Prisoners will be able to earn "real wages" for doing "real work" in jail under radical new plans being drawn up by the Conservatives and penal reformers.
shadow justice minister, Edward Garnier, [note: now replaced in this role by Alan Duncan] said the Tory party will
encourage more private companies and charities to offer work and
training in jails if it wins the next election.
"I want to see
prisoners doing real work, not mere time-filling, and I want to see
them earning wages that will incentivise them into seeing a connection
between effort and reward," he said.
The announcement comes as
Society Guardian reveals that inmates in UK jails are working for some
of Britain's best-known brands for as little as £4 a week. Household
names including Virgin Atlantic, Monarch Airlines, Speedy Hire, Travis
Perkins and book publisher Macmillan are benefiting from work carried
out by prisoners in England and Wales. More than 100 smaller companies
are using prison labour to produce everything from holiday brochures,
novelty name-tags and balloons to industrial mouldings and, ironically,
Richard and I have put together our own web site looking at this issue and there is much to discuss: What companies have contracts for prison labour? How effective are these contracts? How much to companies do make from prison labour? Why are prisoners not subject to the minimum wage? Are consumers aware of how much prison labour is used?
The Conservatives have been spending a lot of time thinking about prison reform and have come up with some radical suggestions about how they'd like to reform the prison service.
The National Offender Management Service would be scrapped and as for the wages paid to prisoners:
"Under the supervision of the prison governor, some of the money would
go to support their dependents on the outside – who might otherwise
lose their tenancies or default on mortgages and thus get thrown on to
the welfare system at additional public expense – some would be paid
into a victims' fund, and a small proportion would be kept by the
governor to enable the prisoner to buy necessities in prison," said Edward Garnier.
The Tories plan to double the number of prisoners working behind bars to 20,000 in an effort to teach skills that mean they don't head straight back into re-offending.
It seems hard to argue with their assertion that prison policy under Labour has become one soley of managing overcrowding.
So how do progressive politicians plan to counter these penal arguments?
In the current climate it's not the kind of research likely to garner much public sympathy; but Prof Jo Silvester from City University wants to know how we can create better politicians.
And she's been given £100,000 to find out. According to the university:
"The ESRC-funded research will be the first
to investigate what factors influence politicians’ professional development. It
will look at the support that politicians need to develop specific skills for
government and how this support is best provided. In particular, the research
will focus on the psychological and political impact of mentoring schemes, which
are increasing in popularity within the profession.
Prof Silvester said: “Despite the widespread acknowledgement that
politician’s work equals, if not exceeds, that of business leaders, there is a incredible lack of research on what
training politicians need to govern effectively.
is essential that we start to understand how to support politicians as
they face unique challenges such as the country’s economic recovery and public
Professor Silvester’s research hopes to
inform academic understanding of mentoring schemes in politics and produce ‘best practice’ guidelines for their use
across the sector. The Improvement and Development Agency co-sponsors the research, which is
due for release in May 2010."
There is an ongoing debate about whether our politicians are too old or too young while the new parliament is likely to be one of the most inexperienced in Parliamentary procedure. Conservatives like to point out that most Labour MPs have never run their own business while Labour MPs point out that half of the opposition went to private school and so their experience is of a privileged minority.
The phrase 'professional politician' is usually accompanied by a sneer yet we moan at bad laws or poor oversight. Giving them the proper training must make them better at their job but I don't think we've quite made up our minds what we want from our MPs other than that they keep their hands out of the till.
And the ones people seem to like are those who act independently - how do you train that?
With regard to mentoring I saw, via a tweet from Ellie Stoneley, details on a scheme in Sutton where young people shadow a councillor
to find out what the job involves. (I sincerely hope they don't choose
someone who sits an audit committee because it will cause them to run
screaming from the room).
News that MPs are going to have to reveal more about their second jobs has focussed on the shadow cabinet and those Labour ministers keen to keep raking it in while still in power.
I've got a more parochial interest in the new disclosures as my MP, James Gray, registers a business consultancy with Hakluyt and Company Ltd. A firm set up by, and stuffed full of, former MI6 officers which has been accused of infiltrating environmental groups and suborning journalists.
Hakluyt has been described by researcher Robin Ramsay as "a striking example of a semi-commercial relationship between MI6 and the City".
Gray describes the company as "a consultancy offering intelligence and stratgic advice". The section under which Gray's interest is listed by the House of Commons is defined under the old rules as:
...for registering outside employment,
professions and sources of remuneration (of more than £590
a year) not clearly covered elsewhere in the registration form.
Members are not expected to register the amount of their earnings
except where they are 'providing services in the capacity of a
Member of Parliament',
for example making representations to a government department,
providing advice on parliamentary or public affairs or sponsoring
functions in parliamentary buildings. In such cases they must
register the amount of their earnings within bands of £5,000
and, with the exception of speaking or writing engagements, must
also deposit for public inspection an 'agreement for the provision
Update: A source tells me that Gray says he has only been paid arond £2,000 in total by Hakluyt for services rendered over the last few years. Seems a rather paltry sum.
Hakluyt, which also has a Foundation to provide a berth for its many ex-spook employees, was set up in 1995 with Christopher James and Mike Reynolds - both former MI6 officers - leading the way. It has been descibed as "providing leading British businesses with information
that clients will not receive by the usual government, media and commercial
routes" (source). For a secretive organisation it has been rather regularly fingered in the press. I guess in this business it's easy to make enemies.
Journalists Jonathan Bloch and Paul Todd give some more background on how the firm operates with the tacit approval of MI6 in their book Global Intelligence.
The Times talked about the firm in a wider piece on private investigators:
"More competition also appeared in 1995 in the form of Hakluyt, a
shadowy company run by former MI6 officers. Named after the mapmaker of
lore, the company is the self-styled Cazenove of the industry, with a
client base mainly of FTSE 100 companies."
And last year it reported that former Downing Street foreign affairs advisotr David Manning had joined the company. Meanwhile the FT has some nice details on the firm in a piece on corporate investigators.
All in all a very interesting company which stands at the intersection of commcerce and politics and which straddles the political and parapolitical world tand to whose benefit it is unclear.
I wonder how much it is paying James Gray and what it gets out of the deal?
Some months back I posted about the climate change denying
efforts of Conservative MEP Roger Helmer.
It seems my interest has led to me to get on the mailing
list for his electronic newsletter. It's the second Tory newsletter I've
suddenly started receiving. My MP James Gray has also been sending me one. I
wrote to him asking for his support for a couple of freedom of information EDMs
(which he gave).
Must be an election in the offing soon (certainly June 4 for the euros).
Anyway Mr Helmer's newsletter has so many delightful little morsels that I’ve
cut them out to form a stream of conservative consciousness. (elipses show where I've edited stuff out).
My favourite is the bit where he warns that the EU could send tanks onto the
streets to enforce its will. A variation on America's black helicopter
conspiracy theory. "Am I being alarmist?" asks Roger. OF COURSE YOU ARE.
Despite my well-known Republican sympathies, it would be
churlish not to welcome in-coming US President Barack Obama. But I did notice that both the
Dow Jones Index and Senator Ted Kennedy collapsed on Inauguration Day.
Whatever view you take of the Great Carbon Myth, wind farms
are simply unsustainable, in either economic or environmental terms. There
are many things we need to do to reduce our dependence on imported fossil
fuels, but building wind farms is not one of them. We saw earlier this
year, during the long cold snap, the way that wind farms produced scarcely any
power at all, just at the time when we needed it most. Wind farms are the
worst kind of gesture politics. They may salve the consciences of the
chattering classes, but they blight lives and villages and local
communities. They further reduce property values. They pose health
risks to nearby residents. We should not build them at all, and
especially not within two miles of existing dwellings.
Travellers' camp sites
Friday Jan 16th saw me, along with David Tredinnick
MP, in a packed protest meeting at the Plough Inn in Earl Shilton.
Local residents are up in arms about a proposed travellers' camp in the
village. We have the EU seeking to earn our gratitude with a
succession of Declarations and Charters of Human Rights, but the good people of
Earl Shilton feel that while we all have equal rights, some minority groups are
more equal than others. ... was told that during a consultation on a similar
proposal in Bedfordshire, 4000 objections were sent in, but 3,900 of them
(including one from the Police) were rejected as "racist". I
don't know what the powers-that-be regard as "racist" in this
context, but I guess it would include observing that around travellers' sites,
crime tends to increase and property values tend to go down. But these
are facts, proven time and again, not racist comments.
On the evening of same day, Jan 16th, I spoke alongside
Edward Garnier MP at another packed protest meeting, in Oadby, Leics, this time
against the proposed Pennbury eco-town...One priceless insight: the plans
assume one parking place for every two dwellings. That's right, you
get half a parking place. They say that residents will use buses and
bicycles, and will walk. And presumably pigs will fly. We need to
reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels, and it may well be that in ten
years we shall all be driving electric cars, or hydrogen cars. But you
can bet that half a parking space per dwelling will be less than half of what's
The BBC and the Gaza appeal
...we might have greater respect for the BBC's
independence and impartiality had they not spent the previous few weeks of the
conflict acting as unashamed cheer-leaders for the Palestinians, and as the
primary accusers of Israel.
Could the EU invade Britain? Lessons from history
In recent months my historian colleague Rupert Matthews has
been looking at the political and constitutional debates that took place in the
USA in the build-up to the
attempts by some states to secede from the Union
– a move that sparked the American Civil War. He wondered how they look
compared to the position of Britain
and the EU today.... look at the current EU. Could the EU deploy military
forces to try to stop Britain seceding?
The answer lies in the Treaty of Lisbon (aka the EU Constitution).
First, the newly created High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will also
head the European Defence Agency (EDA) and have a right of initiative for
proposing EU-led military operations. Second, Article 28b allows EU armed
forces to be used to deal with any “crisis”. An event will be defined as a
crisis by the Council and Commission. Article 28a allows the EU armed forces to
be used to protect the strategic interests of the EU; again these are to be
defined by the Council and Commission. Finally Article 188r allows armed forces
to be deployed to any part of the EU without the agreement of the government of
the member state in whose territory they are deployed.
These provisions are scattered widely through the Treaty
(probably deliberately), but taken together they create an EU armed force that
can be deployed anywhere in the EU for any purpose decided upon by the EU
Commission and Council. Never mind getting Ireland to vote again – the tanks
might be on the streets. Are we being unduly alarmist? Well maybe. So perhaps
somebody could tell us why the EU wants these powers?
...Red Hot Lies, by Chris Horner of the Competitive
I should declare an interest: Chris Horner is a friend of mine who has worked
with me on climate-related issues....To give you a flavour of the book, I
can do no better than to quote from the blurb on the dust jacket: "The
global warming lobby, relentless in its push for bigger government, more
spending and more regulation, will use any means necessary to scare you out of
your wits -- as well as your tax dollars and your liberties -- with threats of
rising oceans, deadly droughts and unspeakable future consequences of 'climate
change'. In pursuing their anti-energy, anti-capitalist and
pro-government agenda, the global warming alarmists -- and unscrupulous
scientists who see this scare as their gravy train to federal grants and
foundation money -- resort to dirty tricks, smear campaigns, and outright lies,
abandoning scientific standards, journalistic integrity, and old-fashioned
notions of free speech and open debate".
I linked previously to an excellent post at A Very Public Sociologist looking at the wave of strikes about foreign workers and added a couple of minor thoughts of my own.
A shortage of time and AVPS's succinct writing did the job.
Now he's looked at what mainstream political blogs have been saying and it is rather embarassing. Conservatives have been taking the issue on but Lib Dems and Labour blogs have been whistling and looking the other way.
Of course many of the radical left have been taking an interest and have been blogging about it. But is it indifference, incapabability, incoherence or fear (I couldn't think of a synonym begining with in) that stops Labour Party bloggers addressing an issue many of their members will be talking about?
Meanwhile Ministry of Truth which has done some quality digging on how the BNP are using the dispute for their own ends and The Daily Maybe has an interesting round-up on some blogging opnions.
While I was cogitating on how I would post about the wildcat strikes A Very Public Sociologist went and did it first and better. So I'll just link to AVPS. With protests in Greece (linked to the recession but many other things as well), the Baltics, Iceland (the first government to lose power because of it) and France things are moving into interesting territory. Obama has been clear in his denunciation of greedy bankers and the Conservatives have been quick to feel the public mood and put out a similar message. Brown, meanwhile, seems loathe to take a populist line. I'm not sure how the Conservative's opportunist approach will hold if such protests continue or escalate. The message will be: get angry, but allow the same failed system to fix it. In Iceland they've now got their first openly gay PM. So progressive changes can come out of the protests, even if they are unlooked for.
Some times you just find yourself drawn, like a moth to the flame, to stupid posts or ridulous comment threads. I've got to say that Tom Harris's comments on prosperity or green politics seems very superficial. Come on Tom - at least make out like you can think independently. You could start here. And a great post from Dave Osler has degenerated into the world's most boring argument with all sorts of regressive prigs chipping in. Enough already. Perhaps I'll feel better when Arsenal win the replay.
Update: Donpaskini has, as ever, rebutted Tom with more elegance than I could muster.
Forget the transatlantic differences...read the following report on how Obama spent Thanksgiving and imagine, if David Cameron ever got in to power, how would he handle it? I believe his glib PR comments would be shown to be woefully inadquate. This isn't natural territory for Brown either as he obviously feels uncomfortable with such displays. Yet, I think Cameron's almost genetic inability to empathise with people at the sharp end would be clear. So, can we have a few more human moments in our political pantomime please? It's where the clear blue water lies.