Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Press prurience and speculation about pieces of bone

Richard Webster's article Haut de la Garenne, press prurience and the lethal peepshow offers a valuable corrective to the latest sensationalist headlines about the Jersey child abuse investigation:

IF THERE IS ONE lesson which might usefully have been learned by the Jersey police as a result of their recent confusion between a skull fragment and a piece of coconut it is that premature speculation about small pieces of alleged bone is unwise.

Elected Mayors and the Liberal Democrats

I see that my dear wife has an article on Liberal Democrat Voice entitled Why Liberal Democrats should change their tune on elected mayors. It seems to be provoking a lively response.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Jersey 'skull' was not even a piece of bone

Richard Webster's new blog kicks off with a discussion of media reactions to the revelation that the so-called fragments of a child's body the discovery of which propelled the Jersey child abuse enquiry onto the front pages has been revealed by carbon-dating experts to be not a piece of bone at all.

Webster has written extensively about miscarriages of justice against care workers, most notably in his book The Secret of Bryn Estyn and his own investigation had led to this latest revelation about Haut de la Garenne. He is also interviewed by Brendan O'Neill in Spiked magazine.

It seems that police were apparently told as long ago as April by the carbon-dating specialists who had analysed the fragment that 'This one ain’t bone'.

The officer in charge of the case, Deputy Chief Officer Lenny Harper appears to have consciously sought publicity in order to encourage more possible victims to come forward. But it now appears that the main piece of evidence used to generate this publicity turns out to be bogus.

How much does all this matter? Given what we know about the historical failure of child protection policies and the insular nature of Jersey's society, it seems virtually certain that at least some child abuse will have taken place at Haut de la Garenne. If the publicity from the bogus 'child's remains' story has given any genuine victims the confidence to come forward, might it be that the ends will have justified the means?

Surely, in the end it does matter. The police's task is not just to publicise their own revulsion at child abuse, it is to get justice for the victims and punish the genuinely guilty. The saga of the skull fragment must surely cast doubt on the way the police have handled the investigation, and will not help them when cases actually come to court. At the same time media frenzy risks triggering not only truthful accusations against the genuinely guilty, but also false accusations against the innocent. Which again raises the twin dangers that genuine victims will not get justice if the currency of complaints has been debased by false accusations, and that the innocent will be convicted.

Remember that the football manager Dave Jones (in the news this week for taking Cardiff City to the FA Cup Final) some years ago found himself facing 13 charges of child abuse but the entire case against him collapsed when it came to court.

Child abuse is not only a serious crime, it is one that is rightly regarded with particular abhorrence by today's society. It is important therefore that when the police investigate accusations of child abuse they are thorough and rigorous in investigating evidence and avoid manipulating the media to achieve sensational coverage.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

100 years and a day ago - Asquith announces the introduction of old age pensions

I'm terrible for remembering people's birthdays a day or so too late, and it's the same with anniversaries of significant events. So I failed in my intention to post yesterday on the anniversary of H.H. Asquith's announcement in his budget of 1908 of the introduction of old age pensions. But no other Lib Dem blogger appears to have posted on the subject, and it is worth commemorating, so forgive this being a day late.

Although Asquith had succeeded Campbell-Bannerman as prime minister a month earlier, he had already prepared the budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer and chose to present it to the House of Commons instead of his successor at the Treasury, Lloyd George.

His speech was workmanlike rather than a great flight of oratory, but he did comment that the Liberals' sympathy for social reform was to be ‘translated into a concrete and constructive policy of social and financial effort.’ He pointed out that older people were:

still unprovided for except by casual and unorganized effort or, by what is worse, individious dependence on Poor Law relief. I said then that we hoped and intended this year to lay firm the foundations of a wiser and humaner policy… I propose now to show how we intend to redeem the promises which I then made.

Later in the month he introduced the Old Age Pensions Bill, which provided for non-contributory pensions of 5 shillings a week to those over 70 with less than £21 a year in income and who had not claimed relief under the Poor Law. Asquith described it as a 'modest and tentative' measure, which indeed it was. Asquith had effectively announced the measure a year earlier, putting aside funds to pay for old age pensions.

This has echoes of 100 years later, when George Brown announced a financial measure affecting the poorer members of society that was actually to be implemented the following year. But whereas the introduction of old age pensions was a step forward for a better, fairer society, the abolition of the 10p rate of income tax, introduced by a supposedly left-of-centre government was a step in precisely the opposite direction.

Mixed fortunes inside the M25!

Try as I might I can never keep up this blog during the local election period. It's partly that there's always another leaflet to write, or deliver, or canvassing to do, but also that I'm too focused the election campaign to write anything that would be of any interest to those other than anyone involved in Watford elections.

But here we did well - comfortably ahead on the popular vote in the Watford constituency (which includes part of Three Rivers District) and winning 14 out of 17 seats. We narrowly missed out on two more seats.

Indeed we and Three Rivers were the Lib Dem success stories within the M25 - things not turning out so well in London. It seems to me that the party didn't quite decide what it was trying to achieve in the London elections. Brian Paddick was selected way too late to have a real tilt at taking on Boris and Ken, and yet was too good a candidate to be a mere token presence. However, his campaign probably drew attention from the GLA contest where we really needed the votes.

If the party is serious about mounting a real challenge for the London mayoralty in 2012, I suggest that campaigners study the Mary Robinson presidential campaign in 1990 in the Irish republic - the only other example I can think of where a third party won a campaign with a multi-million sized electorate. If I remember rightly the key elements of that were early selection, a candidate with a reach well beyond the party base (which strangely Paddick didn't seem to have), clear unique selling points for the candidate, a really strong grassroots campaign building up credibility for an effective air war during the campaign itself. These things combined with an awful lot of luck.

Failing that the party would be better to concentrate on its GLA campaign and candidates even at the risk of looking less than serious in the Mayoral contest. But then my experience is of fighting elections in a town of 80,000 population not a city of 7 million. What do I know?