Monday, 17 June 2013

Sex offenders should face a life in custody for the lives they have ruined

Today the state of the UK Criminal Justice System was visually and horrifically summed up by the sentencing of the evil child abuser Stuart Hall to just 15 month in Prison, for physically and mentally abusing 13 girls over a life time of abuse and torment. For a man who lived a life of luxury and celebrity while he secretly destroyed the lives' of young girls to feed his evil desires all paid for by the British License Fee Payer, its another two fingers up to natural justice and the system. The injustice that he has received less than one and half months for every life he has destroyed and in reality will only be behind bars for just over two weeks for each of those lives is enough to stick in the throat of anyone with a conscience or a heart beat looking at this case.

I am a big supporter of prison reform, I've done case work for clients on death row in the USA, I've supported the work of the Howard League for Penal Reform and I've spoken at events and conferences on the need for fewer people in prison and more focus on rehabilitation and restorative justice. This is a cause I believe in philosophically and economically, prison is filled disproportionately with people from poorer backgrounds, those with mental health issues and those from specific ethnic backgrounds compared with wider society. Locking everyone up has been shown in the USA to be an admittance of a failure to solve the challenges these communities face and society washing its hands of chunks of it it that it doesn't know how to change. Equally locking large numbers of people in prison costs the tax payer a fortune for each and every individual locked up, and with a very large probability that after their release they will end up right back behind bars after failing to be rehabilitated by the system. The solution to this is simple, for offences that are not a danger to the public none violent, sexual and non repeat offenders alternative sentencing should always be the norm, forced work programs, restorative justice schemes, large fines deducted straight off wages or benefits reflective of earnings to inflict same level of penalty on the criminal and proper supported probation schemes paid for by results not on block contracts.

At this point you might be confused and starting to think i'm one of the same old do gooders that has lead to Stuart Halls appallingly soft sentence today for abusing 13 young girls, the truth is you couldn't be further from the truth.

Over the last decade Prison has increasingly been filled by those serving lesser offences, first time criminals and those people who are not a real risk to the public and at the same time we have seen criminals on longer sentences continue to get let out for "good behaviour" only serving half of their sentences, and life sentences  actually meaning life being the exception rather than the rule. By freeing up the system from those people who do not benefit from time behind bars we can refocus the entire justice system into a two tier approach. The first tier being for rehabilitation for those criminals who can become productive members of society again and for who prison would be barrier rather than the answer. The second tier should be all about protecting society from the most dangerous people in it, this includes all violent and sex offenders, child abusers and serious persistent offenders. This tier should involve mandatory severe sentences of tens of years and many where life sentences mean life. The regime in prison with not needing to focus on rehabilitation can be basic and reflective of the damage these individuals have caused on other peoples lives, whilst at the same time respecting we are a civilised society we will not cause even the most evil undue harm, but equally this extends to basic facilities and not the luxuries experienced in prison today.

Finally sentences should reflect the society we live in today regardless of when the crimes were committed, historic sex offenders should not face the luxury of gaining leniency by the sheer fact their horrific crimes happened in a different era and instead we should look at how long does society need protected from this individual something you can expect to be counted in decades and not months as we have seen in the case of Stuart Hall.

This is an issue that has the majority of public support behind it, its time to end piecemeal law making and take a bold positive step to keep our children, our families and our communities safe. Its time to reform criminal sentencing and the prison system to one that serves society and not the criminals.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Can We Change Politics? Yes We Can

(My Comment Piece posted on "The Politico Daily Blog")

We are living in a generation where arguably politicians are as out of touch with the electorate as they have been at any point in history since universal suffrage. With the expenses scandal making way to the Leveson enquiry and most  recently we have seen the lobbying scandal too, the public is constantly seeing messages of how disengaged politicians are to the life they are living day after day.

Politics has become stale with the same old “politicos” brought out onto panel debates in the media talking in abstracts and failing to make a coherent message that connects with voters outside of the usual tribalism that exists within our political system. In the middle of this we have seen the rise of reactionary parties such as UKIP who have gained popularity in the polls feeding off disillusionment, the impact of economic climate we live in and the generational shift within conservative politics.

Despite the shake up we have seen because of the political scandals and the introduction of the UKIP wild card to the mix the mainstream red yellow and blue political juggernauts have failed to run at full throttle. They have failed to engage the disillusioned electorate and inject the energy needed to get the knockout punch at the general election in 2015.

All the main parties still believe working harder and faster on the same old tried methods of political engagement is what will get them over the line come election day. This involves carbon copy leaflets often full of party branding, big think campaign messages drawn up in the Westminster bubble, all at the end of the day looking very similar and in a creative sense “grey”. Party Political broadcasts roll out of party HQs all glossy and new and PR consultants very happy with themselves that they have produced the “real deal” the package that will give a real boost to the party in the polls. But back in the real world how many people actually watch party political broadcasts? And of those that do what impact do they genuinely have on them? Id propose the truth is very few people take notice of the broadcasts that now fall into insignificance when it comes to the 100+ channels now available in most people’s homes. Of those people that do end up watching party political broadcasts the same old political spin repackaged with different issues and played out with a senior politician doing a voice over to a pre prepared script, probably turns most people off politics and politicians even more.

It’s often said and for good reason that politics is the home to political careerists, too many ex parliamentary researchers and people who spend their whole life in the Westminster bubble, these are the people that end up round the table when it comes to developing policy, developing campaigns and shaping messages and so the vicious circle continues.

But does it have to continue? Can we break the cycle?

As famously said by US President Barack Obama “Yes we can”. As a Conservative I want to see a conservative majority elected in 2015 and to do this I believe we have to change politics and solve the issues all parties face. We need to change the playing field of the political arena. The election is not going to be won at the policy tables of Whitehall or the big think groups made up of political party regulars but at the dinner tables, on the computers,  on the smart phones, in the workplaces and in the communities of voters across the UK not just the Westminster square mile.

Talent needs to shine through but we need talent that brings different voices to the table, we need people who come from all backgrounds and bring their experience and connection to the electorate with them. A politician asking you to vote conservative is never going to be as strong as your friend, your brother, your neighbour or a community leader telling you they are voting for their futures by voting conservative so why don’t you too? As party membership falls we need to be making cases to people outside the party on why they should support and share our policies and our vision. We need to be involving these people (party members or not) in helping to shape our vision and let them be the ones to lead and share it in their own communities.  

 Times are changing we live in an age of social media, visualised communication and fast moving lives. The same old methods of contacting voters might not be dead but it is certainly on the wane. We have seen in the presidential elections in the USA media being used to shape a vision, develop a connection with the electorate and to encourage an emotional response on why they should vote for the candidate they are promoting. This is how we need to transform our approach when it comes to party political broadcasts and centralised communications. Over the last week I have produced a few cheap simplistic video clips using free online software. These have just been about community campaigning (Campaigning Video), sharing information about me as a person and one on loving “Wirral” where I live (I Love Wirral Video). The response has been overwhelmingly positive; they deliver clear fun messages in a way that makes people want to watch. Another example I can give is the video by republican candidate Rick Santorum “Game on” (Game On Video) it’s hard for anyone to watch this video without feeling a connection and affinity to the candidate and feel upbeat about his agenda (until you look into what that actual agenda is). Targeting DVD messages at key community members, sharing over a cup of coffee, asking them to pass it on or pass the message on can be a great way to create a buzz about key messages or a candidate in a local community, as well as improving overall people’s perceptions of politicians and the political process, in effect bring political world kicking and screaming into the modern world.

Finally candidate selection needs to be open and involve the community, planned out well in advance and be genuinely designed to involve people from across a constituency. Open Primaries are the only way we are going to reach out into constituencies where the electorate are feeling disillusioned or disconnected with the party and politics as a whole. We need to nurture talent from across the country built on their campaign, community and professional experience and break the perception that candidates are all pulled out of a group selected by CCHQ.

Our overall message needs to be about being open, engaging, energetic and based in communities standing up for voters instead of in Westminster standing up for our political parties. know the road to 2015 is going to be hard and the road to change even harder but if I am asked the question can we do it? My answer is YES WE CAN!