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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Prisons"

WATCH: Corbyn – convicted terrorists should ‘not necessarily’ serve their full prison sentences

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The London Bridge horror. Now is the time to deliver on the other half of Taking Back Control.

Rage, exasperation, contempt: the London Bridge attack will provoke all three, sometimes at the same time, among the mass of voters.  Why was an Islamist terrorist invited as a guest to a Cambridge University conference at Fishmongers Hall – apparently to describe “his experiences as a prisoner”?  How did it come about that this criminal, jailed for plotting to blow up the London Stock Exchange, was released after only eight years in the first place?

Who decided that a tag was sufficient to restrain him?  And while it is good that James Ford, a day release prisoner sentenced for murdering a disabled girl, helped to restrain Usman Khan, the terrorist in question, why was he also attending the conference – especially since the girl’s family had not been notified?   (The conference was titled “Learning Together”.  Its Twitter account is @JustisTogether and is subtitled: “bringing students in Higher Education & Criminal Justice institutions together in transformative learning communities”.)

Business as usual, even down to the general election timing and London Bridge location, for the political class.  Boris Johnson sits uneasily at its apex, because of the office he holds.  He can protest that he has been Prime Minister for less than six months.  That unlike his predecessor, Theresa May, he hasn’t served as Home Secretary, let alone for six years.  That his Conservative Manifesto, released prior to Khan’s murders last Friday, pledges “to end automatic halfway release from prison for serious crimes”.

All this is true – and unlikely to cut any ice with the electorate.  Nor will the Prime Minister’s pledge of 20,000 new police officers necessarily convince.  On Brexit, he is broadly seen as commited to the cause.  But on funding public services, he has his work cut out: the struggle in those marginal midlands and northern seats is precisely over whether voter trust in his new leadership trumps atavistic fears of “the Tory brand”.

Furthermore, the timing of Khan’s attack was ominous.  He may have been a “lone wolf” and he may not: further attacks could come.  Even if they don’t, the questions with which this article opens – and others – open up a entire spaghetti junction of media enquiries.  Who else has been released and where are they now?

Before Johnson knows it, his campaign could be lost amidst this bewildering tangle of roadway.  He is not simply up against the press’s instinct, even among bits of it neutral about it, to scythe down a tall poppy.  Nor even against an isolated Jeremy Corbyn, as in the case of anti-semitism.  In his pursuit of the Prime Minister over police funding and adminstrative blunder, the Labour leader will have his entire party with him: Yvette Cooper, Sadiq Khan and all.

This is the moment for it and for all Johnson’s foes to turn this election round.  He tried to hold them at bay yesterday by stressing that his “takeaway” is that criminals should “serve the term of their sentence”.  But he needs to do much more than that, starting on The Andrew Marr Show this morning.  That doesn’t mean generalist ranting against human rights, which are a way of understanding justice.  Most voters seek both rights and security.  Perhaps that is wanting to have one’s cake and eat it.  If so, they have come to the right shop.  No-one is better at having his cake and eating it than the Prime Minister.  But to do more than that, he needs to get to the root of the problem.

The symptoms of Khan’s story eventually take one to it.  In 2013, Khan appealed successfully against an Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentence.  These IPPs were introduced by Labour, allowed for indeterminate sentences and were abandoned by the Coalition amidst “complaints they had been misused to keep some individuals incarcerated without a proper timetable to be considered for release”.

The long and short of it is that Conservative Ministers will have believed themselves vulnerable to legal action – to “lawfare” – by pro-Islamist lobby groups seeking to exploit human rights legislation, including the European Convention on Human Rights.

Khan’s tale appears to have been caught up in of the wider one of the cat-and-mouse game between those lobbies and the Government – in which Ministers scramble to head off activist judicial rulings, as they see it, or find themselves forced to respond to them. Hence the replacement of IPPs by extended sentences with a fixed tariff.  One of these was given to Khan on appeal.  This takes us all, including Johnson, to the heart of the matter.

Margaret Thatcher once said that “we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at European level”.  Have we rolled back the frontiers of European integration, taking back control from the European Union, only to see them reimposed by the European Court of Human Rights?

To answer with a resounding No does not imply tearing up Britain’s membership of the convention.  The Court is entitled to declare whether or not the Government is in breach of it.  But as David Davis writes on this site today, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Ministers should simply bow to the court’s ruling.

In 2011, the Commons voted by a majority of 212 against an ECHR ruling on prisoner votes.  Davis and Jack Straw, working together, drove the result.  The former said that “it’s for Parliament to stand up and say ‘no, this is our decision, not yours’ and then for the Government to go back and seek a solution.”  In other words, elected MPs, not ECHR judges, should have the last word.  The story of Khan is different, but the moral is the same.

As we say, Johnson’s response to Friday’s murders may not satisfy voters, if only because nothing any politician says could do so: the sense of impotence and abandonment runs deep.  But Corbyn is irredeemably weak on terror.  And by standing back from the details of Khan’s case to see the big picture, and responding authentically, the Prime Minister could do what is right as well as what is now electorally necessary.

Ensuring that sentences mean what they say – now Johnson’s law and order priority – will be impossible to effect without wider reform.  Which means: reforming the Human Rights Act, curbing the abuse of judicial review, and getting the balance right between the ECHR and Parliament. The Conservative Manifesto leaves the door open to all three (see page 48).  For Johnson, there must also be a sense in pursuing them of unfinished business.  Asserting the rights of Parliament over the EU is half the European mission.  Asserting it over the ECHR is the other half of – how shall we put it? – taking back control.

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The full list of 22 Bills from today’s Queen’s Speech

This morning Her Majesty unveiled the Government’s programme/election offer (delete as applicable). On top of several white papers and other announcements were 22 concrete pieces of legislation. These are:


  • The EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill: This will give legal effect to the Prime Minister’s deal, should he manage to win a Meaningful Vote on it.
  • Agriculture Bill: This will create a seven-year period for British farmers to transition away from the current EU subsidies regime, the Common Agricultural Policy.
  • Fisheries Bill: A new system of licences for foreign vessels in UK territorial waters, and a new regime of controls on British fishermen to replace the EU system.
  • Trade Bill: Allows for existing trade deals to be ‘carried over’ if the Government can secure agreement to that effect with the country concerned.
  • Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill: End to freedom of movement between the EU and the UK; paves way for new points-based system for assessing immigration applications; sets December 2020 deadline for EU nationals applying to stay.

Prison and Sentencing

  • Sentencing Bill: Moves the typical release point from halfway through a prisoners’ sentence to two-thirds of the way; expands reasons judges can issue ‘whole-life’ sentences; and introduces tougher sentences for violent and sexual offenders.
  • Foreign National Offenders Bill: Will substantially increase sentences for foreign offenders who have breached a deportation order to return to the UK.
  • Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill: Also known as ‘Sarah’s Law’, this will make it easier to deny parole to murderers and child abusers who refuse to identify their victims.

Police and Prevention

  • Police Protections Bill: A new test for police drivers to help protect them in the event of injuries during chases; new protections for Special Constables; Home Office to report annually on the Police Covenant.
  • Serious Violence Bill: This will create new obligations for councils, social services, schools, healthcare services, and more to share information in order to ‘prevent serious violence’.
  • Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill: Intended to give police powers to arrest foreign criminals without waiting for a UK warrant if target is subject to an Interpol ‘red notice’ and from an approved country.
  • Domestic Abuse Bill: Will prevent cross-examination of accusers by alleged perpetrators; create a statutory definition of domestic abuse; and accusers will be assumed to qualify for special measures in court.


  • Financial Services Bill: Simplifies process for overseas funds being sold in the UK and allows for long-term access to British markets for Gibraltar-based firms.
  • Pension Schemes Bill: Plans for new ‘collective’ workplace pension schemes; companies will be compelled to join new ‘pensions dashboard’ programme; and new controls about transferring pension.
  • Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill: Restaurants will be forced to hand over tips to staff and share pooled tips fairly, and a new Code of Practice will be introduced.

Animals and Environment:

  • Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill: Maximum sentence for animal cruelty to rise from six months to five years; legal statement that animals are sentient; duty on government to take animal welfare into account when forming policy.
  • Environment Bill: Charges on single-use plastics; new Office for Environmental Protection, which can take Government to court; new powers for councils to tackle air pollution; and more.


  • Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill: Will make divorce easier by removing the ability of one party to contest separation, introduces 20-week timeline for divorce proceedings.
  • Health Service Safety Investigations Bill: Will create a new body to investigate NHS incidents, leaks from which will be banned; local bodies will receive new guidance on medical investigations; and more.
  • Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill: According to the Government, this aims to roll out “gigabit capable broadband across the UK to achieve nationwide coverage as soon as possible”.
  • Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill: Gives police more powers to ground drones and investigate crimes where a drone has been employed.
  • Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill: Tackles problems relating to disputes over children which cross national borders, enables inter-governmental cooperation on family cases.

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Ocasio-Cortez: Prisons are slavery’s legacy, so let’s abolish them, or something

Westlake Legal Group aoc-ok Ocasio-Cortez: Prisons are slavery’s legacy, so let’s abolish them, or something The Blog racism Prisons Prison reform jim crow apartheid Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

What happens when one starts truly believing in one’s own word salads? One tweets out nonsense like this, promising “prison abolition” while drawing non-existent lines between prisons and “apartheid” in America. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claims that prisons and incarceration result from the “same lineage” as slavery, and that “decarceration & prison abolition” are the conversations of the future (via Twitchy):

Lest one think that “prison abolition” is hyperbole for criminal-justice reform, Ocasio-Cortez followed that up with this tweet:

Doesn’t the “drank out of toilets” charge sound familiar? Why, yes it does. It turned out that the immigration detention facility that drew AOC’s ire in that case used toilet fixtures that also included a sink and fountain. It’s likely that similar fixtures are used in other detention facilities to save space and provide humane basic services.

At any rate, the demand prompts an obvious question: what do you do with human beings who commit crimes, especially violent crimes? And how do you keep them in those places without making them secure, not just from escape but also from the other “guests”? My guess is that the “real conversation” will avoid that part of the discussion at all costs to focus on the roots of the prison system in slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid, and maybe even the heartbreak of psoriasis.

If we want to get really real, Ocasio-Cortez would first have to admit being totally ignorant of the subject. Prisons and jails predate Jim Crow and American slavery by about three millennia. The English system of justice, from which ours derived, began building prisons in the twelfth century under Henry II, and was significant enough at the time that the barons forced his son King John to reform penal processes in the Magna Carta by requiring a trial. Prisons and penal colonies have persisted over the years for the same reason we have them now — because we have to isolate some criminals from society as a disincentive to crime, and to protect everyone else from the criminals.

If Ocasio-Cortez wants to put fewer people in prison, perhaps she could use her current office to begin repealing the appalling expansion of federal laws and prosecutions for crimes that truly fall within state jurisdictions. That at least would help depopulate the federal prisons to some extent, as well as make people more free overall. That, however, won’t help Ocasio-Cortez put together her word salads about racism and toilet-drinking, so don’t hold your breath.

The post Ocasio-Cortez: Prisons are slavery’s legacy, so let’s abolish them, or something appeared first on Hot Air.

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“To literally feel terror”

Boris Johnson wants, specifically, to frighten Labour off a no confidence vote and, more broadly, to intimidate the anti-No Deal Brexit Commons coalition before the Commons returns in September.  That means demonstrating that voters are backing him.  That requires improving opinion poll ratings.  And that, in turn, means an August blizzard – yes, such a thing is possible – of policy announcements to prove that his new government “is on your side”.

So to Dominic Cummings’s trinity of an Australian-style points-based immigration system, more NHS spending and tax cuts for lower paid workers we must now add action on law and order.  The new Prime Minister promised 20,000 more police during his Conservative leadership election campaign.  To that we must now add 10,000 new prison places and greater use of stop and search powers – both of which are announced today.

Or rather we would do, if Johnson had a durable majority, and were the future more clear.  The money to fund those new prison places may not be available in the event of No Deal: it may be needed for other measures.  And sweeping changes to sentencing would require leglislation, which the Government is in position to present to Parliament.

None the less, the Downing Street bully pulpit has its uses, and if the Prime Minister want wider stop and search powers to be available, he is in a position to get his way – for as long as he’s in place, anyway.  Today’s push should help.  As Matt Singh writes, there has already been “a substantial Boris bounce”.  It has largely come off the back of Brexit Party supporters, and this latest initiative is aimed at them (as well as Labour working class voters).

So too was the appointment of Priti Patel as Home Secretary.  ConservativeHome is told that there was a collective intake of breath in Downing Street when she said recently that she wants criminals “to literally feel terror”.  Number Ten need not have worried about how that view would go down.  There is “overwhelming support” for it among the public, according to YouGov.

If Johnson somehow survives the autumn without a general election, or wins one with a majority, a further question will arises about all these spending plans – namely, whether or not they’re consistent with the traditional centre-right commitment to fiscal stability.  The Prime Minister could be forgiven for thinking, given the probability of an autumn poll and the uncertainty of any result, that this would be a nice problem to have.

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China Is Killing Prisoners to Harvest Their Organs

Our relationship with China has always puzzled me, specifically in how many politicians handle it. I understand we like the cheap stuff and rare earth materials, but it’s just jarring to see some Democrats and “free traders” talk about the evils of Chinese oppression one minute and then act like the world is going to end without cheap TVs the next.

In the “let’s remember why China is a dumpster fire” file, here’s an update on their human rights abuses.

On June 17, an independent tribunal which has been investigating “forced organ harvesting” from Chinese prisoners, including Falun Gong practitioners and Uighur Muslims, published its final judgment.

The China Tribunal concluded that “forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, [and] the tribunal has had no evidence that the significant infrastructure associated with China’s transplantation industry has been dismantled and absent a satisfactory explanation as to the source of readily available organs concludes that forced organ harvesting continues till today.”

It sounds like something out of a horror movie, but it’s real. We’ve already had ample evidence this happening for a while but this determination puts an official stamp on it.

For those thinking they are just taking organs from people who were executed for unrelated reasons, it actually goes much further.

Some of the organ extractions were said to have been conducted on live victims who were killed during their procedures.

China is also apparently targeting certain minority groups for organ harvesting, pointing to a dual purpose behind the scheme. They get the organs and they also get to keep wiping out groups they see as problematic and inferior.

The tribunal found that “the Commission of Crimes Against Humanity against the Falun Gong and Uyghurs has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” with the “torture of Falun Gong and Uyghurs” in addition to “forced organ harvesting,” but stopped short of concluding that genocide had taken place. The tribunal left that open for further investigation: “There can be no doubt that there is a duty on those who have the power to institute investigations for, and proceedings at, international courts or at the UN to test whether Genocide has been committed.”

The problems with China go far beyond just their totalitarian government. Thousands of years of conditioning have also led to a people that will fiercely defend anything the nation does, no matter how horrific.

It seems to me that Americans are going to have to make a choice eventually. Do we want to keep helping build the economy and military of a dangerous, genocidal state with international ambitions? Or can we handle paying a little more for our phones? This is the argument Trump should be making in regards to China. Not that tariffs are good in a vacuum, but that it’s a national security and moral imperative that we stop feeding the beast.

I suspect the status quo will remain though.


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The post China Is Killing Prisoners to Harvest Their Organs appeared first on RedState.

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Michael Gove: I have shown in government that I deliver. And as Prime Minister, I will deliver Brexit – and stop Corbyn.

Michael Gove is Environment Secretary and is MP for Surrey Heath.

To be Conservative is to believe in the importance of the special worth of each individual, liberated to become the author of their own life story – supported by strengthened families, communities and historic institutions. That was the answer I gave ConservativeHome this week, when asked by this website’s readers and editors for my definition of conservatism.

It is rooted in my experience in Government – as Education Secretary, Justice Secretary and Environment Secretary – but also in my own life story. Because I wasn’t born Michael Gove. As I explained to supporters at my leadership campaign launch in Westminster this week, I was born – 51 years ago – Graeme Logan, to a mother I never knew. I was taken from her and spent the first four months of my life in care.

In a life-changing moment, I was then adopted by my amazing mum and dad, Ernie and Christine. I still remember my mum explaining to me what adoption meant, when the right moment arrived. She said: “Son, you didn’t grow under my heart, you grew in it.” Without my parents’ love – unstinting, total and selfless as it was – I know for sure that I would never have been able to be where I am today. I would never have had the chance to serve in Government; or to stand to be Prime Minister, ready to lead the country I love.

Being adopted makes me all too personally aware of how much in life depends on chance. When I was the Shadow Education Secretary, I remember reading about a school that I could have gone to, if I hadn’t been adopted by my mum and dad. It was a school where only one child, in an entire year, got the five good GCSEs that are a passport to a brighter future.

I thought then: what if my life had started there? What would my future have been? It’s because I know how fragile fortune is – how much depends on others, and how everyone has something to give but too few get the chance – that I am in politics.

It is also why I am a Conservative. I had a clear mission as Education Secretary that reflected this too. I wanted to make sure that every child, whatever their background or circumstances, was given the chance to shine. I make no apology for driving through reform as fast as I could. There was no time to waste – because children only get one shot at education. Now, thanks to the reforms I led, 1.9 million more children are in good and outstanding schools.

For the same reason, I was just as dedicated to getting results when I was Justice Secretary. Prisons exist to keep the public safe. But at the same time, every prisoner should be given the chance of redemption and to turn their life around. As I saw it, education behind bars, and the right support from prison staff, is the only way to reduce reoffending and ultimately reduce the number of victims of crime. My reforms put that into action.

As Environment Secretary, I am also in a hurry to change things. Our planet is in peril. I don’t want the next generation to inherit a world which is dirtier, more dangerous and less beautiful. I want to ensure that the earth, which is our common home, is handed on to the next generation cleaner, greener and healthier. So I’ve taken action to help end plastic pollution, clean up our air, improve animal welfare and support our farmers better in everything they do.

Right now, no leader faces a bigger challenge than delivering a true Brexit. On this, I feel a personal responsibility. I led the campaign to leave the European Union. I made the argument to audiences of voters in the heat of the TV debates. And I knew when I made the decision to lead the campaign, it would involve personal sacrifice – putting a strain on friendships and my family.

Yet I wanted to stand up for the working people who wanted real change. People like my mum and dad, whose fish merchants in Aberdeen went to the wall when I was a teenager because of the European Union’s policies. They were not alone. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy meant lost jobs and broken dreams for many people in my part of Scotland – thanks to decisions taken in distant committee rooms, by people we never elected and couldn’t remove. It was this experience that led me, after careful thought, to campaign to take back control – and against the odds we won.

But three years after the referendum, we still haven’t left. I share the frustration of so many that we are still in the EU. I feel it every single day and it is one of the reasons I am standing – to deliver on the result that we won in 2016. But it’s not enough to just believe in Brexit. You have got to be able to deliver it. I believe my experience in Government – mastering those detailed briefs, making my case around the Cabinet table and beyond, winning support, driving through reform, means I am in the best position to deliver Brexit.

Britain needs a Brexit that takes back control of our money, laws and borders. A Brexit that means we are out of the Common Fisheries Policy, out of the Common Agricultural Policy and out of the political structures of the EU. The UK should build a new relationship with Europe, based on a Canada-style free trade deal with Europe. That must be our urgent aim.

I am determined to deliver – and deliver quickly. As those who know me best will confirm, I am not someone who lets the grass grow beneath my feet. But there is one thing I will not do – I will not risk a general election before we deliver Brexit.

If we did do that, we’d effectively be handing the keys to Number 10 Downing Street over to Jeremy Corbyn. Gone would be the chance to deliver Brexit. Gone would be the opportunity to make Britain the best country in the world for education and science; the chance to strengthen the Union, cut tax and regulation, promote competition and free choice and spread prosperity across the country. Gone would be the chance to invest in our schools, increasing funding per pupil in real terms, to improve transport links in the South-West Midlands and North of England, and to reform social care to provide peace of mind for every family.

That is why we cannot risk Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. There is so much we can do to make our country even better. I have shown in every role in Government I’ve had that I have a passion for making people’s lives better. I have demonstrated that I can bring teams together, reach across divides and deliver real change. I have led from the front, undaunted by criticism and resolute in the need to solve complex issues. That is what this country needs, right here, right now.

It is a serious time in the life of our nation. The stakes have never been higher. And the consequences have rarely been greater. It requires a serious leader, who is ready to lead from day one. To deliver Brexit, to take the fight to Labour and to debate and argue fearlessly for what we, as Conservatives, believe in.  


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Profile: The unusual Rory Stewart, self-declared contender for the Tory leadership

Rory Stewart enjoys walking with a calm and purposeful air into danger. While other ministers keep their heads down, he has been out and about on the airwaves, defending Theresa May’s Brexit deal as one to which all moderate, sensible people should assent.

And while other contenders for the Conservative leadership keep up the threadbare pretence they are not competing for it, he told Katy Balls of The Spectator, and has repeated since, that he would like to be Prime Minister, and reckons he has what it takes.

His promotion a week ago to the Cabinet as International Development Secretary suddenly makes him look a more plausible candidate. He has fewer enemies than his longer established rivals, which in Tory leadership contests can be a decisive factor, as Michael Heseltine will tell you.

But few people at this level are entirely without enemies, and his career so far as a departmental minister, which began four years ago, will now come under scrutiny, in a way that was not possible when this exotic figure, who in his life before politics had a number of unusual adventures, was first profiled for ConHome in 2015.

Andrew Mitchell, who served as DFID Secretary under David Cameron, told ConHome:

“I think he will be a very good DFID Secretary. He already has significant development experience outside the political system as well as within it, and will bring some new and updated ideas to the way Britain makes its contribution to solving some of the big international problems that beset us.”

But others who observed Stewart when he was Minister of State at DFID from 2016-18 report that some of the senior officials there “literally hated him”.

One former colleague predicted that his appointment as DFID Secretary will be “a disaster” and “could well lead to the death of thousands of the world’s poorest people”.

Stewart is accused of “not listening to advice”, “saying things that weren’t realistic”, “going with ideas he’s just made up on the back of a napkin”, and horrifying the civil servants who were sitting beside him as he spoke.

This capacity for challenging the departmental orthodoxy, and refusing to accept what his officials say, could be a great strength or a mortal weakness. He is committed to thinking things out for himself, and tenacious in defence of what he thinks are the right ideas.

Almost everyone agrees that Stewart is tremendously articulate and engaging, and has “very good big ideas”. Some add that he is not at home in large organisations, though they often remark in the same breath that he has excellent manners.

In The Places in Between, his acclaimed account of the walk he made across Afghanistan in 2002, Stewart is scathing about the post-conflict experts who set out to solve that country’s problems without any knowledge of the people they purport to be rescuing.

In an impassioned outburst on pages 293-4, consigned to a footnote because it is polemical rather than descriptive, he writes:

“Critics have accused this new breed of administrators of neo-colonialism. But in fact their approach is not that of a 19th-century colonial officer. Colonial administrations may have been racist and exploitative but they did at least work seriously at the business of understanding the people they were governing. They recruited people prepared to spend their entire careers in dangerous provinces of a single nation…

“Post-conflict experts have got the prestige without the effort or stigma of imperialism. Their implicit denial of the difference between cultures is the new mass brand of international intervention. Their policy fails but no one notices. There are no credible monitoring bodies and there is no one to take formal responsibility. Individual officers are never in any one place and rarely in any one organisation long enough to be adequately assessed. The colonial enterprise could be judged by the security or revenue it delivered, but neo-colonialists have no such performance criteria. In fact their very uselessness benefits them. By avoiding any serious action or judgment they, unlike their colonial predecessors, are able to escape accusations of racism, exploitation and oppression.”

Many readers will cheer these sentiments, and will reckon they help to explain why international intervention so often fails even in its own terms.

But oddly enough, Stewart is himself open to the charge of not staying put long enough to be adequately assessed.

From January 2018 to May 2019 he served as Minister of State for Prisons. In August 2018 a BBC interviewer asked him, in an incredulous tone, if he would resign, if in a year’s time he had failed to reduce the level of drugs and violence in ten prisons which had just been targetted by the Government, with a million pounds to be spent in each of them on new measures.

Stewart replied, after a fleeting pause: “Yep, I will quit…I will resign if I don’t succeed.”

No one can just now know whether in August 2019 he would have had to resign as Prisons Minister, for he no longer occupies that post, and can no longer urge the vigorous implementation of the measures he set in train.

A prison reformer told ConHome it is impossible to know what will happen in the ten prisons, but remarked that turning round a prison usually takes longer than a year.

Mark Fairhurst, Chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, said:

“Rory Stewart has been given a get out of jail free card.

“The pledges [Stewart] made and the way he engaged with us and listened to us were positive, but the question is what happens now?

“This is the problem. You forge a good working relationship with these ministers, and you start to make progress, because certainly the things he’s implemented are things that we’ve been calling for years. But then all of a sudden, just as you’re moving forward, they get replaced or promoted.”

Stewart himself said in the Commons on 23rd April that “the figures are looking reasonably positive”, and indicated that he hoped to survive in his post after August. He has not, incidentally, been replaced yet. Whoever takes the job will be asked whether he or she will promise to resign.

Jonathan Aitken, who knows the prison system from the inside and has served for the last year as chaplain at Pentonville Prison, reckons that “as a prison minister, Stewart has been a considerable success, but part of that is just sheer luck”, because the spending needed to increase the number of prison officers from dangerously low levels had already been approved, and staffing levels have dramatically improved over the last year, though there has not yet been a corresponding drop in violence.

Aitken said that at Leeds, one of the ten prisons targetted by Stewart, the extra million pounds is having a good effect, for example by putting in better windows to replace those through which drugs were being smuggled, and installing an X-ray body scanner to search for drugs.

In Aitken’s view, “As a dark horse bet [in the leadership race] Stewart is quite interesting. He’s cut from a different cloth. He’s got a most unusual mind. They’re all going to be looking for someone who can unite the party a bit.”

Although his pledge to resign will not now be put to the test, it did attract a lot of attention to what he was trying to do. His approach is different to that of the standard career politician who seeks to avoid anything which might be regarded as new or alarming.

More conventional spirits doubt it can be good politics for Stewart to advertise his leadership aspirations so openly.

But a considerable number of people at Westminster said yesterday that although this was “naive”, it was also “charming”. There is something refreshing about a man who ignores the usual hypocrisies.

Not since Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1963 has an expert on foreign affairs, who knows next to nothing about economics, become Conservative leader. The precedent is not encouraging for Stewart, who seems more cut out to become Foreign Secretary than Prime Minister.

Stewart admits that having voted Remain in the EU Referendum is a drawback for him, and this aspect of him renders him intolerable to those who think the next leader simply must be a Leaver. He offers himself as a centrist who would implement Brexit while striving to maintain close economic ties with the EU, and to retain the support of the four million Remain voters who also voted Conservative:

“If the Conservative Party make the mistake of trying to out-do Nigel Farage, which I am sure we won’t, but it is something that a few of my colleagues are talking about, then we would lose those four million Remain votes.

“We’d lose young people, we’d lose Scotland, we’d lose London and we’d lose a lot of the most energetic parts of this country.

“We’ve got to be a broad party…”

Could Stewart speak, for example, to Leave voters in the Midlands? The only answer to that question at the moment is that nobody knows for sure, but it seems a bit unlikely.

Stewart loves traditional institutions such as the monarchy (he acted as tutor to Princes William and Harry) and the armed forces, but also displays a boldness and an independence of mind which were perhaps more often found in the Victorian period than they are now.

When Margaret Thatcher fell, the relatively obscure John Major swept to victory as the stop Heseltine candidate.

When Theresa May falls, it is not yet clear (at least to the present writer) who will be the Stop Boris Johnson candidate. Timing can be almost everything in such contests, and Stewart has reached the Cabinet just as the race is starting.

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Alice Wilcock: Prisons are a national scandal, and need a national response

Alice Wilcock is a Criminal Justice Researcher at the Centre for Social Justice. Her research has focused on the prison and probation service in England and Wales, victim support and serious youth violence. Read the full report.

In a week where Rory Stewart, the Prisons Minister, put himself forward as a potential candidate to replace the Prime Minister, the prison reform agenda could not be more critical. After all, this is the legacy that Stewart himself has asked to be judged upon.

Our prisons are some of the most unsafe and unjust places in civil society today. Last year, more than 34,000 brutal assaults were carried out behind the locked doors of our prison estate and 10,000 assaults were suffered by prison staff.

Our latest report, published this week, reveals that over a third of prison officers have less than two years’ experience. With too few officers on the landings, prisoners have increasingly had to stay inside their cells for inhumane lengths of time – or, conversely, overwhelmed officers have had to lock themselves away in offices. One prisoner described feeling as if they were being “left to rot”, while staff said they felt “unsafe”.

This represents a huge waste and lost opportunity. Prisons can be awe-inspiring sites of rehabilitation, providing prisoners with the tools, such as education and employment opportunities, to turn their lives around.

But instead, whether in the quest for relief or exploited by predatory drug dealers, far too many inmates have taken to using drugs and new psychoactive substances. Videos posted by prisoners on social media show naked inmates leashed and scrapping like dogs and others brushing their teeth with soiled toilet brushes.

One prison officer disclosed to me the extent to which these abhorrent levels of brutality have become just another day at work for front-line staff. She told me how so much of the job was responding to urgent calls to break up inmate violence, a task their limited training had ill-prepared them for: “My workmates have dealt with much worse than me. I’ve not been hospitalised or anything, yet, so I can’t really complain,” she smiled, only half-joking.

It’s a grim reality that one in ten of the 10,000 assaults on prison staff were serious last year. That means prison officers were sent to A&E for treatment, sexually assaulted, or that their injury left them with one of a myriad of life altering conditions including: burns and scalds, broken bones and teeth and in some cases blindness.

Our current Prisons Minister is not insensitive to the scale of the problem. In Stewart, the prison estate has one of the most dedicated and engaged ministers to have ever held the post. In fact, in August of last year, he promised to resign if he was unable to reduce our prisons’ scourge of drugs and violence within twelve months.

However, this promise was limited to focus only on ten target prisons. The pledged investment for better security and improved conditions provided little material benefit for the more than one hundred other prisons and their officers across England and Wales.

The recruitment of 2,500 additional prison officers nationwide will prove to be futile if the service is unable to retain them and keep them safe. Prison officers should be offered, at minimum, welfare support to help address trauma and anxiety exacerbated by their job. We also need to get serious about tackling drug supply: body scanners have a proven record of success, and their national roll out across our prison service is long overdue.

Whatever your view on crime, the state of our prisons really is a national scandal. It will take political and organisational leadership to turn it around – and it will take resource. We have political leadership in Rory Stewart, and the promise of organisational leadership in Dr Jo Farrar, the new prisons and probation leader. What must now follow is resource and will.

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Aitken on the meaning of Easter: “We can all have second chances, little resurrections in our lives.”

Jonathan Aitken was ordained last June as a deacon in the Church of England, and was wearing clerical dress when we met, for he had just been addressing the clergy of Guildford about prison ministry.

He was born in 1942 and served as a Conservative MP from February 1974 until May 1997, when he lost his seat. In 1999 he was convicted of perjury and sent to prison for seven months.

The downfall of this gifted, gilded, raffish figure, who had risen into the Cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1994-95, attracted enormous attention.

He had been involved since boyhood in the worlds of politics and journalism, through his father, Sir William Aitken, a Conservative MP, and more particularly through his uncle, Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, at whose table he met Winston Churchill.

The Aitkens are descended from the Reverend William Aitken, a Presbyterian minister in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, and Jonathan has now returned to that calling.

But although this interview starts with the Resurrection, it ends with his view of the way Parliament is dealing with Brexit:

“I would rather be back in a cell in Belmarsh than be in the House of Commons right now. They were much nicer at Belmarsh to one another.”

ConHome: “What is the meaning of Easter?”

Aitken: “Easter is of course the most important, most joyful, most extraordinary event in the whole of the Christian year, far more important than Christmas or anything else.

“And somewhere in a Pauline epistle, Paul says if we don’t believe in the Resurrection our faith is quite useless. That’s a little harsh, because some people still seeking simply can’t believe in a risen Christ instantly, but nevertheless Paul is right, it’s the centrepiece of the entire Christian faith.

“To me, Easter has a personal resonance, it’s a rather good time to talk about it. Because I think we’re all, if we’re fortunate enough and we pray for it, we can have second chances, little resurrections in our lives.

“If I think back 20 years, I was towards the end of a process I sometimes call defeat, divorce, disgrace, bankruptcy and jail, a very good royal flush of crises by anybody’s standards, and I was very unhappy.

“I actually was sentenced in June, but Easter 1999 was a very miserable period, I was sort of in the tomb more or less. And yet the joy of Christ’s love is that no one is beneath the reach of his grace.

“And I am now happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been in my life. And it’s nothing to do with me. I give myself zero credit for being a prison chaplain and curate, and above all for being so happy.

“So I think the Easter message is obviously predominantly about the risen Christ and all that flowed from it. But also for each and every one of us it’s gosh, there is a real chance to resurrect my miserable sin-strained life and find a new life in Christ.”

ConHome: “Did you have glimpses of this before? Did you count yourself a Christian during your political life? Or when you were very young and you were ill?”

Aitken: “At the time that I got into trouble, I was at best a half-Christian, which I now know is as valuable probably as being half-pregnant.

“At the time I thought it was perfectly OK to have a nominal, lukewarm kind of half-cock faith, and to politely go along to the odd service, and listen to the teachings of the faith, and not obey them.

“Now despite giving that state of mind a good knocking, it’s not wholly useless, because you don’t completely lose every single one of your navigation points.

“I had actually quite a good schoolboy faith.”

ConHome: “You were confirmed, and all the usual things?”

Aitken: “Yes. I remember dimly school reports [at Eton] about how seriously Aitken had taken his confirmation. But it is true, you remind me of something, I did have a rather strange youth.

“I was a TB patient aged four to seven, in the period before people had discovered antibiotics for TB.

“And TB was more frightening than cancer is today, by a long chalk. People died of TB, especially children. And I was diagnosed in wartime Britain, very late in the day.

“By the time I was diagnosed – I tell some of this in my book Pride and Perjury – I was really a goner. The optimistic diagnosis was that this child may live, but he’ll never walk, because it had gone way into my bones.

“The pessimistic diagnosis was that this child can’t live. My poor parents – my father was a fighter pilot recovering from being shot down in a Spitfire and burnt.

“I had been parked in an ambassadorial residence. It wasn’t called that, but my mother’s father was our man in Dublin during the war. He was called His Majesty the King’s Special Representative.

“So I grew up with red boxes and things. But Ireland was actually one of the TB capitals of the world. There was a lot of it around.

“There was one brilliant surgeon called MacAuley who said, ‘Actually, this child could live and could walk, but the cure is rather drastic. Three years immobilised in a plaster cast.’

“The BBC have a poor man’s Desert Island Discs programme called The House Where I Grew Up, and I said to them, I actually grew up in a TB ward.

“They took me over, two women Guardianista women, who were determined to make me say ‘Oh it was the most terrible, awful, miserable, unhappy time.’

“When I got back to the TB ward, I remembered it in the most scary way, every detail, which is apparently not uncommon in this programme.

“We were wheeled out every day, it didn’t matter if it was snowing, all the children were wheeled out onto the terraces. It was run by a nursing order which has long since vanished I think called The Little Sisters of the Poor.

“In the middle of this, there was an amazing nun, she was a very clever woman, outstanding, she was the Mother Superior, her brother was the editor of The Irish Times, she was a class act as a person and also very spiritual.

“She took fantastic trouble over me, maybe because I was the British ambassador’s grandson. My grandmother, who did not like papists,  would come along and say, ‘Have you been made to pray to Old Red Socks?’

“We had a member of the staff at the British embassy who was also designated to keep an eye over my protestantism, who was John Betjeman, who was my grandfather’s press secretary.

“Anyway, I wouldn’t overdo this, but nevertheless, the nun taught me to read on a magic lantern above my head, I can vividly remember her to this day kneeling by my bed and praying.

“Did it have some deep impact on my spiritual life? Who knows?

“Sister Mary Finbar used to say, ‘Oh you’ve been saved for some great purpose.’ I think this is all a bit mystical, probably mumbo-jumbo, but nevertheless, who knows.”

ConHome: “Should we be gloomy about the ‘the melancholy, long, withdrawing roar’ of the Sea of Faith?”

Aitken: “Well, we are in a secular, post-Christian age in the western world. There’s no question of that.

“But I actually think the death of Christianity has been hugely exaggerated. It’s very active in all kinds of places.

“Here in London, for example, the number of Christian people who are signing the electoral rolls, going to church, has been rising for about ten years – an extraordinary thing, but it is actually true.

“There are masses of good, vibrant churches. If you just play the numbers game, you have to say we’re in decline, not everywhere, but in rural ministry we’re in bad decline. In London, as it happens, we’re not.

“But does spiritual life go on, and happen quite dramatically? In the prison where I work…”

ConHome: “Which prison?”

Aitken: “Pentonville. But I go to others as well. There’s never a dull moment, for all kinds of reasons. Spiritually there are people who are longing to pray, or get angry with God.

“There’s a real ministry there. I’m rather fond of quoting a verse of doggerel from an English clergyman who was as famous as David Gower or David Sheppard or Joe Root is today, called C.T. Studd.

“He was a great cricketer who played for England and Cambridge and so on. Then he became a vicar, and he was expected – we’re talking the 1880s or something – and C.T. Studd decided to go into prison ministry.

“Then as now, it was way below the salt in ecclesiastical terms. People said, ‘Why are you doing this, Studd? There are plenty of nice vicarages, and preferment.’

“And then he came out with this verse of doggerel:

Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell;

I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

“That’s what I do when I go to Pentonville.”

ConHome: “Where can we hear you preach?”

Aitken: “I’m a curate at St Matthew’s, Westminster. I used to be, a long time ago, churchwarden of St Margaret’s, Westminster.”

ConHome: “While you were an MP?”

Aitken: “Yes. I was the parliamentary warden. My deputy parliamentary warden was Enoch Powell. He kept on correcting the Rector for not holding the chasuble in his right hand, or something.

“Anyway, St Matthew’s is smaller and poorer. It’s a good little church, growing, it looks after mainly the Peabody housing estate. I’m preaching on Easter Day for example.”

ConHome: “What’s the state of the Tory Party?

Aitken: “Well I honestly think I would rather be back in a cell in Belmarsh than be in the House of Commons right now. They were much nicer at Belmarsh to one another.

“But no, I watch it with great sadness. We’ve lost our way as a parliamentary nation. Absolutely by chance, Rory Stewart asked me to lunch, I have a great high regard for Rory Stewart, on the day when the first meaningful vote was coming.

“And I went up in the gallery, the first time for years, and I took a great friend of mine, someone called Wafic Said, who founded the Said School of Business.

“And we sat down and we listened to this debate. And one after another, superb speeches. Kenneth Clarke opened. Hilary Benn. There was a Scot Nat who was superb. Dominic Raab was very good. Bill Cash, who can bore for the world, was superb.

“Also they were edging towards one another’s positions. And I thought that what would come out of these debates was what I vividly remember coming out of the devolution debates in ’75.

“Scotland was going to be devolved, and we went all night, regularly, with giants like Enoch and of course people have forgotten somebody called George Cunningham, the member for Islington South, there was Tam Dalyell, there were old buffers like Sir Derek Walker-Smith.

“Out of it all was hammered a compromise on Scottish devolution. I just know the House of Commons of the Seventies would have reached a deal on Brexit. Not this impossible impasse we’ve got today.”

ConHome: “Do you know Theresa May?”

Aitken: “Yes I do a bit. On the day of my ordination, as I was heading off to St Paul’s Cathedral from being buried deep in a silent retreat, some motorcyclist revved up to the silent retreat house. Message from Number Ten: ‘Dear Jonathan…’”

ConHome: “That’s very good.”

Aitken: “Sweet of her. I think it was probably the doing of Jonathan Hellewell, her faith adviser. Not a lot of people are saying nice things about Theresa, but that’s one of them.”

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