I was proud to recently be promoted to the Shadow Justice team as the Shadow Justice Minister. I have loved being Shadow Solicitor General over the last year and a half and am really excited to now build on top of this work in the new Justice team.
One of my priorities that I will continue pushing forward is our work on Ending Violence Against Women & Girls (VAWG). The first responsibility of any Government is the safety and security of its citizens.
However, rape prosecutions and convictions are at record lows, domestic abuse is soaring, and last year the number of female homicide victims reached its highest level since 2006. Despite all of this the Government has no real plan beyond a few gimmicks to address these failings.
In response we have published a Green Paper on Ending VAWG and I led the development of Labour’s Survivors’ Support Plan to reverse the falling prosecution rates for rape. This plan called for the fast-tracking of cases throughout the criminal justice system, a full legal advocacy scheme for victims and a named Minister for Survivors to give this issue proper accountability.
Meanwhile, it took the Government over two years to conduct their rape review which in the end made only piecemeal suggestions like extending the pilot of fast-tracking cases to just six crown courts. We could have this operating in all crown courts tomorrow if the government were serious about this. It’s not good enough and its victims who are being let down.
One of my other priorities in the new role will be women in prisons, many of whom are themselves the victims of crime. Evidence shows that for the majority of offenders community-based solutions through Women’s Centres are much more effective at preventing reoffending and are far more cost effective than prison.
Indeed, the Government’s own female offender strategy promises a focus on early intervention and community-based solutions. Despite this they are investing £150 million to build 500 new prison cells for women instead of investing in what works - women’s centres and community sentences. This needs to be robustly challenged.
Finally, we need to challenge the Government’s ambition to scrap the Human Rights Act and curtail judicial review. These are cornerstone of the rule of law that underpins democracy - and ensures that no one, not even Government Ministers, are above the law. It's yet another example of one rule for them, another for the rest of us.
This attack on our rights comes at a time when the justice system has never been more vulnerable. 11 years of Conservative cuts, a backlog of over 60,000 cases in the Crown Courts and victims dropping out because of these delays. It’s clear that we will have our work cut out defending our Justice system.
As the political lead for Labour in the Old Bexley and Sidcup By-election I have spent a large part of my time over the last month out on the doorstep in this traditionally conservative heartland. And the response on the doorstep during this campaign has been fascinating.
We came across numerous voters telling us that they are fed up with being taken for granted, fed up with being told to live by a set of rules that is ignored by the Government and fed up with the Tory sleaze scandal.
This has led to a large number of Conservatives no longer wanting to support this Government and even a number committing to give their support to Labour instead. Serious times call for serious leadership and it’s clear that people are ready to give Labour and Keir Starmer a hearing. And this is reflected in the result.
Last week we achieved a fantastic 10.3% swing to Labour, slashing the Tory majority from nearly 19,000 to 4,478. If this swing was replicated at a general election it would put us within reach of forming a majority government.
This is a really encouraging result especially in the context that this constituency is a safe Conservative seat that has never been held by Labour and nor do we have any Labour Councillors there. The result is also testament to the brilliant work of our local candidate, Daniel Francis, who campaigned tirelessly to get our message out.
And this result just goes to show that amongst the Conservatives core voters’ faith is being lost. Whether it’s the broken manifesto promises, lies or the sleaze that has emerged, voters are cottoning on to this Government’s incompetence and that it’s one rule for Government Ministers and their associates and another for everyone else.
This has been reflected in the billions of pounds of taxpayer money handed to their mates and donors, Tory MPs getting rich by working as lobbyists and missing votes to be in the Caribbean advising tax havens instead of representing their constituents.
Recently in Parliament Labour put forward a plan of action to clean up politics and strengthen standards with a vote for an investigation into the sleaze scandal and to end paid directorships and commercial consultancies for sitting MPs.
Instead of backing this and taking the first steps to clean up our politics the Prime Minister whipped his MPs against this plan. We need a Government that governs in the public interest, not their own personal interest. But it’s increasingly clear the latter is more the case.
Taking Old Bexley and Sidcup was not a prospect for us, but the big swing to Labour that we achieved shows that even for Tory heartland voters this shambles of a Government is not delivering and that there is a path for Labour to form the next Government.