#GE2015: results in West Dorset

The results of yesterday’s general election are in and the Conservative Party has won a slim majority in the House of Commons.

Here in West Dorset, the result was announced just after 6am.  As expected, the Conservative candidate, Oliver Letwin, romped to victory, extending his majority over the Liberal Democrats from 3923 to 16130.  I came fourth, squeezed between the Ukip and Green candidates. all three of us outperforming our 2010 predecessors.  I am proud to have extended the Labour party’s vote from 3815 in 2010 to 5633 and to have increased the vote share from 6.7% to almost exactly 10%.

All five candidates gave a short post-results speech.  The outline text of my speech was as follows:

I’d like to start by thanking the returning officer, Matt Prosser, and all his staff, especially Sue Bonham-Lovett: it has been a long night and there is a long day to come. 

I’d also like to thank my agent, Karen Ellis, and her long-suffering partner, Kate; West Dorset Constituency Labour Party, especially Lee and Claudia from Dorchester and Nick and Di from Bridport; my own life-support team of my husband Mike and my friend Jacqui; and, as Oliver has already said, my four fellow candidates, for participating in what has been a civilised election campaign.

It looks like tonight is going to be a disappointing night for the Labour party nationally but locally we have raised our profile significantly and increased our vote share accordingly.

I fought this campaign on a platform of social justice.  Every day, I encounter people whose lives have been made more difficult by the policies of the coalition government and I fear there will be worse to come. Those people may not be in this room but they are out there, in our communities, and I’d like to take this opportunity to invite Oliver, our new MP, to come with me and see life from their perspectives. 

Just because you don’t agree with the majority doesn’t automatically mean you are wrong.

Thank you and goodnight.”

And thank you too, especially if you voted in #GE2015.  It’s going to be a bumpy old ride.





Protecting the principle of media plurality

Many West Dorset residents have contacted me to express their concerns that media barons wield too much power and shoulder too little responsibility.

They have asked whether I support tighter rules on media ownership and if I would commit to vote for legislation to ensure that the Leveson Report is fully implemented if those owners continue to reject proper regulation.

I share concerns about the increasing concentration of media ownership and the dilution of freedom of the once-free-press. The phone hacking scandal proved the importance of holding media owners to account, and of not letting individuals like Rupert Murdoch abuse their power.

In its election manifesto, the Labour party has committed to taking steps to protect the principle of media plurality, so that no media outlet can get too big, and to implementing the recommendations of the Leveson enquiry. A report in the Press Gazette on April 13 gave an overview and you can read more detail on page 68 of the Labour Party manifesto.

Ed Miliband has shown that he has the courage to stand up to Murdoch et al and it’s now time to give him the chance to do so.

A Safe Haven

At tonight’s Dorchester hustings, candidates were asked if they were ‘comfortable’ with current levels of migration into the UK.

Migration, both from other UK regions and from overseas, brings economic benefits and the richness of diversity but it can be unsettling.

Like many areas of the UK, West Dorset relies on people from overseas to work in areas such as the NHS and in social care.  The regional birthrate is low and the population is ageing and migrant workers’ taxes help to support essential public services.

The Labour Party has pledged to strengthen our borders, recruiting an additional 1,000 border staff paid for by a small charge on non-visa visitors to the UK, to make it illegal for employers to undercut wages by exploiting workers and to increase the habitual residence requirement from three months to two years. You can read more here.

I’m generally uncomfortable with arbitrary numerical targets, preferring to assess cases on a need-by-need basis: ‘net migration’ targets are particularly meaningless, as we cannot control how many people move abroad for retirement or other purposes.  Moreover, we cannot ignore those who, for whatever reason, are forced to flee their homelands in search of asylum. Rather than allowing them to drown or returning them to face disaster, we need to be addressing the issues that forced them to flee in the first place: fostering good governance is one of the most important aspects of international aid.  How could anyone be comfortable with any target which prevented those faced with life-threatening danger from finding a safe haven?



How to navigate your way through #GE2015

If you’re struggling to keep up with #GE2015 you may find these articles and online resources helpful (please note, these are in no way exhaustive).

West Dorset Constituency

1 Find out about the constituency as a whole using Democratic Audit’s Democratic Dashboard.

2 Check out the West Dorset candidate profiles and videos on the Dorset Echo website: Oliver Letwin, Conservative,  Peter Barton, Green,  Rachel Rogers, Labour,   Ros Kayes, Liberal Democrat,    David Glossop, Ukip

3 Seek out West Dorset candidate profiles on their own party’s website: Oliver Letwin Conservative;  Peter Barton, Green;  Rachel Rogers, Labour:  Ros Kayes, Liberal Democrat;  David Glossop, Ukip and read their leaflets.  Each parliamentary candidate is funded to send a leaflet to each house in the constituency so make sure that that money is well-spent!  This is my leaflet proof.

4 Read the Bridport News profiles of all five West Dorset candidates: the incumbent Conservative Oliver Letwin, the Green’s Peter Barton, Labour’s Rachel Rogers,  Liberal Democrat Ros Kayes and UKIP’s David Glossop.

5 Have a look at Yarn Magazine’s near-synoptic Q&A on some of the key issues.

6 Cast your eye over David Bol’s report of the Greenpeace Coastal Champions public meeting in Lyme Regis on 11 March and his report of an Amnesty International hustings event which also took place in Lyme Regis on Tuesday 14 April and then take a peek at this account of the hustings organised by a consortium of environmental and wildlife organisations in Dorchester on Wednesday 15 April – a video of this hustings is online.   Tara Cox wrote this rather jejune review of the Churches Together hustings in Dorchester on 23 April but a better read is this account, again by David Bol, of the Churches Together hustings in Bridport on Monday 27 April, which was so well attended that people were standing outside the church in order not to breach the fire limit.

7 Read the answers to the questions posed by Dorset Eye readers.  These were answered by four of the five West Dorset candidates plus two from South Dorset, one from North Dorset and one from Mid-Dorset and North Poole.  There are nine different topics:  mental health, what the candidates can offer young people, the ‘war on drugs‘, educating young people about sex and sexuality, education and training, young people and work, the environment, tax evasion and avoidance and poverty.  Some of the answers have been amalgamated from response to a range of questions on one issue, so it’s worth reading more than just one set of answers if you want to see what a candidate really thinks.

NB Most candidates have also answered a series of question for the Western Gazette but I am struggling to find these online and have e-mailed the editor for his assistance.

8 Watch Wessex FM’s ‘Minute to Win It‘ videos  - one for every candidate in West and South Dorset.

9 Listen to the candidate hustings on BBC Radio Solent’s Breakfast in Dorset on Friday 1 May at 0830am.

10 If you’re not sure what the candidates look like, @StrattonDorset kindly arranged for all candidates to have their photos taken on Stratton Village Green.

11 Social media:  four of the five West Dorset candidates are on twitter: @OliverLetwin_15 @PeterBarton923 @Ros4Dorset and @DorsetRachel, though at the moment I suspect most candidates are too busy to tweet much.   Some of their parties also have websites and twitter feeds eg @wdorsetlabour and @westdorsetukip.  The only South Dorset candidates who appear to have twitter accounts are Labour’s @Simon_Bowkett and @JaneGreenParty.  The Social Election has more information.

12  For a broader view, I took part in a pan-Dorset hustings at Bournemouth University: my excerpt was broadcast on BBC Radio Solent’s Julian Clegg Show on Friday 1 May – from 43:12 (it’s only about 4 minutes long).

Across the UK

1 If it’s the first time you have voted or if you are more interested now than before, start off with The Democratic Society’s Citizen’s Guide, which will give you an outline about how to vote and what you are voting for.  Then find out a bit about the profile of your own constituency via Democratic Dashboard.

2 Individual parties websites can help find out about your local candidates: the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and Ukip

3 See if you can get to see your candidates in the flesh at a local hustings.  Some of these are listed on Democratic Dashboard or on Your Next MP. You might even be able to ask a question.

4 Follow your candidates and/or their national/local parties on twitter (though bear in mind that most candidates are rather too busy to tweet much at the moment)>

5  Try reading party manifestos:  the Conservative Party Manifesto, the Green Party Manifesto, the Labour Party Manifesto, the LIberal Democrat Manifesto, the Plaid Cymru Manifesto, the Scottish National Party Manifesto and the Ukip Manifesto

6 If you find an entire manifesto a bit indigestible, the BBC’s manifesto guide makes it easier to compare parties’ policies on key issues.

7 If you want to know what each party has promised in respect of law and justice, the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting of England and Wales @TheICLR has collated their pledges for ease of reading.

8 If you want to know where your candidate might stand in relation to LGBT rights, the LGBT Whip @thelgbtwhip can tell you.

9  Not sure which party you are most in tune with?  Election Compass gives you an idea of where you stand in relation to the seven main parties and where they stand in relation to each other, in terms of conservativism v progressiveness as well as left v right and also gives you an overview of key policy areas.

10 Interested in a more progressive approach to politics? Class Think Tank @ClassThinkTank is producing briefings documents on every manifesto.

11 Electoral websites:  May 2015 is a New Statesman website dedicated to the General Election – contains every factoid you can imagine and a whole world of graphs.  LSE’s Democratic Audit has launched Democratic Dashboard, which will give you vital information about your own constituency.  Electoral Calculus is probably only for those of you with a real love of statistics (that’s thrown down the gauntlet!)

12 Interested in polling?  Both the BBC and  Electoral Calculus keep track of what the polls are recording.

Miscellaneous and general interest:

Interested in democracy?  Check out Democratic Audit’s website.

Interested in the phenomenon that is a ‘safe seat’?  Dean Burnett @garwboy writes compellingly on how incumbency underpins the status quo.

Interested in why the most important issues often seem to be overlooked during election campaigns?  George Monbiot has some ideas.

Interesting in the social justice angle?  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation @jrf_uk website has an election hub to help out.

Interested in the social media angle?  The Social Election is quite enlightening.

Interested in why people (especially young people) should (but often don’t) vote?  Voting Counts gives a broad overview, Class Think Tank sums it up in five graphs and, in this Observer article, Isabel Hardman @IsabelHardman examines the #XXVote campaign aimed at female potential voters in the 18-24 age group.

Interested in local government? Take a look at this Guardian Public Leaders article on what party manifestos might mean for local councils.

Interested in the religious/secularist tension of modern-day politics? You might want to take a look at these articles on what religious groups want from the election and where the parties stand on secularist issues.

Interested in the presidential aspect of politics?  This Chris Deerin @ChrisDeerin interview with David Cameron is fascinating while this interview with Ed Miliband will give you a new insight into the opposition leader.

Interested in the ‘rise of Miliband’?  Peter Oborne, who quit The Telegraph because it wasn’t covering the HSBC scandals, wrote this excellent article in the New Statesman.

Interested in the Lib-Lab divide? These companion New Statesman articles by Lewis Baston @Lewis_Baston and Nick Tyrone @NicholasTyrone provide much food for thought.

Interested in electoral reform?  The Electoral Reform Society website is a mine of information  and Chris Terry @CJTerry who works for them is an interesting person to follow on twitter.

Interested in what might happen next?  This short, Real Clear Politics @realclearnews article ponders some valid points (its author, Alex Deane @ajcdeane, is another interesting twitter follow).


Interested in minority government? The Institute for Government @instituteforgov have been investigating how it might work.

Interested in minority parties?  This article by Rob Ford @robfordmancs discusses how they might hold the keys to power.

And finally, for a bit of political fun, the Telegraph’s “Which Party Should I Vote For?” quiz is worth five minutes of your time, as is The Clangers 1974 Election Special “Vote for Froglet“.

Enjoy and don’t forget to vote on May 7.

Why I’m standing in #GE2015 – a two-minute speech

I believe that Parliament needs more MPs who have had real lives and real jobs and who can bring those experiences to central government.

I’ve spent my life working with those who have no power, those who are at the sharp end of policies and politics - as a prison governor, as a teacher, for Dorset Children’s Rights Service and now for a national advice charity – and I’d like to be able use all that experience to help make better policies, better politics.

As well as working full-time, I’m currently a councillor for Littlemoor, one of the most ‘deprived’ wards in Weymouth and Portland, one of the most ‘deprived’ wards in Dorset.

Every day I see people whose lives have been made more difficult by government policies:

  • people who have been plunged into debt by the bedroom tax,
  • people with mental health problems who are struggling with the labyrinthine complexity of the benefits system,
  • people with no digital skills who are finding it ever harder to cope in an increasingly online world,
  • people who fall into the gap between the NHS and social care and who are unable to find their way out.

I’m driven by the Labour Party’s core values of fairness, justice and social equality and by a commitment to public services.

Over the last five years, we have seen funding for public services such as policing, prisons, probation and social care slashed, putting us all at risk.

Locally, key issues are a lack of affordable housing for local people, poor public transport, especially in rural areas, and limited job options and opportunities.

My five key pledges to you are that I will campaign to:

  • keep our Health Service National and to integrate it with social care, with parity for mental health
  • build more low-cost homes, restore the affordable housing quota and make rent truly affordable
  • create more and better jobs for West Dorset and support the Living Wage
  • protect our rural bus routes and make public transport serve people before profit
  • increase our investment in sustainable energy and support local renewable energy initiatives.

All of these require investment but they also require political will and it is that commitment to helping people improve their lives that I bring to every challenge I take on.

You can read more in my campaign leaflet leaflet proof



General Election Hustings Events in West Dorset

This is the current list of pre-General Election hustings style events in West Dorset (plus two Dorset-wide ones in which I have been asked to participate).  it would be great if as many people as possible came along to the general hustings events or tuned in on TV or radio.  For more detailed information, please contact the organisers of each event.

Date Time Location Organiser Theme
20 Feb 1900 – 2130h Bridport, Electric Palace Public First Local democracy
6 March 2000h Dorchester, Town Hall WAND International Women’s Day
11 March 1800h Lyme Regis, The Cobb Greenpeace Coastal Champions
17 March 1135h Bridport, John Colefox School John Colefox School Hustings for y 12/13 ONLY
18 March 1415h Sherborne, Gryphon School Gryphon School Hustings for y13 ONLY
20 March 1930h George Albert Hotel, Frome St Quinton National Farmers’ Union Rural issues/general hustings
25 March 1400h Dorchester, Thomas Hardye School Thomas Hardye School Hustings for y13 ONLY
10 April 1930h Sherborne, Digby Hall Sherborne Churches General
12 April 1100h Sunday Politics BBC South General
14 April 1900 – 2130h Lyme Regis, Woodroffe School Amnesty International Human rights plus
15 April 1930h Dorchester, Thomas Hardye School Wildlife and environmental organisations Wildlife and environmental issues plus
20 April 1830h Maiden Newton, St Mary’s Church Rural churches General
22 April 1430h Bournemouth Uni BBC Radio Solent BU students
23 April 1930h  Dorchester UC, South Street Dorchester churches general
27 April 1930h Bridport UC, East Street Bridport churches general
30 April tbc BBC Radio Solent, Breakfast in Dorset BBC Radio Solent, Breakfast in Dorset general


Weymouth and Portland Borough Council Budget 2015-16: localised council tax support

On 26 February 2015, Weymouth and Portland Borough councillors will vote at Full Council on the budget for 2015-16.

Until May 2013,  the council offered a maximum 100% rating for localised council tax support (previously known as council tax benefit) for the least well-off households in the borough.  The 100% rating was abandoned by the then Tory-led council in the budget for 2013-14 and replaced by a maximum support rate of 91.5% .

In both 2013 and 2014 the Labour Group proposed reintroducing that 100% rating and on both occasions the proposal was defeated at full council.  If you want to know more about this, I wrote about it here in Jan 2013 (before Full Council) and here in March 2013 (after Full Council) and here in 2014.

After the local elections of May 2014, the Labour Group became the largest group on Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, holding 15 of the 36 seats and 4 of the 10 seats on Management Committee.  However, the council is still one of No Overall Control (NOC), which means that Labour councillors alone cannot force policy through.  Nevertheless, responsibility for proposing the budget is now that of the Labour Group, and specifically that of the Finance Briefholder, Cllr Colin Huckle (Labour, Weymouth West).

A recent Citizens Advice report  noted that council tax was now the CABx clients’ number one debt problem:

“The number of people struggling with council tax payments has rocketed since Council Tax Benefit was replaced by localised Council Tax Support schemes in April 2013.”

Nevertheless, Weymouth and Portland’s 2015-16 budget proposal does not include a return to a 100% rating for council tax support, an omission which might at first sight lay the Labour Group open to charges of hypocrisy.  However, it is important to note that the issue was raised at the September meeting of Management Committee.  The officer recommendation was that the council should consult the public on whether maximum council tax support should remain at 91.5%, whether it should be reduced to 80% (so that people with the least money would have to pay more council tax) or whether it should be returned to 100% (so that people with the least money would be exempt from paying council tax).  Members of the committee were advised that, without consultation, the scheme would remain as it was.

The minutes of that meeting (paras 203 – 209) make it clear that Cllr Ray Nowak (Labour, Tophill West) proposed that the council go out to consultation and that I seconded that proposal but that Cllr Michael Goodman (Conservative, Upwey and Broadwey) “voiced caution” as he felt that any consultation would worry those claiming council tax support and, in his view, the current scheme was acceptable (though acceptable to whom was not made clear).

The proposal went to a vote, which was lost as it was supported only by the four Labour Group members and not by any of the other six members, of whom three are Conservative, two Liberal Democrat and one UKIP, representing the Independent group.

If you are concerned that the 2015-2016 budget doesn’t include a return to 100% council tax support after the Labour Group protests of the last two years of protest, I hope that this offers some clarification, though residents would of course be welcome to come to Full Council to voice their opinions, which is something I will be undoubtedly be doing.

If you are struggling to pay your council tax, you may find this information helpful.

Tax on Justice?

This excellent article in today’s Guardian displays no little hypocrisy from Vince Cable on the impact of introducing charges for employment tribunals.

The number of sexual, racial and other discrimination cases being heard at employment  tribunals has plummeted since the introduction of fees of up to £1250 .  Plummeted by 81% to be exact . It seems the LibDem business secretary has now ordered officials to carry out an investigation into whether the introduction of these fees has acted a ‘barrier to justice’.   But what’s the point of an investigation?  Fees were specifically designed to reduce the number of applicants and have done exactly that.

Although the number of claims has dropped, the success rate of claimaints remains the same which indicates that ‘…claims of a high number of frivolous claims under the old system was overstated‘. That’s  ‘claims made by employers’, of course.  But fee charging is a blunt instrument: it doesn’t just deter so-called ‘frivolous’ claims: it deters everyone who cannot afford the fees, irrespective of the seriousness of their allegation.

And of course ‘the fees had been welcomed by employers…‘ because the introduction of fees significantly reduced the ability of employees to take them to tribunal and thus gave employers a greater level of protection from legal redress.

In my experience, the introduction of tribunal fees has also made some employers rather more ‘relaxed’ about playing fast and loose with employment law, thus creating a double injustice for employees and there is no doubt that some employers take advantage simply because they know they have virtual impunity.

So of course the introduction of fees for employment tribunals has acted as a barrier to justice for employees because that is exactly what it was designed to be.

Whole Life Tariffs:  Extinguishing the Candle of Hope

In November 2014, Harry Roberts was released from prison after being incarcerated for more than 48 years.  The release triggered an avalanche of complaint from those who believe that, as Roberts is serving a life sentence for the murder of three police officers, he should never regain his liberty.  In his official statement, Steve White, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said that, after hearing of Robert’s release, ”many police officers felt badly let down by the criminal justice system.”  

Few aspects of that criminal justice system create more controversy or confusion than life sentencing policy so it’s worth clarifying that a life sentence lasts for the remainder of a person’s life:  if someone released on licence after serving their tariff period commits another offence, they can be sent back to prison at any time.

The tariff mechanism itself was described as follows in 2002 by Hilary Benn in his capacity as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation:

“The tariff is the minimum period a life sentence prisoner must serve to meet the requirements of retribution and deterrence before being considered for release. After this minimum period has been served release will only take place where the prisoner is judged no longer a risk of harm to the public.”

Roberts’ tariff was 30 years but, because of concerns about an ongoing risk to the public, he remained in custody for an additional 18 years.  However, some believe that those who murder police officers should automatically receive a whole-life tariff, meaning that there would be no minimum term set by the judge and the murderer would, in effect, never be considered for release.  As Matt Evans writes in his scholarly assessment of whole life sentences in Criminal Law and Justice Weekly, “a whole-life order may not, per se, be irreducible because of the possibility of release under s30 of the Crime (Sentences) Act of 1997, but the prospect of the Secretary of State exercising this power appears so limited as to be almost non-existent”.

Prior to the Criminal Justice Act of 2003, the setting of tariff was ultimately in the hands of the Home Secretary.  While several Home Secretaries amended judges’ tariff recommendations to implement whole-life tariffs in the cases of, for example, Myra Hindley, none saw fit to do so in Roberts’ case, even though at the time of sentence, Mr Justice Glyn-Jones had told him: “I think it likely that no Home Secretary regarding the enormity of your crime will ever think fit to show mercy by releasing you on licence.”  Since 2003, tariffs have been set by judges and the release of life sentence prisoners directed by the independent Parole Board.

The CJA 2003 also sets out guidelines to govern circumstances in which a whole-life order can be issued:

(2) Cases that would normally fall within sub-paragraph (1) (a) include—

(a) the murder of two or more persons, where each murder involves any of the following—

  • (i)a substantial degree of premeditation or planning,
  • (ii)the abduction of the victim, or
  • (iii)sexual or sadistic conduct,

(b) the murder of a child if involving the abduction of the child or sexual or sadistic motivation,

(c) a murder done for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [F1, racial] or ideological cause, or

(d) a murder by an offender previously convicted of murder.

However, in her speech to Police Federation Conference in 2013, Home Secretary Theresa May promised to extend these guidelines to include the murder of police officers.  This unfulfilled promise now distracts from the debate about the meaningfulness of and evidence-base for whole-life tariffs, as those who object in principle to whole-life tariffs are immediately accused of being ‘soft on crime’ or even ‘anti-police’.

The legality of whole-life tariffs has been challenged and found not wanting, though the European Court of Human Rights has ruled to say that these should include the possibility of review.  But ‘legal’ is by no means the same as either ‘necessary’ or ‘just’.  Is there really a case for an extension of the reach of whole-life tariffs, and, if so, should this apply only to the murderers of police officers?    And, given the indeterminate nature of life-sentences, is there really any reason for whole-life orders?

Theories of punishment fall into two categories:  retributive (looking backward at the crime as the reason for punishment) and utilitarian (looking forward and basing punishment on social outcomes) and there are (debatably) five primary philosophies of punishment :

Retributive:  retribution – based on the lex talionis or “letting the punishment fit the crime”.


  • Incapacitation: preventing the offender from reoffending in the outside community;
  • Deterrence: demonstrating what happens if you deviate from accepted norms of behaviour;
  • Rehabilitation: restoring a convicted offender to a constructive place in society;
  • Reparation/restoration: restoring a sense of wholeness to the individual and the community.

It’s worth noting that, in Benn’s definition of ‘tariff’, the primary reasons for imprisonment are retribution/deterrence, with incapacitation/rehabilitation taking a secondary position and no mention at all of reparation/restoration.

Clearly, it is uncertain whether imprisonment itself is helpful in addressing these philosophies. For example, does the threat of imprisonment deter people from committing crime? The crowded corridors of US and UK jails would indicate that many are not.  And is prison the best place for rehabilitation to take place?  Only if you would you put someone who was trying to quit smoking into a room full of smokers.  However, there is no doubt is that ‘prison works’ in terms of retribution and, to a large extent, incapacitation (though very many crimes are committed inside jails).

Over the past decades, sentencing has become more punitive, with sentences becoming longer and more indeterminate sentences being issued, attracting lengthier and more whole-life tariffs.  This has resulted in the seemingly endless increase in the prison population at the same time as we are told that crime is falling. Nevertheless, if Roberts committed his crime today, he wouldn’t automatically fit the criteria for a whole-life tariff.  Yes, it was a multiple murder but those murders were not pre-planned and involved none of the other conditions necessary for a whole-life order.  And yet, with just a 30-year tariff, Roberts spent nearly half a century in prison because of the refusal of the Parole Board to be satisfied as to his fitness for release (and indeed they appear to have had good reason for doubt).  The indeterminate nature of a life-sentence enabled the Parole Board to keep Roberts in custody long beyond his tariff date, until they believed that he no longer posed a risk to the public. If they judged that he still posed a risk, they need not have allowed him to be released on licence.  So does a whole-life tariff have any value other than increased retribution?

Moreover, why should murderers of police officers be singled out for whole-life tariffs?  What of prison officers and paramedics, teachers and social workers, and all other professionals who run the risk of being murdered during the course of their duty?  The police inspector next to whom I was sitting during Mrs May’s 2013 speech was not impressed by her promise.  He saw it as a political sop to police officers, many of whom are reeling from the ‘reforms’ which have been implemented since 2010.  He is far from alone.

Time-bounded tariffs offer hope.  They allow prisoners to believe that, if they address their offending behaviour, if they comply with their sentence objectives, if they learn how to conform to accepted norms and demonstrate that conformity, they may one day be able to live outside prison, in the community, with what remains of their families, despite the threat of the life-licence forever hanging over them.   They permit prisoners’ families, their partners and children, to hold that same hope, to encourage the prisoner to do whatever is necessary to enable him or her to rejoin society.  This is a rehabilitative approach, if not yet a restorative one

Whole life tariffs, on the other hand, effectively ignore any possibility of rehabilitation or restoration, focussing only on retribution and incapacitation.  They assume either that the person of today is the same as the offender of yesteryear, unchanged by maturation or experience, or they assume that the crime was of such severity that the only possible punishment is to extinguish any hopes of liberty.  A senior police officer expressed to me the retributive view that “there’s [a] point where you say reform and rehabilitation [is] less important than punishment, which means people may change but they forfeit the ‘right’ to experience that in freedom.

Which of us is the same as we were 50, 40, 30 years ago?   Which of us hasn’t been changed by time and our experience of it?  Which of us would want to deny the possibility of change in ourselves or in another, 30, 40, 50 years hence?  What it if it were our child?  What if it were us?

The role of the state is to seek justice, not revenge.  It should reflect objectively on risk rather than pander to political whims.  It was for these reasons that the right to set tariffs and approve release was removed from the executive in favour of more independent bodies.  Because of the need to satisfy the risk assessment, the elimination of whole-life tariffs wouldn’t guarantee the prospect of freedom to those who have committed the most heinous crimes, but it would at least extend the candle of hope.

This article is a slightly amended version of one written for and published by The Justice Gap in November 2014