Andy McSmith's Diary: MP named and shamed because of Coalition U-turn


Click to follow
Indy Politics

It was no surprise today that Mark Pritchard should call for men accused of rape to be protected by anonymity. His fellow Tory MP Nigel Evans made the same call – that the law protects the anonymity of the accuser but not the accused – after his highly publicised trial for rape which ended in the Deputy Speaker’s acquittal.

Pritchard had a rape accusation hanging over him following his arrest six weeks ago, until the police decided that there was insufficient evidence.

What is a little surprising is the silence from Government. On page 24 of the Coalition Agreement thrashed out by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as they took office in 2010, it says baldly: “We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.” That never happened. Two of their own have suffered humiliating publicity, but still no sign of action.

Despite what Pritchard and Evans have been through, the arguments against anonymity are powerful. Legislation that protected the identity of defendants in rape cases was passed in 1976, but repealed by the Conservatives in 1988, partly because of the risk that someone charged with rape might go on the run and the police would be unable to warn the public that he was dangerous until they could get a ruling from a judge. Even those ministers who thought that the law was unfair were not prepared to fight, knowing the huge public opposition it would provoke.

Ken Clarke, who was Justice Secretary from 2010 to 2012, confesses that dropping this idea was one of the Coalition’s first major U-turns. “Nobody seems to know who slipped this into the Coalition Agreement,” he says. “As Justice Secretary, I was prepared to go through with it. Neither I, nor my ministers, had a problem with it. I don’t believe it would have affected the outcome of any trial. But there was such opposition to it that we were clearly going down  to defeat.”

An unfortunate bottom line

“This should be a bottom-up process; there should not be a one-size-fits-all blueprint imposed from above,” Nick Clegg told MPs, referring to the creation of directly elected city mayors.

“It is great to hear that the Deputy Prime Minister wants a bottom-up process,” the Labour MP Lisa Nandy enthused. Minutes later, the Tory Cabinet Office minister Greg Clark was on the same wavelength: “The benefits of growth deals go beyond their particular location… The important point is that they are bottom-up,” he said.

Good to see all three main parties in agreement, but that’s enough about bottoms up.

Peril of dressing like a Baker

Norman Baker, the former Lib Dem Home Office minister, who sometimes wears a flashy orange tie, sometimes a lime green tie, or a tie in Lib Dem yellow, or sometimes – when he is dreaming of the rock star he might have been – has an open-neck shirt and musician’s trilby hat, has been rated as Britain’s eighth worst-dressed man by GQ magazine.

Michael Portillo, the former Tory MP turned TV pundit, came fourth. That prompted his fellow presenter Andrew Neil to tweet: “Only 4th? Don’t they watch This Week??!!”

No peer pressure to retire

More than three years after the House of Lords introduced a scheme which allowed peers to retire from the chamber, someone has carried out a precise count of how many peers over the age of 70 are still there.

The answer is 128 Conservatives, 122 Labour, 45 Liberal Democrats, 101 crossbenchers and 19 others – 415 in all – or about  55 per cent of the 760 peers who claim to be on active service. That scheme is going well then.