Clegg calls time on child detention

A Lib Dem achievement to celebrate.

As part of David Cameron's "Save Nick" operation, the coalition has brought forward a series of policies designed to stamp the Lib Dems' identity on the government.

We've already been promised a new "crackdown" on tax avoidance and a scholarship fund for poorer students. Today, Clegg will confirm details of the government's plan to end the moral outrage of child detention – one of the Lib Dems' key manifesto promises and a policy we've long argued for through our No Place for Children campaign.

Clegg is due to announce that no children will be detained in asylum centres this Christmas and that the practice, which he described as "state-sponsored cruelty", will end altogether by 12 May – the first anniversary of the coalition agreement.

The accompanying statistics are a grim reminder of Labour's shameful treatment of asylum-seekers. In the party's last term in office, on average, almost seven children a day were locked up; 173 children were detained for longer than a month in the last year alone. In total, 7,075 children were locked up for an average of 13 days.

One study revealed that 65 per cent of children had suffered physically due to their detainment and that more than half had been damaged psychologically, the symptoms including heightened anxiety, loss of bowel control, refusing food and bedwetting.

Clegg will say:

Because our starting point is this: there is no greater test of civilised society than how it treats its children. Today's announcement marks a big culture shift within our immigration system. One that puts our values – the protection of children – above paranoia over our borders. One that prioritises doing the right thing [rather] than looking and sounding tough.

With this in mind, there seems little reason why the coalition should not end child detention immediately. There is every risk that children could still be detained in the window after Christmas and before the formal ban.

Yet this is still a rare example of a genuine Lib Dem achievement and one for which Clegg deserves much credit. There is no doubt that the policy would not have been pursued by a Conservative-only government.

After this Lib Dem success, the scene is now set for a series of policy showdowns over control orders, banking reform, executive pay and an elected House of Lords. If Clegg is to live up to his boast that his party is pushing Tory ministers in a more liberal direction, he will need to prevail in several of these matters.

In an attempt to avoid the "fucking car crash" that David Cameron warned of, the coalition has again delayed a decision on the future of control orders. But the new year will soon pit Clegg against Theresa May and the security establishment.

It is a battle that he must not lose. On this occasion, the alibi of the deficit will not be available to him. Retention of control orders would amount to a fundamental breach of principle.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Should London leave the UK?

Almost 60 per cent of Londoners voted to stay in the EU. Is it time for the city to say good by to Brexit Britain and go it alone?

Amid the shocked dismay of Brexit on Friday morning, there was some small, vindictive consolation to be had from the discomfort of Boris Johnson as he left his handsome home in EU-loving Islington to cat-calls from inflamed north London europhiles. They weren’t alone in their displeasure at the result. Soon, a petition calling for “Londependence” had gathered tens of thousands of names and Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor as London mayor, was being urged to declare the capital a separate city-state that would defiantly remain in the EU.

Well, he did have a mandate of a kind: almost 60 per cent of Londoners thought the UK would be Stronger In. It was the largest Remain margin in England – even larger than the hefty one of 14 per cent by which Khan defeated Tory eurosceptic Zac Goldsmith to become mayor in May – and not much smaller than Scotland’s. Khan’s response was to stress the importance of retaining access to the single market and to describe as “crucial” London having an input into the renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU, alongside Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It’s possible to take a dim view of all this. Why should London have a special say in the terms on which the UK withdraws from the EU when it ended up on the wrong side of the people’s will? Calling for London to formally uncouple from the rest of the UK, even as a joke to cheer gloomy Inners up, might be seen as vindicating small-town Outer resentment of the metropolis and its smug elites. In any case, it isn’t going to happen. No, really. There will be no sovereign Greater London nation with its own passport, flag and wraparound border with Home Counties England any time soon.

Imagine the practicalities. Currency wouldn’t be a problem, as the newborn city-state would convert to the euro in a trice, but there would be immediate secessionist agitation in the five London boroughs of 32 that wanted Out: Cheam would assert its historic links with Surrey; stallholders in Romford market would raise the flag of Essex County Council. Then there is the Queen to think about. Plainly, Buckingham Palace could no longer be the HQ of a foreign head of state, but given the monarch’s age would it be fair to turf her out?

Step away from the fun-filled fantasy though, and see that Brexit has underlined just how dependent the UK is on London’s economic power and the case for that power to be protected and even enhanced. Greater London contains 13 per cent of the UK’s population, yet generates 23 per cent of its economic output. Much of the tax raised in London is spent on the rest of the country – 20 per cent by some calculations – largely because it contains more business and higher earners. The capital has long subsidised the rest the UK, just as the EU has funded attempts to regenerate its poorer regions.

Like it or not, foreign capital and foreign labour have been integral to the burgeoning of the “world city” from which even the most europhobic corners of the island nation benefit in terms of public spending. If Leaver mentality outside the capital was partly about resentment of “rich London”, with its bankers and big businesses – handy targets for Nigel Farage – and fuelled by a fear of an alien internationalism London might symbolise, then it may prove to have been sadly self-defeating.

Ensuring that London maintains the economic resilience it has shown since the mid-Nineties must now be a priority for national government, (once it decides to reappear). Pessimists predict a loss of jobs, disinvestment and a decrease in cultural energy. Some have mooted a special post-Brexit deal for the capital that might suit the interests of EU member states too – London’s economy is, after all, larger than that of Denmark, not to mention larger than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – though what that might be and how that could happen remain obscure.

There is, though, no real barrier to greater devolution of powers to London other than the political will of central government. Allowing more decisions about how taxes raised in the capital are spent in the capital, both at mayoral and borough level, would strengthen the city in terms of managing its own growth, addressing its (often forgotten) poverty and enhancing the skills of its workforce.

Handing down control over the spending of property taxes, as set out in an influential 2013 report by the London Finance Commission set up by Mayor Johnson, would be a logical place to start. Mayor Khan’s manifesto pledged to campaign for strategic powers over further education and health service co-ordination, so that these can be better tailored to London’s needs. Since Brexit, he has underlined the value of London securing greater command of its own destiny.

This isn’t just a London thing, and neither should it be. Plans are already in place for other English cities and city regions to enjoy more autonomy under the auspices of directly elected “metro mayors”, notably for Greater Manchester and Liverpool and its environs. One of the lessons of Brexit for the UK is that many people have felt that decisions about their futures have been taken at too great a distance from them and with too little regard for what they want and how they feel.

That lesson holds for London too – 40 per cent is a large minority. Boris Johnson was an advocate of devolution to London when he was its mayor and secured some, thanks to the more progressive side of Tory localism. If he becomes prime minister, it would be good for London and for the country as a whole if he remembered that.  

Dave Hill writes the Guardian’s On London column. Find him on Twitter as @DaveHill.