MPs condemn reporting of Venables prison recall

Jack Straw yesterday refused calls for further details to be released.

MPs yesterday condemned media speculation over the reasons Jon Venables was sent back to prison as Justice Secretary Jack Straw refused to give further details about the case.

The Sun was threatened with an injunction by the Ministry of Justice on Friday night before it revealed on Saturday that Venables was suspected of committing a "sickening sex crime". And the Sunday Mirror reported the next day that it was a child pornography offence.

The Attorney General's office has warned editors that reporting details of Venables' alleged offences could compromise the new identity he was given on release in 2001 and scupper any future criminal trial. Venables was jailed in 1993 along with Robert Thomson, both then aged 10, for the murder of two-year-old James Bulger.

Straw told MPs yesterday: "During the week beginning February 22 this year, officials in my department learnt of a compromise of Venables' new identity.

"Subsequently, information came to light that Venables may have committed a serious breach of his licence conditions.

"He was recalled to custody the same day and has since remained in prison. A parole board hearing will be held as soon as practicable."

Liberal Democrat spokesman David Howarth was among several MPs from all parties to criticise the actions of the media.

He said: "The case of James Bulger will obviously arouse strong emotions, even 17 years on.

"But the rule of law is more important even than those emotions, and is certainly more important than the commercial interests of competing tabloid newspapers...

"People have been saying there is a right to know...There is no right to know everything immediately."

Labour MP George Howarth said: "Understandably the family are feeling very, very distressed indeed as to what has taken place - mainly in the media - over the past week or so, and what may underlie those reports that have been in the media.

"Their concern is that as soon as it's possible, as much information as possible as to what breaches of the licence may have taken place - and for that matter what offences may have taken place - is brought out in the public domain.

"At the moment, the problem is there is so much speculation that is only adding to the distress of the family, and actually isn't bringing a prosecution or any other legal action any nearer to a conclusion."

Tory backbencher David Davis called on Straw to protect Venables' identity "so that we don't see lynch-mob law in this country, even in the prisons".

Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool Walton) said that some journalists were "seeking to whip up public disquiet and almost hysterical reaction" which was likely to be counter-productive.

And Sir Alan Beith, Lib Dem chair of the Commons justice select committee, said: "There are many cases in which newspapers, if they are not careful, do actually make it more difficult or maybe impossible to convict guilty people."

Straw agreed, saying: "That is something I think newspaper editors need to reflect on, that the consequences of coverage - which is their decision, not for any politician to suggest - may be the opposite of that which they intend.

"Justice is never served if, as a result of prejudicial reporting in advance of any prosecution and trial, the trial cannot proceed and someone who might otherwise have been found guilty is acquitted before the trial starts."


Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Labour break the Osborne supremacy?

The Conservative hegemony is deeply embedded - but it can be broken, says Ken Spours.

The Conservative Party commands a majority not just in the House of Commons, but also in the wider political landscape. It holds the political loyalty of expanding and powerful voting constituencies, such as the retired population and private sector businesses and their workers. It is dominant in English politics outside the largest urban centres, and it has ambitions to consolidate its position in the South West and to move into the “Northern Powerhouse”. Most ambitiously, it aims to detach irreversibly the skilled working classes from allegiance to the Labour Party, something that was attempted by Thatcher in the 1980s. Its goal is the building of new political hegemonic bloc that might be termed the Osborne supremacy, after its chief strategist.

The new Conservative hegemony is not simply based on stealing Labour’s political clothes or co-opting the odd political figure, such as Andrew Adonis; it runs much deeper and has been more than a decade the making. While leading conservative thinkers have not seriously engaged with the work of Antonio Gramsci, they act as if they have done. They do this instinctively, although they also work hard at enacting political domination.

 Adaptiveness through a conservative ‘double shuffle’

A major source of the new Conservative hegemony has been its fundamental intellectual political thinking and its adaptive nature. The intellectual foundations were laid in the decades of Keysianism when free market thinkers, notably Hayak and Friedman, pioneered neo-liberal thinking that would burst onto the political scene in Reagan/Thatcher era.  Despite setbacks, following the exhaustion of the Thatcherite political project in the 1990s, it has sprung back to life again in a more malleable form. Its strengths lie not only in its roots in a neo-liberal economy and state, but in a conservative ‘double shuffle’: the combining of neo-Thatcherite economics and social and civil liberalism, represented by a highly flexible and cordial relationship between Osborne and Cameron.  

 Right intellectual and political resources

The Conservative Party has also mobilised an integrated set of highly effective political and intellectual resources that are constantly seeking new avenues of economic, technological, political and social development, able to appropriate the language of the Left and to summon and frame popular common sense. These include well-resourced Right think tanks such as Policy Exchange; campaigning attack organisations, notably, the Taxpayers Alliance; a stratum of websites (e.g. ConservativeHome) and bloggers linked to the more established rightwing press that provide easy outlets for key ideas and stories. Moreover, a modernized Conservative Parliamentary Party provides essential political leadership and is highly receptive to new ideas.

 Very Machiavellian - conservative coercion and consensus

No longer restrained by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives have also opted for a strategy of coercion to erode the remaining political bastions of the Left with proposed legislation against trade unions, attacks on charities with social missions, reform of the Human Rights Act, and measures to make it more difficult for trade unionists to affiliate to the Labour Party. Coupled with proposed boundary changes and English Votes for English Laws (Evel) in the House of Commons, these are aimed at crippling the organisational capacity of Labour and the wider Left.  It is these twin strategies of consensus and coercion that they anticipate will cohere and expand the Conservative political bloc – a set of economic, political and social alliances underpinned by new institutional ‘facts on the ground’ that aims to irrevocably shift the centre of political gravity.

The strengths and limits of the Conservative political bloc

In 2015 the conservative political bloc constitutes an extensive and well-organised array of ‘ramparts and earthworks’ geared to fighting successful political and ideological ‘wars of position’ and occasional “wars of manoeuvre”. This contrasts sharply with the ramshackle political and ideological trenches of Labour and the Left, which could be characterised as fragmented and in a state of serious disrepair.

The terrain of the Conservative bloc is not impregnable, however, having potential fault lines and weaknesses that might be exploited by a committed and skillful adversary. These include an ideological approach to austerity and shrinking the state that will hit their voting blocs; Europe; a social ‘holding pattern’ and dependence on the older voter that fails to tap into the dynamism of a younger and increasingly estranged generation and, crucially, vulnerability to a new economic crisis because the underlying systemic issues remain unresolved.

 Is the Left capable of building an alternative political bloc?

The answer is not straightforward.  On the one hand, Corbynism is focused on building and energizing a committed core and historically may be recognized as having saved the Labour Party from collapse after a catastrophic defeat in May. The Core may be the foundation of an effective counter bloc, but cannot represent it.  A counter-hegemony will need to be built by reaching out around new vision of a productive economy; a more democratic state that balances national leadership and local discretion (a more democratic version of the Northern Powerhouse); a new social alliance that really articulates the idea of ‘one nation’ and an ability to represent these ideas and visions in everyday, common-sense language. 

 If the Conservatives instinctively understand political hegemony Labour politicians, with one or two notable exceptions, behave as though they have little or no understanding of what is actually going on.  If they hope to win in future this has to change and a good start would be a collective sober analysis of the Conservative’s political and ideological achievements.

This is an extract from The Osborne Supremacy, a new pamphlet by Compass.

Ken Spours is a Professor at the IoE and was Convener of the Compass Education Inquiry. The final report of the Compass Education Inquiry, Big Education can be downloaded here.