Ending violence against women

As part of our series looking at where the London Mayoral candidates stand on particular issues

Whoever wins on Thursday 1 May - be it Boris, Ken or Brian - will face the challenge of one of the biggest, most persistent inequalities in London today; violence against women.

Three million women across the UK experience rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, trafficking or another form of violence each year.

This affects all of us, whether we ourselves have experienced violence or know someone who has.

The impact ranges from physical injuries to long-term mental health problems, self-harm and suicide, poverty and social exclusion. And as taxpayers we are paying the price – £40 billion each year according to a recent report.

There has already been real progress in London including the Domestic Violence Strategies, which have cut domestic violence homicides by 57 per cent, and the Safer Travel at Night campaign which has significantly reduced the number of mini-cab related assaults.

However, policies in London, as at a national level, are often focused on just one form of violence (domestic violence) and on the criminal justice system. The reality is that most women don’t report to the police and these women need the kind of specialised support that is all too often last on the list of funders’ priorities. Shamefully there is just one Rape Crisis Centre in Greater London!

If a woman does report to the police she is unlikely to see justice served as conviction rates for all these offences are woefully low. In London, less than 6 per cent of rapes reported to the Met result in a conviction. Assistant Commissioner John Yates said recently that the police still do not treat rape cases with the same professionalism as other cases.

End Violence Against Women has asked the mayoral candidates to commit to develop a London-wide strategy to eradicate violence against women, similar to the approach being taken by the Scottish Government and the Crown Prosecution Service. Such a strategy would ensure adequate support for victims, effective prosecution of perpetrators and long-term work to prevent violence in the first place. So how do their policies stack up?

Boris Johnson says he will provide the funding for four new Rape Crisis Centres in London by cutting the number of GLA spin doctors. He will ask for a review of Home Office resources to support women. But Johnson does not commit to a violence against women strategy, meaning he is out of line with David Cameron who has made repeated statements about the need for one at the national level.

Ken Livingstone sets out his record since 2000 including integrating domestic violence into work on women offenders, ensuring minicab drivers are registered, increases in arrests and prosecutions of domestic violence and rape cases, research on police performance, and lobbying the government on the ‘no recourse to public funds rule’. Livingstone says he has discouraged the growth of prostitution and trafficking and will lobby the government to reclassify lap-dancing clubs. However, he does not commit to a single integrated strategy.

Brian Paddick is the only candidate to promise a London-wide strategy. He says he will set up a Violence Against Women Taskforce with representatives from the voluntary sector to help in establishing the commonalities and connections between all forms of violence against women. He has also pledged to take over as Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority to increase the professionalism of rape investigations and to improve conviction rates.

So Londoners can make their choice on these and other key issues when they vote on Thursday.

A final thought - on the other side of the Atlantic a black man and a woman are battling it out to become the Democratic nominee for the most powerful political job in the world. Isn’t it just a bit depressing that all three main candidates for such a richly diverse city as London are white men?

Holly Dustin, Manager, End Violence Against Women

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State