Since this government came to power there has been an ever-increasing number of U-turns. Generally committed off the back of appallingly short-sighted ideas and policies that hadn’t been thought through or consulted upon, the most notable of these is the recent climbdown on changes to sentencing policy for convicted rapists, the watering down of the NHS reforms and moves to sell of the national forests.
While these climbdowns are embarrassing for the government, they may all of them improve life for British people, in many of these cases British women as a result. The coalition patently don’t understand women, and the needs of women in the 21st century.
One of the first coalition policies to be announced in 2010 was a plan to grant anonymity to men accused of committing rape. This had not been a policy in either the Tory of Liberal Democrat manifesto, and yet appeared to be cooked up by the cabal of eight white men who drew up the coalition agreement. Mercifully, with a lot of lobbying from women MPs and women’s organisations the plans were dropped. Women do not seem to be safe however, as, month after month, new proposals are introduced which threaten to turn back the clock on women’s rights, and even our safety, with alarming consequences.
The latest announcement is that the government will force police to stop holding the DNA of those arrested for rape, but not charged. The naive presumption, one assumes, is that the government believes if you are not charged you are therefore not guilty. However, Ed Miliband highlighted at PMQs this week, that of the 5,000 every year who are arrested but not charged, many of them go on to reoffend, only being caught because their DNA is stored on the national database. Given the disgracefully low rape attrition and conviction rates in this country, nothing must be done that limits or decreases the numbers of men being convicted and sent to prison. The government’s policy would do precisely that.
Rape Crisis and other groups have stated just how vital the database is in catching criminals. For a party once renowned as the party of law and order, the Conservatives appear nowadays to be the party of let-them-off-the-hook, whilst the Liberal Democrats prioritise fretting over CCTV cameras and ID cards to convicting criminals and making the world a safer place for women.
At some point in the adult lives of British women, 23 per cent of us will suffer some form of sexual assault. The prime minister’s obvious disdain for women who suffer rape and sexual assault was evident, as he refused even to answer Ed Miliband’s second question on this issue, turning the answer into an attack on the shadow cabinet. It is interesting to observe, when the prime minister talks about the military, or as in the case of yesterday’s PMQs, children with epilepsy, he adopts a marked sombre and respectful tone. Not so the case when talking about an issue that will turn back the clock on justice for women victims. Cameron didn’t once look contrite or even as if he would investigate the issue seriously.
It is up to Labour now to exert as much pressure as it did on the issue of sentencing policy, and force a U-turn on the proposal to destroy the DNA of those arrested for rape. The DNA database is popular with the public, Labour in opposition are retaining our policy of being tough on law and order; but our priority must be increasing the numbers of those convicted of rape. We have to stop the government in their tracks, and be the party that puts women first.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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