Clarke and rape sentencing: one day later

Why Miliband's opportunism was just as disgusting.

Sometimes things can seem different one day later.

The unfortunate and crass comments yesterday of Ken Clarke were bad enough. But there was something repellent in how the Leader of the Opposition and the Conservative Right sought to make immediate political capital of Clarke' difficulties.

And so today, what lingers for many is not so much Clarke's offensive tone and seeming complacency, but Miliband's distasteful opportunism in trying to make rape sentencing something to score points with at Prime Minister's Questions. It must have seemed such a good idea at the time, but it does not today.

As this blog set out yesterday, the Criminal Justice system does treat certain rape cases with more severity than others. This is not exceptional, and indeed it has long been settled sentencing policy. This not to say that rape is not rape, but punishments can and do vary according to the presence of aggravating factors. Indeed, no one seriously seems to think that this should not be how rape sentencing should operate.

And this was certainly not the only legal blog to point out that rape sentencing was more complicated than yesterday's media frenzy suggested: see for example former Tory MP and criminal barrister Jerry Hayes, Labour List blogger Ellie Combo, and my fellow liberal lawyer (and also a criminal barrister) Gaijin-San. The legal blog Beneath the Wig correctly observed that the over-reaction to Clarke's comments may even make rational debate on rape policy more difficult. And, as Brian Barber today observes (again at Labour List), the Labour Party should have been supportive of Clarke, not trying to get him sacked.

All this said, Clarke should not have said what he said, and definitely not in the way he said it. But his blunder was at least inadvertent, and it lacked the deliberation of those in his own party and the opposition who exploited and misrepresented the rape sentencing issue so as to try to get a political opponent sacked.

One day later, it is the cynicism of Miliband and others on this issue that disgusts as much as Clarke's original dreadful remarks.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Getty
Show Hide image

I'm a Remain voter who feels optimistic about Brexit - here's why

Take back control is more than just a slogan. 

Most politics geeks have found themselves deliciously sucked into a soap opera over the last few days. It’s fast-paced, personality-based and ripe for speculation. But underneath it all, the deeper, harder questions remain – what does Brexit look like, and how can we make it work?

When news of Leave’s victory broke in the early hours of Friday morning (is it possible that was just a week ago?) I felt like the only Remain voter who had some kind of optimism. Fellow Remainers still reeling from the result berate me for it, but I continue to find two reasons for hope.

First, leaving gives us a chance to build a different type of economy. I don’t wish to belittle the recent economic fallout, but with the right leadership and negotiations, we could use this moment to push for an increase in trade with the Commonwealth and beyond. A fall in the pound will disappoint many, but it could help with a much needed rebalancing of our economy, moving from one predominantly based on financial services in London to manufacturing across the regions. 

Second – and perhaps more importantly – leaving is a chance to rebuild our politics. For too long, millions of people in this country have felt ignored or exploited by those who call themselves democratic leaders. In protest, they have left mainstream parties to join UKIP or the hordes of non-voters. In winning this referendum, they have finally been listened to. Perhaps the pressure cooker of discontent can finally be taken off the boil. Perhaps parties can use this result as a chance to rebuild trust and shake up some of our other institutions that are badly in need of reform. 

This point was really brought home to me by a student in the school where I teach. The morning of the referendum she told me that she didn’t think we’d leave the EU, even if the people voted for it. Her friends agreed, saying it was “weird you have to vote in pencil”. They were scared the people’s voice could so easily be rubbed out. When I saw her the next day, a small part of me was relieved that these students had seen that people can genuinely trump the establishment. 

If you’re not convinced, just imagine the backlash if Remain had won by a point or two. We almost certainly would then have voted in an extremely right-wing government, much the same way that the SNP saw a boost after they lost the independence referendum last year. 

Of course, a positive path for Brexit is far from guaranteed. Any leader that goes back on the vote, or tries to fudge it by saying that open borders are a price worth paying, is going to do worse than plummet in the polls - they are going to undermine our entire democracy. And a whole generation’s trust in politicians is already dangerously low.

But this doesn’t have to be a moment for the right. Good leaders understand that Leave’s “take back control” message was about a genuine concern with our borders. Great leaders will acknowledge that it also reflected a deeper concern about the need for agency. They understand the vote was a rejection of a neoliberal approach to the economy that fails to make space for well-paid work, family and community.

The public voted for decreased pressure on public services and a Britain that would negotiate as hard in India as it would in Germany for trade deals. They voted to end a perceived overcentralisation of power by elites, and create a more democratic Britain that gives more dignity to its people. I might not have believed that leaving the EU was the best way to achieve these things, but I’m on the left because I believe we are best placed to make these desires real.  

The vote to Leave or Remain was a binary decision. But Brexit is not. What type of path we take now depends entirely on the direction we choose, and the perseverance we show along the way.

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham