Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas and best wishes to everyone this year - lets hope 2008 is as eventful as 2007 was - and maybe we'll even get another new Prime Minister...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Redwood and rape

It's still a bit early to see whether the, perhaps slightly manufactured outrage about John Redwood's comments on the role of consent in rape is going to go anywhere. For the record, given that the vast majority of commentators are quoting only one line of this, here is what Redwood said.
They [Labour] decided to set date rape alongside stranger rape. Again, none of us want men to rape women, but there is a difference between a man using unreasonable force to assault a woman on the street, and a disagreement between two lovers over whether there was consent on one particular occasion when the two were spending an evening or night together. Labour’s doctrine of equivalence has led to jury scepticism about many rape claims, in situations where it is the man’s word against the woman’s and where they had agreed to spend the evening or night together. Young men do not want to have to take a consent form and a lawyer on a date, just as young women have every right to go on a date and to say “No”, having it respected.
Inevitably this has been presented, as here by Marcel Berlins, as Date rape, he asserts in his blog, should be regarded as a "disagreement between two lovers" and not be treated as seriously as rape by a stranger. Berlins argues that rape is rape is rape, and that the emotional damage caused by the betrayal of trust when raped by a friend or lover can be even worse than 'stranger rape'. He goes on to say that In other words, men are being wrongly acquitted because some jurors are taking the Redwood approach. Somehow, juries need to be told firmly that a rape is a rape, whoever commits it.
But the problem, as has been said again and again, and as Redwood is also saying, is that given that the offence of rape is entirely one of consent, in situations where there is, literally, a disagreement between people, both of whom acknowledge that sex took place, and may even be lovers, the evidence for such consent, or the lack of it, is vanishingly hard to discover. Redwood's words are not dismissive of, or trivialising rape. An allegation of rape that is defended is either a disagreement about whether sex happened (which is usually the case with 'stranger rape), or a disagreement about the status of consent. That's not a dinosaur-like attitude, that's an accurate description of the legal process. If Berlins thinks he can second-guess juries (because how can someone be 'wrongly acquitted') that's for him. I'd rather rely on trial by jury, than trial by columnist.

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CICA and the Poppy Project

There's been a little publicity recently over the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority's decision to pay compensation to women trafficked into this country. To be clear on this, these payments are available to anybody who has suffered an injury as a result of a criminal act (assault, rape, battery etc) in this country. They are there for two reasons, one pragmatic, one symbolic.
The pragmatic reason is that the people who have committed these offences, and should thus equitably be responsible for the compensation are overwhelmingly incapable of so doing. People who need and deserve compensation for injuries suffered, should not be prevented from being able to do so because their attacker doesn't have the funds.
The symbolic reason is that an injury sustained as a result of a criminal attack is a failure by the state to uphold its covenant with the individual. The state, in return for reducing our liberty, covenants to secure our safety. That they have failed to do this is reflected in the state's moral obligation to compensate those who have suffered as a result.
Where this gets tricky, and emotive, is where the people being compensated are not British, and especially when they are here illegally. There is a huge problem in the UK at the moment with sex trafficking. Whether or not this is linked to the huge increase of (entirely legal) immigration from the Eastern European accession countries is a moot point - there is no denying the fact, however, that a significant proportion of trafficked women are from Eastern Europe, some from accession states and some not.
Regardless of their legal status in this country, the fate of these women is absolutely horrifying. There is an argument to be made for legalising and regulating (and taxing...) prostitution. It is, as someone said, where sex and the free market meet. Except, of course, that it isn't. There are not recruitment salons in Sofia where aspiring prostitutes audition. There are lies told to teenagers about waitressing and hairdressing jobs, and then abduction, multiple rape and abuse both physical and mental. Then there is effective imprisonment, in towns like London, Birmingham and even places like Cheltenham, where the girls are whored out 20 or 30 times a day. This isn't Belle de Jour.
So when Laban says, So if illegal immigrants are victims of crime while here, the taxpayer will compensate them, my answer would be, it is largely our responsibility that these girls have been abused for so long. The crimes weren't committed overseas, they were committed in bedsits in King's Cross. They were committed by men in England (regardless of whether they were English men) and they require compensation.
Incidentally, given that the legal profession has a generally hard time (and richly deserved most of it is too) I should pick up Laban on one point as well.
The authority, which awards compensation to victims of violent crime, has agreed payments for 'false imprisonment and forced prostitution during the time of their imprisonment' though neither exists as an official category for damages. Sarah Johnson, of Lovells, said: 'This will serve as a precedent for other cases and we are delighted.'
I'm presuming that Lovells are taxpayer funded via legal aid. And I know the Poppy Project is.
Lovells is a large, predominantly corporate, law firm just outside the so-called Magic Circle. They certainly don't need my support or defence. But they certainly aren't legal aid funded. Most if not all large law firms these days have a large pro bono unit, where lawyers of all sorts provide their services to certain 'worthy causes' free of charge. An example would be the death row appeals process, the majority of which have been handled, for free, by London firms. I am absolutely certain that this was the case here. And last point:
Former prostitutes with links to organised crime are just the New Britons we need.
Given that the 'links to organised crime' consisted of being abducted, multiply raped and then imprisoned for years and whored, I'm less prepared to say that this reflects poorly on the moral character of the women in question. Given that the entire point of the compensation, and the court cases which preceded it, was that the women had been abducted, and forced by violence to work as prostitutes, I question whether it's fair to even describe them as prostitutes. I am convinced, however, that it is grossly unfair to denigrate them for it.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Clegg it is then

Much, much closer than everyone thought it was going to be though. People are already saying that the tight margin of victory has meant that this is a victory for the Tories - in that the Lib Dems are already saddled with a leader half the party didn't vote for. However, this is much less of a problem than if Huhne had won. Clegg, remember, had the overwhelming declared support of the parliamentary party, even though the voting constituency was the party membership. Despite the role of the members in electing the leader, that leader's strength is determined by his support at Westminster. An analogous situation would be Iain Duncan Smith - winner in the party; never supported in the House; out before the Election. The Lib Dems have dodged that particular bullet, but there are more on the way.
The most important challenge can be delayed until after the Christmas recess. After Cable's genuinely effective, but efficiently stage-managed (by the Conservatives) performances at PMQs, all eyes will be on Clegg. It was the debut performance here that skewered Ming, shafted Duncan Smith and even caused a fluttering of unease for Brown. If Clegg is anything other than assured, calm and effective then expect a barrage of noise and jeering in the chamber, and hostile comments regarding 'Calamity Clegg' and unfavourable comparisons with his predecessor.
Even if Clegg can emulate Cable in a way no permanent leader of the Lib Dems has managed and hold the respect and attention of the House (and he's awfully young and inexperienced in the House), there are more problems ahead. The perennial challenge of the Lib Dems has been to overcome the problem of predominantly fighting the Tories in the south, and the Labour party in the north. Whether to be a left-of-centre alternative to Labour or a right-of-centre alternative to the Tories has bedevilled the Libs ever since the Gang of Four. People will assume, because he is young, clean-cut and 'modern', that Clegg will sympathise with the Tories - that's a potential problem right there.
The Kremlinology so beloved of the lobby and bloggers alike will mean that every pronouncement and every policy will be viewed in the context of a possible pact/coalition after the General Election. The greatest risk, of course, is that if Clegg foreshadows this with anything approaching a firm position, then the Election will be cast as a straight shoot-out between the two main parties, while if he holds his counsel, he will be accused of dithering or not being realistic. How he survives will depend on his relations with a media who have looked pretty underwhelmed by his leadership campaign.
As to who should be most worried by the election of Clegg, it's a tricky one to judge. Probably both main parties were best served by a leaderless Lib Dem party - whether de jure or de facto. The Labour Party will claim that a Lib Dem leader in the Cameron mould - both physically and, they will claim, ideologically, is bad news for the Tories. That may be true, but I suspect that, so concerned will Clegg be not to conform to the Cameron-lite jibe, any visible tacking will be to the base, in the short-term at any rate. Clegg will not forget how narrow his victory margin was, and will probably feel the need to calm the activist horses. Interesting times nonetheless, and it's not often you say that about the Liberal Democrats.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

So just what is it then?

Why the hell has Gordon Brown proved to be such a shambles at number 10? Here's a man who was famous for his rigid, even tedious, competence. Even if he wasn't up to the flashy presentational gubbins his predecessor was so good at, we were told, the new Prime Minister would just have to focus on his strength - sound, solid governance.
So why have the last two months looked like a cross between a Laurel & Hardy movie and a car crash? The crises that used to envelope Tony Blair (not including Iraq which is sui generis and rather outside the scope of this analysis) were usually deftly handled, both by press officers and by the man himself. He had a genuine talent for wriggling out of trouble, whether it was the 'pretty straight kind of guy' defence or the self-deprecatory charm that could deflect attacks. Brown, on the other hand, lacks this lightness of touch. The parliamentary sketch writers that depict him as a tethered bear, prey to the attacks of fleeter footed opponents, have hit a sore spot. Brown is so weak at Prime Ministers Questions that he has reverted to the 'sorghum yields in the Ukraine' approach of quoting reams of, alrgely dubious, economic achievements.
In short, therefore, Brown is struggling so badly because he lacks the capacity to get out of trouble. His tried and tested method, the physical removal of himself from its presence, has been rumbled so effectively that it is now another of his little problems. Its rhetorical equivalent, the setting up of a review, has been used so often that Bloombergs now have a running tally going (currently at 31) of the reviews ordered since he became Prime Minister. Brown doesn't know how to close down a problem - let alone defuse it. This has meant that, since all Governments will be prone to cock-ups and gaffes, each will damage the Prime Minister more and more. We're in for a lot more of this I fancy.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The poverty of ideas

The problem with Toynbeeite ideas about child poverty is that they fail the 'common sense test'. Poverty, in the eyes of most people is an absolute term. People living on a dollar a day; not having a home; being unable to buy food. Put poverty into these terms and people can understand it. "It is appalling," they would say, "that in modern Britain, children have to go to bed hungry."
But that isn't what the statistics on child poverty demonstrate, or even are meant to demonstrate. Poverty, whether child or adult, is measured relatively, so that people earning less than 60% of the average incoke are considered to be in poverty. Given the reality of a market economy, with all the uncertainty and 'unfairness' that it entails, it is never going to be possible to eradicate this unevenness. Truly the poor really are always with us.
But why should it matter how poor people are compared to others. I'm a city lawyer. Compared to my friends who are bankers I'm practically destitute. Am I living in poverty? Of course I'm bloody not, that's a fatuous suggestion. So why should it be different for society as a whole?
The problem is the confluence of the terminology between destitution and differentiation. Everyone agrees that no-one should be allowed to starve, or live in destitution. I'm not sure that everyone would agree, however, that no-one should be allowed to earn less than 60% of the average.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Still around

Sorry for the lack of posting last week - its all getting a little busy in the build-up to Christmas. Plus, I have to admit that I'm feeling a little flat at the moment. Labour look tired and shell-shocked, the Lib Dems are as uninspiring as ever, and the Conservatives seem to be mainly getting their heads down and letting Labour shoot themselves in the foot.
Hopefully I'll recover some enthusiasm this week...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The most infuriating argument ever

Was there ever a more irritating argument than the one being trotted out by Labour politicians and Labour-supporting journalists at the moment about party funding? For those of you who can't instantly place what I mean it goes as follows:
The current scandal, where the Labour Party has solicited and accepted donations from people are not legally allowed to give them, proves once and for all that state-funding of political parties is now necessary.
The law on electoral donations is actually pretty straightforward. There is a category of permissible donors, a required procedure for registration of donations and that's about it. Given some of the nightmarish procedural requirement that this Government has introduced over, for example, money-laundering this is an eminently simple process that could only be misunderstood by a moron in a hurry.
Given that, the current speight of illegal donations has only one significant feature: the Labour Party break the law on political donations. To jump from this to saying that this means that I as taxpayer should be compelled to fund the buggers is outrageous. As a disclaimer, this summer, after years of deliberation, I finally joined the Conservative Party. I am, therefore, on a very small scale, a party funder. That was my decision, and it wasn't one I took particularly lightly. The Government has no right to compel me to fund another patry, whether it be the Labour Party or the BNP.
However, arguments against state-funding of political parties, which I may return to in another post, are not the point here. What is maddening is that the Labour Party's inability or indisposition to adhere to the law on electoral donations is being used as a reason for state funding. What sort of mesage is that? I can't stop myself from stealing, so just give me money instead? Politicians are so inherently revolting that we have to accept their inability to keep their snouts out of the trough, so we may as well fill that trough out of tax-payers money?
It's not bloody good enough. If the, extremely clear and easy to follow, legislation on party funding is being flouted, punish the transgressors and enforce the law more diligently. Of all the dismal, depressing and grubby arguments I've heard for imposing state funding, this one absolutely takes the cake.

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