Former Liberal Democrat peer Matthew Oakeshott, who was expelled from the party for attempting to oust Nick Clegg.
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Former Lib Dem Lord Oakeshott donates £300,000 to Labour candidates

Peer also gives £300,000 to 15 Lib Dems and £10,000 to Caroline Lucas in attempt to build a "progressive alliance". 

Labour has long conceded that it will be heavily outspent by the Tories at the election (while arguing that its superior ground operation will compensate) but the party has recieved a rare financial boost tonight. The former Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott, who was expelled from the party after his attempted coup against Nick Clegg, has given £300,000 to 30 Labour parliamentary candidates in an attempt to "help save our country from a Tory government cringing to Ukip". Twenty nine of the candidates are contesting Conservative-held marginals and one, Melanie Onn, is seeking to hold Great Grimsby against Ukip. 

Oakeshott, a multimillionaire property investor, who now describes himself as a "non-party social democrat", has also donated £300,000 to 15 Lib Dem candidates, including eight MPs, and £10,000 to Green MP Caroline Lucas. His declared ambition is to build a "progressive alliance" to secure the election of a "Labour-led government headed by Ed Miliband as prime minister". He said:

Britain stands on the edge of a cliff with the general election only 105 days away. Will we vote Tory or Ukip for Euro referendum chaos, lasting two years at least and putting thousands of businesses, millions of jobs and our long term peace and security at risk?

Or will Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and all progressive voters come together in the marginal seats that matter to elect a Parliament for progress and reform and a Labour-led Government with Ed Miliband as prime minister? He has stood firm against the clamour for a referendum with considerable courage and nous. Scotland shows how referenda, even with 55-45 vote, can settle nothing, just open a can of worms.

Oakeshott's donations bring the traditional issue of tactical voting to the fore. Of the Lib Dems' 56 seats, the Tories lie in second place in 37. If the left divides in these constituencies, the danger is that the Conservative will make enough gains to remain the largest single party. While Labour cannot be seen to advocate support for rival candidates (not least given the Lib Dems' role in government and Miliband's ambition to build a "One Nation" party), shadow cabinet ministers acknowledge that it is a concern. 

Although the left is currently more fragmented than for decades, with the Greens and the SNP eating into Labour's vote, Oakeshott's donation is an example of how Miliband has partially succeeded in reuniting progressives. The peer's gift is the second from a former SDP figure after David Owen donated to the party last year. It would have been unthinkable for either man to aid New Labour in this way. 

Here is the full list of candidates backed by Oakeshott.

Labour 

Jessica Asato (Norwich North)

Catherine Atkinson (Erewash)

Nick Bent (Warrington South)

Louise Baldock (Stockton South) 

Polly Billington (Thurrock) 

Lisa Forbes (Peterborough) 

Victoria Fowler (Nuneaton) 

James Frith (Bury North) 

Sophy Gardner (Gloucester) 

Jamie Hanley (Pudsey) 

Rupa Huq (Ealing Central & Acton) 

Sarah Jones (Croydon Central)

Uma Kumaran (Harrow East)

Peter Kyle (Hove) 

Amina Lone (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

Jo McCarron (Kingswood) 

Natasha Millward (Dudley South) 

Lara Norris (Great Yarmouth) 

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) 

Sarah Owen (Hastings & Rye) 

Nancy Platts (Brighton Kemptown) 

Lucy Rigby (Lincoln) 

Will Scobie (Thanet South) 

Lee Sherriff (Carlisle) 

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) 

Joy Squires (Worcester) 

Will Straw (Rossendale and Darwen) 

Sharon Taylor (Stevenage) 

Janos Toth (Cannock Chase) 

Julia Tickridge (Weaver Vale) 

Liberal Democrat

Norman Baker MP (Lewes)

Lorley Burt (Solihull)

Helen Flynn (Harrogate & Knaresborough) 

Martin Horwood MP (Cheltenham) 

Ros Kayes (Dorset West) 

Tessa Munt MP (Wells)

Julie Porksen (Berwick-upon-Tweed) 

Jackie Porter (Winchester) 

John Pugh MP (Southport) 

David Rendel (Somerton & Frome) 

Dan Rogerson MP (North Cornwall) 

Adrian Sanders MP (Torbay) 

Vikki Slade (Mid Dorset & North Poole) 

Dorothy Thornhill (Watford) 

Jenny Willott MP (Cardiff Central) 

Green 

Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Forget sniffer dogs. To stop drug abuse in prison, fight the real enemy – boredom

Since I left prison in 2011, the system has had £900m sucked out of it. No wonder officers are struggling to control drug use.

It’s rare to go a day in prison without someone offering you drugs. When I was sentenced to 16 months in 2011, I was shocked by the sheer variety on offer. It wasn’t just cannabis, heroin, and prescription pills. If you wanted something special, you could get that too: ecstasy for an in-cell rave, cocaine for the boxing, and, in one case, LSD for someone who presumably wanted to turn the waking nightmare of incarceration up to eleven.

Those were sober times, compared to how things are today. New synthetic drugs – powerful, undetectable, and cheap – have since flooded the market. As the Ministry of Justice itself admitted in its recent White Paper, they’ve lost control: “The motivation and ability of prisoners and organised crime groups to use and traffic illegal drugs has outstripped our ability to prevent this trade.”

The upshot is that, rather than emerging from prison with a useful new trade or skill, inmates are simply picking up new drug habits. According to a report released on 8 December by drug policy experts Volteface, on average 8 per cent of people who did not have a previous drug problem come out of prison with one. In some of the worst institutions, the figure is as high as 16 per cent.

Why are people with no history of drug abuse being driven to it in prison?

There’s the jailbreak factor, of course. All prisoners dream of escape, and drugs are the easiest way out. But, according the report, the most common reason given by inmates is simply boredom.

Life when I was inside was relatively benign. On most days, for instance, there were enough members of staff on duty to let inmates out of their cells to shower, use a telephone, post a letter, or clean their clothes. Sometimes an emergency would mean that there might not be enough hands on deck to escort people off the wing to education, worship, drug therapy, healthcare, family visits, work, or other purposeful activities; but those occasions were mercifully rare.

Since then, the system has had £900m sucked out of it, and the number of operational staff has been reduced by 7,000. All such a skeleton crew can do is rush from one situation to the next. An assault or a suicide in one part of the prison (which have increased by 64 per cent and 75 per cent respectively since 2012) often results in the rest being locked down. The 2,100 new officers the MoJ has promised to recruit don’t come anywhere close to making up the shortfall. Purposeful activity – the cornerstone of effective rehabilitation – has suffered. Inmates are being forced to make their own fun.

Enter ‘synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists’, or SCRAs, often more simply referred to by brand names such as ‘Spice’ or ‘Black Mamba’. Over 200 of them are available on the international market and they are, today, the most popular drugs in British prisons. A third of inmates admitted to having used ‘Spice’ within the last month, according to a recent survey conducted by User Voice, and the true figure is probably even higher.

As one serving prisoner recently told me: "It's the perfect drug. You can smoke it right under the governor's nose and they won't be able to tell. Not even the dogs can sniff it out."

The combination of extreme boredom and experimental drugs has given birth to scenes both brutal and bizarre. Mobile phone footage recently emerged from Forest Bank prison showing naked, muzzled prisoners – apparently under the influence of such drugs – being made to take part in human dog fights. At the same establishment, another naked prisoner introduces himself to the camera as an ‘Islamic Turkey Vulture’ before squatting over another inmate and excreting ‘golden eggs’, believed to be packets of drugs, into his mouth. It sounds more like a scene from Salò than the prison culture I recall.

The solution to this diabolical situation might seem obvious: but not to Justice Secretary Liz Truss. Her answers are more prison time (up to ten years) for visitors caught smuggling ‘spice’, and new technology to detect the use of these drugs, which will inevitably fail to keep up with the constantly changing experimental drugs market. Earlier this week, she even suggested that drug-delivery drones could be deterred using barking dogs.

Trying to solve prison problems with more prison seems the very definition of madness. Indeed, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform, over the last six years, inmates have received over a million days of extra punishment for breaking prison rules – which includes drug use – with no obvious positive effects.

Extra security measures – the training of ‘spice dogs’, for example – are also doomed to fail. After all, it’s not like prison drug dealers are hard to sniff out. They have the best trainers, the newest tracksuits, their cells are Aladdin’s Caves of contraband - and yet they rarely seem to get caught. Why? The image of a prison officer at HMP Wayland politely informing our wing dealer that his cell was scheduled for a search later that day comes to mind. Unless the huge demand for drugs in prison is dealt with, more security will only result in more corruption.

It might be a bitter pill for a Tory minister to swallow but it’s time to pay attention to prisoners’ needs. If the prodigious quantities of dangerous experimental drugs they are consuming are anything to go by, it’s stimulation they really crave. As diverting as extra drug tests, cell searches, and the sight of prison dogs trying to woof drones out of the sky might momentarily be, it’s not going to be enough.

That’s not to say that prisons should become funfairs, or the dreaded holiday camps of tabloid fantasy, but at the very last they should be safe, stable environments that give inmates the opportunity to improve their lives. Achieving that will require a degree of bravery, imagination, and compassion possibly beyond the reach of this government. But, for now, we live in hope. The prisoners, in dope.