beliefs is that a person should be presumed innocent until they have been proven guilty in a court of law.  As such I was very pleased to read this, The Sun and The Daily Mirror are facing contempt of court proceedings for their coverage of the hunt for Joanna Yeates' killer.

I remember reading the story at the time (though admittedly not in either of these papers) and thinking that the coverage was terrible.  The gist of the story was Christopher Jefferies (her landlord) was arrested.  After this moment I remember his face being on the front page of most newspapers, the reporting that followed did nothing to suggest he might be innocent.  I then read various stories, which I can best describe as character assassinations, these left the reader in no doubt that he was definitely the sort of person who would do such a thing.  His name was effectively mud.  The police released him without charge.

I'm sure Mr Jefferies went through an awful ordeal (nothing compared to Joanna's family of course - I don't want to take anything away from that), but the reporting was done in such a way that I can't see how his ordeal would have stopped there.  Imagine if it had gone to trial.  It is more than likely that the jurors would have read at least some of the coverage and therefore already been prejudice against him from the beginning - he wouldn't have received a completely fair trial, as a result there may have been a miscarriage of justice.   Thankfully the police did their job well and (hopefully) the correct person is behind bars.

Like I have said, I believe in innocent until proven guilty.  Therefore I would have a blanket ban on any publication of the details of a person who is arrested until they have been found guilty.  

Finally though, my thoughts go out to Jo's family.  They have been through enough, I'm sure the last thing they want is the case in the public eye again.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

No more broken promises (2)...

I have just read Nick Clegg's speech today regarding the one year anniversary of the Coalition.  There is a lot in there I like, I like a lot of the things he emphasises and in places he really captures where I am on the political spectrum.  I also think he is still a great public speaker.  However I'm not left feeling particularly enthusiastic, mainly for one section:

"Let me be clear. It will not be possible to deliver the entire Liberal Democrat manifesto in this Government. This is because we didn’t win the election. So we have had to compromise. We could not, for example, deliver our policy on tuition fees. Nor, it is important to remember, would we have been able to in coalition with Labour.

Labour was the party that introduced tuition fees, and then commissioned the Browne review which recommended no cap at all. On this issue, the other two parties agreed with each other, not with us. So we were isolated."

This to me illustrates that the leadership doesn't understand the problem.  This is something we can't blame Labour for - it wont help us on the doorstep.  The reason the public have been so angry about us regarding tuition fees is not the policy itself per say, but the fact that it is the complete opposite of personal pledges made by our MPs.  

The public know that we only have 57 MPs so we can't enact what everything we desire, they also in the main (at least the ones I've spoken to) understand that a coalition with Labour was not feasible.  However what they didn't expect from us was 36 of our MPs to break the personal pledges that they made.  Trying to pin this on Labour doesn't wash - they expect the old politics to break promises the moment the public's back is turned, one of our major advantages was that we were offering New Politics - honest and trustworthy.  As such by introducing the bill in the first place and then 36 MPs not voting against it we have lost the faith of many of our floating voters.

The policy may have been designed with the best intentions, it may also be progressive (as it effectively means tests each student every year after they graduate for 30 years or until they pay it off to see their ability to pay - I may write a long post in future if I can ever obtain the figures I want), this though is irrelevant.  In the eyes of the electorate it is a broken promise and we are lumped together in the "they are all the same" bracket.  What is needed to start this long road of rebuilding trust is for the leadership to acknowledge what a big deal this is and how it is a failure on our part - not to blame other people, to basically say SORRY, then maybe one day we may regain their trust.


Friday, 6 May 2011

Compromise or betrayal?

The best tweet I've read:

"If my defeat tonight is part payment so that no child will spend another night in a detention centre then I accept it, with all my heart."

That was by Alex Cole-Hamilton a Scottish parliamentary candidate (Edinburgh Central).

In England up and down the country hard working councillors have lost their seats - often to people who might not do as good a job.  This though was inevitable.  People see the Tories in power and think back to Thatcher.  I'm too young to remember it but it obviously still resonates.  We knew this though going into Coalition, it doesn't change the fact that one year ago we did the correct thing.  It may be unpopular, but whatever the make up of the Government it would have been unpopular.  If Labour had been in power they would have been taking steps to address the fiscal deficit, whatever they say now in the luxury of opposition. If we hadn't formed a Coalition we'd have been a laughing stock, we had the opportunity to directly influence government policy and not taking it in my opinion would have left us completely unelectable.  

Overall I think we are doing a good job.  Quite clearly the Tuition Fees debacle was a massive balls up and one we will pay for for a long time (irrespective of whether or not it is a good policy it has lead to the perception that as a party the Liberal Democrats are untrustworthy).  Other than that however independent research shows that we are enacting 75% of our manifesto promises.  I don't want to big that up too much as that doesn't take into account the scale of the promise, how important it is seen to be and how much of a change it is.  Looking at what the government has done though you can definitely see a Lib Dem stamp, and on policies where there hasn't been one there has often been a u-turn or at least a pause & reflect.  As Paddy Ashdown said however:

"We believed, perhaps a little over-optimistically that the British people would understand the difference between compromise and betrayal.”

I maintain that the best chances for the future are to keep going and hope that come 2015 people will look at the state of the country and see the good things that the Liberal Democrats achieved that otherwise wouldn't have been possible.  (For instance, anyone who has looked at their pay cheque from April and isn't a higher rate tax payer should see an increase).

That may be the national picture, however locally it was better news, we actually gained seats.  The candidates I was helping were elected in my two seat ward, one fairly comfortably and the overall situation was: Conservative 29 (-2), Liberal Democrat 29 (+3), Labour 5 (=), Independent/Other 2 (-1).  Hopefully this will mean for the first time since I've lived here we wont have a Conservative run council.  This will mean the plan to build a bus road through my back garden will be scrapped, a couple of schools will stay open, and the new (unnecessary) council offices wont be built - policies that Labour (I believe) agreed with us on. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

"Britain is raising 'a generation of couch potatoes'"

Articles like this on the Independent's website really annoy me.  It is a small article that uses a few pieces of data to infer a correlation/causation.  These data points (from a sample of 1,500 5-15 year olds) are:

1. 15% of children can't swim
2. 10% are unable to ride a bike
3. 25% have never run a distance of 400m
4. Around 50% of children have surfed the internet
5. A third don't own a bike
6. Two thirds own a mobile phone
7. 75% own a games console.

From this selective data they have inferred that children are being raised as couch potatoes.  I think the information clearly shows that more children can ride a bike or swim than own a games console.  The item points are not mutually exclusive either - just because a child said no to being able to swim (their school may not have a swimming pool - I know mine didn't & may never have been somewhere where it was expected) doesn't mean that they aren't one of the two thirds who own a bike (the same amount that own a mobile phone)!

I find articles like this so annoying because they obtain data and try and manipulate it into sensationalist information.  At no point do they offer comparatives - for instance, 10 years ago x% of children could swim, the European average is x%, they just present the data in a way to make you think that you should be appalled.  The study was done for some PR for Tata Steel who are running a series of mini triathlons over the summer.  I'm sure this is a good thing - anything to get people/children active, they should be applauded - however just because a child can't complete all three legs doesn't mean that they are a couch potato.  In fact I have dated a girl who had never learnt to swim and also another who had never had a reason to ride a bike, both of them were very active people and most definitely not couch potatoes!

The worst part of the article is this reference:

"The pressure group Parents Outloud criticised schools for not devoting more time to physical exercise."

It appears to me totally unrelated to the data provided.  My schools didn't have a swimming pool or any cycle equipment, so as a result (apart from the odd trip for "swimming" in Primary School) they didn't teach either of the two activities particularly highlighted here - this didn't ,mean we weren't encouraged to exercise.  Maybe Parents Outloud think schools should be doing more with the other statistics - such as stopping children having the most up to date electronics at home...  or maybe they just want to jump on any statistic that they can use to back up their agenda (however noble that agenda is).

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind...

With the death of Osama Bin Laden I am reminded of a post I made back in November 2006 when America sentenced one of it's other high profile targets to death:

So Saddam has been found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.  So I have to ask, is this "justice"?  Will it help all those Kurds who lost loved ones at his hands?  Can it really be justice if it ends in a man losing his life?  By sentencing him to death does that not make the judge as bad as him, chosing who lives and who dies?  Why should man be allowed to play God?  I am a very firm believer that every man, no matter what they have done has the right to live.  I know that it is impossible to deny his guilt but death is so final, there is no going back.  In the more general sense what if a mistake is made?  There is no going back, new evidence proving innocence etc, you can't just say oh sorry, you're free to live again! 

Saddam, will die, become a martyr to many people and his suffering will end, his legend living on.  Surely a more fitting punishment would have been for him to rot away in a cell, becoming a shadow of the man he once was.  Iraq is a mess, the Americans went in all guns blazing and failed to find the promised WMDs, now their precious oil is as unstable as ever due to the ever increasing unrest!  I hope the death of Saddam makes George Bush happy and helps him sleep at night, since it came at the cost of countless deaths of American and British troops along with all of the innocent Iraqi civilians! 

I remain 100% against the execution of Saddam - or anyone, irrespective of their crimes, however at least he had a trial.  He was able to face his accusers and hear the charges put against him, he could have also offered a defence.  In the West we spend our time preaching to others about human rights and bragging about our justice systems, but a system where an enemy can just be killed and the death celebrated doesn't sound like justice to me.  Obviously I was not there, I doubt we will have any accurate idea of the events that resulted in his death - whether it could have been avoided or if it was the only way the operatives could guarantee their own safety, however it comes across as America just issuing summary justice/signing an execution order without trial.  

Overall, people may now think the world is a better place - I also wont be mourning his death - however I also refuse to celebrate the death of any single person.  I think life is sacred, whatever your beliefs nobody can convince me that they are 100% certain on what may happen after death and as such nobody should force that on anyone before their time and at the end of the day, like Ghandi said, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

A vote for Labour = a vote for the Tories?

A very good friend of mine was a strong supporter of the Liberal Democrats until the formation of the coalition.  Now he plans on voting for Labour and Green candidates in his two seat ward.  I have asked what reasons he has for changing his local allience and the only reasons I've been given are national reasons.  I had genuinly been asking out of curiousity as I hadn't had a single leaflet through from either of his new adopted parties to know what their plans for the town are - probably put off by the Liberal Democrat signs in my window!

Anyway, I actually received a leaflet a day or two ago.  The majority of it was made up of covering the coalition and attacking the Liberal Democrats nationally but it did have a section regarding their opinions on local issues.  These were almost identical to the Liberal Democrat position - so much so that they could have been lifted out of any one of the leaflets I'd passed out.  Obviously a tactic which will win them votes, attack the Liberal Democrats saying how bad we are to then go and offer the same reasoned positions on things that matter to local residents (at least in my ward).  I'm sure this is a vote winning strategy for their party, so that's fair enough - but is it best for the voters?  In the last elections the results were:

Conservatives: 31
Liberal Democrats: 26
Labour: 5
Other: 3

Labour voted to allow the Tories to have overall control of the council - rather than a coalition of the rest against them, which I admit would be unstable.  My worry is that this tactic - although good for their party, will ultimately just lead to a greater split in the left leaning vote.  Whilst they will probably be successful in taking votes away from the Liberal Democrats (last time out there wasn't even a Labour candidate in my two seat ward - there is one this time) I can't see much on there to try and win any Tory votes.  Would those voters not be better served voting for the party that have been  championing these positions for at least as long as I have been in the area?