Violent Domestic violence offenders should always be prosecuted, by Jean Calder

Perpetrators of domestic violence in West Sussex are to be offered a 10 month programme to change their behaviour at a time when victims’ services are being slashed.

It concerns me that high-risk abusers will be diverted from the criminal justice system at a time when domestic homicide and other forms of violence against women are on the increase. And that failures in the criminal justice system are being blamed on victims’ reluctance to give evidence. In fact, more women would give evidence if offered the opportunity and better support.

It’s terrifying and exhausting for victims of serial attacks to bear the burden of a prosecution, especially at a time when they may be coping with the threat of further abuse and supporting traumatised children, sometimes in insecure accommodation. They shouldn’t have to, because this isn’t a private matter. Domestic violence is closely associated with homicide, child abuse, sexual assault and other criminal behaviour and social problems. It costs our country billions. It’s in the public interest to pursue prosecution.

Police should be required to pursue prosecutions without relying entirely on adult victims, gathering evidence using every means at their disposal and protecting the victims at all times. The late Ellen Pence, founder of the effective ‘Duluth Model’ in the USA – which by collaborative inter-agency working cut domestic homicides in Duluth to almost none – urged police to investigate every domestic incident, including the first, “as if it were a homicide” and prosecute even ‘minor’ offences. She advocated treatment for perpetrators, but only following prosecution – and after protection and support for victims and child witnesses was in place.

Child sexual abuse: Bishop George Bell and the Diocese of Chichester, by Jean Calder

I’ve been saddened to see so many people rush to defend the reputation of Bishop Bell – and by implication suggest the elderly woman who accused him of child sexual abuse is a liar. The Church of England has accepted that the abuse took place and given its previous determination to keep abuse by its clergy under wraps, I suspect the evidence is compelling. I was pleased that Bishop Warner apologised for the abuse and defended the alleged victim from criticism.

In respect of prominent abusers, the modern Church of England has done better than the Church of Rome. Eric Gill, the famous artist and Roman Catholic adult convert was the son of a Church of England clergyman, also from Chichester. Over many years, Gill sexually abused his sisters, servants and then his daughters, socially isolating the girls while using them as models for semi-erotic religious art. The abuse is catalogued in his own diaries, but if you visit the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, where his famous Stations of the Cross take pride of place and are publicised in the Cathedral shop, there’s no mention of his history or his victims’ exploitation.

The Churches’ responsibility – and our own, whether we have faith or none – must be to protect the living, defend the powerless (especially children) and treat survivors with compassion.  This being the case, Chichester Diocese should, out of respect to all clergy victims, fulfil its promise to change the name of Bishop Bell House – and ensure people understand its past actions and current position regarding child protection and clergy abuse.

Persistent begging is almost always linked to addiction, by Jean Calder

I’ve been pleased to see an increase in local concern about homelessness, but confess to irritation about recent debate on begging. Commentators seem very reluctant to acknowledge that persistent street homelessness and begging is almost always linked to alcohol or drug addiction. A cynic might suggest this is because of widespread recreational drug use among the city’s middle classes.

Certainly destitute addicts haven’t been helped by the city’s affluent opinion-formers, many of whom have for years minimised the role of addictions in homelessness, preferring to call for decriminalisation and ‘shooting galleries’, so that addicts can inject in comfort.

Affluent substance abusers tend to keep their homes and avoid the criminal justice system. Poor addicts, in contrast, have to find money for their costly drugs of choice in any way they can – usually on the street, by theft, begging, exploitation, prostitution or drug dealing. Some get arrested.

This isn’t fair, but there’s nothing others can do about that. It isn’t a human right to be able to pursue life-limiting addiction and fellow citizens have no moral duty to help with the costs of supply. In fact, the opposite is the case.

Addicts aren’t helped by kindly souls who give them money when they say they are homeless and desperate. Such people are desperate, but regrettably not for food and shelter. Sometimes they already have access to both. Addiction has them in its grip.

Our responsibility is to ensure addicts have access to the things that can genuinely save their lives – treatment facilities, long term specialist supported housing and the constant guidance of people committed to aid their recovery.

(This item was first published in the Brighton Argus in February 2016)

Donald Trump and the Turks – Burying Bad News by Jean Calder

Donald Trump’s suggestion that all Muslims be temporarily banned from visiting the USA has been greeted with horror. It comes as only the latest of many offensive comments from Trump.It’s understandable that this issue should head news broadcasts in the States, currently absorbed by the nomination race for Republican presidential candidate. It’s also the case that British television has for some years now been disproportionately concerned with US news. However, it’s not clear why it should have dominated British news to quite such an extent for more than two days. 

Given the decision to bomb Syria, it may be that UK politicians of both right and left are keen to burnish their multicultural credentials. They’re probably also very eager to ensure that Trump gets nowhere near the White House. However, I suspect it’s more than that. I suspect buried news. 

The big story that has barely been reported is that Turkey, our NATO ally, within the last two days has deployed hundreds of Turkish troops into the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Despite the protests of the Iraqi government and their appeals for help to NATO, Erdogan’s government has refused to recall his troops and is now bombing Iraqi Kurds.

It’s worth remembering that Erdogan’s forces recently shot down a Russian jet in Syrian airspace, on the grounds that it had crossed the Turkish border for 17 seconds. It further justified this action on the illegal grounds that it was defending Syrian ethnic Turkmen fighting Assad’s Syrian army on the Syrian side of the border.

The Kurds are loathed by Erdogan, but are recognised by NATO to be the only group that has mounted an effective ground challenge to Isis. They have done so with inadequate equipment and against constant disruption by Turkey, which has closed its borders to Kurds, while leaving the same borders open to Isis. It has reportedly also served as a willing conduit and buyer for most of Isis’ oil while routing looted antiquities through its borders.

Since Turkey shot down the Russian plane, Putin has relentlessly exposed the extent of Turkish collusion with Isis and questioned why, after more than a year of us bombing, Isis’ oil supply lines remained largely untouched – until the Russians became involved. 

Focus on such questions is deeply embarrassing for the West, not least because the EU is set to pay millions to the Turks (and offer other sweeteners) to persuade them to keep refugees their side of the border. The EU is also offering the possibility of free movement to Turkish citizens and once again holding up the possibility of joining the EU. This means that Turkey only has to grant Turkish citizenship to refugees (many of whom will be former Isis or al Nusra Front fighters) to give them free access to the EU. 

It’s hardly surprising that the politicians want us to concentrate on Donald Trump.

David Cameron’s Big Lie about Syria

The following blog was published as a letter in the Guardian and Independent of 1st December 2015:

Tony Blair’s big lie, before the war in Iraq, was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. David Cameron’s big lie is that there are 70,000 ‘moderate’ Syrian ground troops, ready to sustain ‘democracy’.

In fact, the majority of anti-Assad forces fighting alongside ISIS are violent Islamists – such as the Al Quaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The Front is known to pose a serious threat here in Britain, yet we are expected to maintain the fiction that its fighters are moderates or de facto allies. If the government gets its way, we will bomb only ISIS – and civilians of course.

Cameron’s long term aim continues to be illegal regime change. He is intent on removing Assad by force, even if it means allying himself with people far worse than the Syrian President. The consequences for the people of Syria, especially for women, the Shia, Kurds and other minorities are likely to be truly terrible.
Jean Calder.

Cuts to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, by Jean Calder

Visitors to Brighton’s Museum and Art Gallery have dropped by over a half since introduction of a £5 entry fee for non-residents. Just 33,000 visitors went to the Museum and Art Gallery between 5th May and 5th August. This compares to 71,000 in 2014 and 87,000 in 2013.

It was no surprise to me to read of this reduction. In May, I wrote in the Argus, of my horror at the decision to introduce fees, given that, in London and in almost all other parts of the country, such basic services are free. I also highlighted how difficult the council had made it for residents to gain ‘free’ entry, by requiring them, at each visit, to queue, provide proof of residence and be checked against a computer list. 

At the time, I thought the queues for residents were a glitch in the system and that very soon the Council would allow residents to move freely in and out – for example, by showing a library card. However, no changes were made. In subsequent weeks, I queued a few times, then gave up. In the 40 years I’ve lived in Brighton, I’ve probably visited the museum on average about four or five times a month. Now I don’t go at all.

Back in May, I had no idea the Council planned to introduce charges. Still less did I know that, before making this decision, the Council officials predicted that a 50 – 75% reduction in visitors would result. I find it extraordinary that Council officials and elected members – whose job is to protect our heritage – proceeded with this policy in the full knowledge that many thousands fewer people would benefit from facilities previous generations have taken for granted. I recall no publicity about this and no debate.

Councillors recently warned council officials against using falling attendances to justify reducing opening hours. This immediately made me fear that this was exactly what was planned – particularly as I was subsequently contacted by an anonymous informant who told me that council plans were well advanced to put the museum service and art gallery out to tender and to close the much-loved Hove Library. An Argus investigation has now confirmed this – almost certainly well before the Council intended the information to get out. 

My cynical soul tells me that it’s a classic tactic to deliberately run public services down, suggest they are ‘failing’, then use this as an excuse to cut them and even sell valuable assets, while putting potentially profitable services out to tender to private companies – often leaving insufficient time for the public to examine proposals and mount protests. 

I fully understand that the museums and art services need to make £200,000 savings this financial year. However, this is a tiny amount when set against the millions that the Council this year failed to collect in parking fees. Coin Co International (CCI), the company contracted to collect the fees, collapsed earlier this year owing the council £3.2 million. The loss was not insured and the Council is believed to be unlikely to recoup more than £25,000.

CCI was paid almost £300,000 a year to collect more than £11 million cash from Brighton and Hove’s parking meters and £8 million cash from Council offices and schools. The company was allowed to hold the funds for up to ten days, enabling it to earn interest in addition to its fees to the Council. The money should have been paid into a separate account by CCI, but was not. The debt was allowed to build up over several months and at one point reached £4.7 million. Little action seems to have been taken to protect the Council. This is despite the fact the council’s previous cash collections contractor, Estate Security Southern, also collapsed.

There are two things which strike me about these events. The first is that, even in a time of austerity and threatened cuts, officials seem not to be held accountable for catastrophic loss of public funds. The second is that serious reductions to key public services have been planned in secret, without any regard for public consultation. This is no way to run local democracy.

I call on councillors of all parties and committees to act to protect our heritage and key services and to consult fully and in public. Above all, I ask them to realise Council officials are the public’s servants not its masters – and to hold them to account when they lose our money and threaten our services.

Letter to Jeremy: Listening to the People, by Jean Calder

Dear Jeremy,

I enjoyed listening to your speech at this year’s Labour Party Conference. It was good to hear a Labour leader so obviously rooted in his community, address moral issues once again. 

Throughout the conference – and during the leadership campaign – much of your focus was on being prepared to listen to ordinary people. You said formulating policy would be a ‘bottom up’ process, dominated not by focus groups and MPs, but by ordinary members and supporters.

I’m no longer a member, but I like the idea of ordinary people being able to influence Labour policy. However, I’m sceptical. There is such a strong tradition of limiting free speech in the party, I find it hard to believe you and your team really will listen. 

I did smile when I heard your Blairite opponents in Parliament predict that your leadership will bring ‘punishment beatings’ and deselections of right wing MPs. In the past, I recall that it appeared always to be the left, not the right, that was disciplined for behaviour ‘likely to bring the party into disrepute’. The same rules never seemed to apply to rightwing MPs – who seemed free to break party policy at will and viciously criticise fellow members and their leaders.

Those of us who were on the left of the party in the mid 1980s and early 1990s, recall all too well the ways in which the leadership of the party limited our freedom. Many members were expelled or disciplined. As a Labour councillor in Brighton, I was one who had the Whip removed and therefore couldn’t stand for Council again. Our local party was closed down for two years, while investigations by the national Labour Party were carried out. Twenty six party members were investigated by the national party which, after many months, organised ‘trials’ at the Royal Albion Hotel. Many people believe this period of dislocation led directly to the rapid growth of the Green Party in Brighton.

You may say that that if the left gains ascendency they will behave better. However, I wonder. I’m very familiar with the Labour left ‘script’ – a set of views you’re ‘supposed’ to have and many others that you’re not. I wonder what will happen when people – ordinary people – ask questions that don’t fit the script or use ‘unacceptable’ language in doing it. Will they be subject to insult and hostility, the indrawn breath, the shocked silence, the turned shoulder – if they ask the awkward questions that liberal progressives don’t like?.

It’s not as if there are just a few areas of sensitivity. Rigid convention binds and stultifies left debate on most areas of policy from immigration, the NHS, education and patriotism, to nationalism and Europe, defence, foreign affairs, religious tolerance and equalities. 

It seems to me that if Labour is to win elections, it must be prepared to engage with issues it finds difficult – and abandon its script. There’s no point in saying you’ll listen, if you then silence ideas you don’t like or avoid speaking to opponents. In this regard, it’s disappointing to hear you recently chose not to speak to local TV stations, but did carry out an interview with Al Jazeera.

I’m glad you’ve spoken out against political abuse and sexist trolling and that you’ve condemned the demonstrator who spat at a journalist at the Conservative Party Conference. However, there’s much more you could do. There is a culture of macho insult and abuse in sections of the left, which makes it very difficult for anyone to disagree. Without dissent, there is no possibility of real democracy.

In 1956, when Mao Zedong said “Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend” he refused to accept the ideas the Chinese people subsequently expressed and arrested many dissidents. Some suggest the whole exercise was just a ploy to flush out his critics. 

You are judged to be a man of principle. It’s really important that, having raised people’s hopes, you don’t stifle ideas or crush dissent – or permit your supporters to do it for you.

Yours sincerely

Jean Calder

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