I may not actually win...

Sian urges London's voters to send out a strong message over green issues by voting for her first, L

Okay, I’m going to be painfully honest and admit I have a very slim chance of becoming Mayor of London after the ballots are counted on 2 May. I’m being asked why I’m standing a lot at the moment, and the truth is it’s not because I think I’m actually going to be Mayor.

But, I do believe in giving voters a full choice of candidates in every election, and I know that many voters will want to send a strong message about wanting more progress on green and social justice issues, and that’s what a Green first vote is all about. Then, as I have blogged before, I am recommending people cast their final round votes for Ken Livingstone to save London from the horror of becoming Boris Johnson’s playpen for the next four years.

This is what I’m calling their ‘insurance’ vote, and I also have an insurance policy of my own in this election. I am fourth on our London Assembly londonwide list, and so I do have a realistic chance of becoming an Assembly Member after election day.

Provided we run a decent campaign (which of course I’m largely responsible for making sure of, working in the high-profile mayoral candidate role), I think we should be able to win the confidence of the same proportion of London voters as in the last council elections in 2006. This was 13.5%, and would just about be enough to put me in via the fiendishly complicated D’Hondt counting system used to assign the list seats.

The only problem – and it’s not a small one - is the pitifully tiny amount of attention actually given to the Assembly elections by the ‘Boris and Ken show’ obsessed press. Hardly anyone is aware we have a progressive, almost-fair, PR-based system for the Assembly election, or that they can vote for who they like and be sure their vote will count towards winning AMs for their chosen party. Hopefully this will improve though, as the campaign goes on, and of course I’m doing my little bit by posting this here.

It’s a double shame for us in the Greens that the Assembly is so invisible in this election, because our current two AMs, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones, have made far and away the best job of being on the Assembly over the past four years. I have honestly never known two more hardworking, morally upright and astute politicians.

Unlike the part-timers from the other parties, they have worked tirelessly to make London better; and not just on green issues either. Some people are aware that Livingstone’s increased investment in cycling and home energy-efficiency is down to their casting vote over his budget each year. But how many know that they were also responsible for the creation of the Living Wage Unit, which calculates what a Londoner really needs to earn to pay for the basic essentials and enables campaigners such as London Citizens to go out and shame big employers like Citigroup into paying their cleaners decently?

The scale of their achievements came home to me the other day, when I was putting together this webpage, listing what they have got done. Yes, as they (probably) say, ‘you can take the woman out of the web manager job, but you can’t completely take the web manager out of the woman’, so fiddling with the London Green Party website is still my spare time hobby. The amount of material was so large I ended up putting it over four pages in the end, and it still needed a list of id-tagged contents at the top of each page.

So, while a Tory monopoly will still leave us with lots to do, my two hopes for this election are that, first, we retain a Mayor over which the Greens have an influence and, second, that I can be working alongside them in City Hall making it all happen.

To find out who you should be voting for on May 1st visit our Fantasy Mayor site.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.