The Justice Policy Forum in the East Winter Garden in Canary Wharf had Sadiq Khan in political mode. This was in contrast to the billing for the event, which should have had him in engagement mode.
We had been asked to attend in order to give him our thoughts, to contribute to the process, but he simply did what politicians tend to do, and justified the last government while condemning the present.
He didn’t give us confidence that the Labour leadership are seriously seeking out policy ideas on Criminal Justice. He didn’t come across as someone who was thinking deeply about the issue.
Following his initial speech, the event turned to us, the audience. I was one of the first to speak. Of the many contributions I could have made, I decided on a legal issue as Sadiq is a solicitor, so I thought he’d easily understand me.
I said that companies regularly commit acts of fraud and dishonesty against customers because there is little disincentive with our system of Ombudsmen. It would be better to have the police look at these matters.
I could have given many examples of people being systematically overcharged by banks and credit card companies, but the example I gave was my personal experience of refusing to pay a £25 fine for going £3.50 overdrawn on a credit card. The company then piled up the fines until it reached £200 and then sent a debt collector after me.
I was pursued for a whole year, with three phone calls a day being made to me, making a total of roughly 1,000 phone calls, all over a £3.50 overdraft. When I made a complaint to the police of harassment, I was told that it was against public policy for the police to pursue a case against a company, as the government doesn’t want to restrict enterprise.
Khan completely missed the point I was making, and told me that the last Labour government made a number of anti-business laws including a bill against the paying of brides in foreign countries that the present government has failed to push through.
I could understand if he disagreed with me, but he didn’t disagree, he just completely missed the point. He didn’t ask for any clarification, he didn’t probe. He wasn’t really listening.
Throughout the evening, it was as if Khan had no sense of curiosity. He never once asked for clarification or probed any person’s point. We were there to listen to him tell us why the present government is wrong while the last government was right. It was “An Audience with Sadiq Khan”, rather than a “Policy Forum”.
When Judith Gardiner, a probation officer and Labour councillor, suggested a bunch of ideas including Restorative Justice, Khan became very excited and told us that he’d read an article about a doctor who was raped and confronted her victim in the restorative justice program.
He said the last government only concerned itself with restorative justice towards the end of their term but he’d like to see it pursued strongly, in order to reduce re-offending.
This was completely incorrect. The last government looked at restorative Justice early in the Blair period but found that the system tends to have little effect on reoffending. Restorative Justice is wonderful for the victim; they believe that the offender is a huge powerful monster, and only by confronting them do they discover that he is a tiny, frightened and insignificant person. This helps them overcome their trauma. But it doesn’t seem to have much effect on the reoffending rates. So I don’t think Khan was on top of his brief.
The bright moment was when Sarah Webster and Suzi Stride spoke about their work at the City Gateway, a youth club that provides job training to their NEETs, then finds them work experience and jobs. Their system works better than other training organisations, because they are a youth club primarily, so they engage by forming relationships first and then offering the opportunity of training and jobs only once they’ve made friends. All youth clubs should follow their model.
Sadiq Khan is an articulate intelligent man, and is clearly a part of the future. I first met him at the last election when I found him to be just about the best doorstep campaigner I’ve come across. It is no accident that he so convincingly won such a difficult seat last year. Butthe Canary Wharf event demonstrated that he hasn’t switched off his “campaign mode” and switched on his “policy wonk” mode.
He showed no curiosity, and seemed as if he was just going through the motions. As the right-hand-man to Ed Miliband, this does not bode well for the future of the party.
He told us that he believes that the Tory-Led government will last one term only. I remember when Margaret Thatcher had become so unpopular that a Labour victory seemed inevitable. The Tories put John Major in at the last minute and went on to win that election.
If the Labour leadership is complacent; if they believe that they have salaried jobs rather than committed vocations, then we are in trouble. Remember, the Hare and the Tortoise fable isn’t just about the Tortoise moving slowly and steadily. That fable relies on the Hare falling asleep.
If we are relying on the Tories to hand us an election victory, then we are vulnerable. This isn’t good enough. We need to be hungry. We need Sadiq Khan and others in the leadership to be preparing the fight for
government. We need them to have an edge, if we are to win. This wasn’t in evidence last night.