The only plan for this government now is to save Boris Johnson’s skin and offer red meat

The government doesn’t even have a short-term strategy, only an obsession with tomorrow’s headlines and pointless slogans

<p>Every piece of legislation or policy suggested by the current cabinet is in one of two categories</p>

Every piece of legislation or policy suggested by the current cabinet is in one of two categories

The government of the day does not govern for the long term. There is little to no detailed political work that goes into the kind of future our country needs, wants or deserves. Governments are often short-termist so this isn’t a unique critique. The difference at the moment is there isn’t even a short-term strategy for our country, there is only a government obsessed with tomorrow’s headlines, pointless slogans and saving Boris Johnson’s skin.

Every piece of legislation or policy suggested by the current cabinet is in one of two categories.

First, responding to some criticism or crisis. New figures will be released, for example, about charges for rape and, lo and behold, they will draft some words about what they will do, as if everybody hadn’t seen it coming. As sure as night follows day, the next quarter’s statistics will be as bad. Why didn’t they act before the outrage?

Boris Johnson needed something to say this week to save his skin, so he didn’t even bother to make something up on the back of a fag packet. He just got out an old fag packet and presented that to the country in the form of a new policy. Allowing people to buy their homes from housing associations is old news that has been piloted and, as anyone with half a brain has said, meant there are fewer homes for social rents than there were before.

Second, when they are not responding to some panic, they propose legislation to cause outrage with headlines. We can call these the “red-meat” bills.

Next week we have the return of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which obviously provides a laser focus on all the problems with educating young people in a post-Covid world. Of course, I jest. Instead of having a look at what might be needed in the way of changes to student finance, how young people might catch up in order to make it to higher education, how we can make something of the various failed young apprenticeship schemes – the government thinks the important thing to debate is who can visit university campuses to speak.

For years, ministers have been telling me we simply don’t have the time to change the regulation that allows exploitative landlords to abuse vulnerable people at a cost of billions to the taxpayer. But who can talk at universities is an issue we have time for.

I think students should be allowed to invite whoever they want, and other students can protest against what they want. I have faced protests, student or otherwise, and as long as it is safe, non-violent, fair and even-handed, it is free speech. I have been stopped from speaking at events, and have had activists target others who have spoken to me, tried to get them banned from their bookings, so I have a vested interest in this issue. But honestly, I am not sure how the government’s legislation will change any of that.

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However, this provides me and others with a vehicle to amend a pretty important freedom of speech issue. Every year, thousands of victims of sexual harassment and abuse are forced – through fear, power imbalance and hopelessness – into non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or confidentiality agreements when they raise their cases. I have heard from many students who have been forced to sign NDAs about their experiences of being assaulted or abused by fellow students or staff in universities.

I have met women who were made to feel as if they were ruining the reputation of some bright young lad at some Oxbridge college, or the reputation of the institutions themselves, when they made complaints. Imagine being a woman with no resources going up against some of the oldest, most established and richest institutions in our country.

I want to see an end to the use of NDAs in cases of sexual abuse and harassment, on campus, in the workplace and in relationships. The freedom of someone to speak about what has happened to them is vital. Silence is the tool of a perpetrator of abuse and our laws and institutions should not collude with it.

So the Labour Party has laid an amendment to this bill that I hope the government, which cares so much about freedom of speech on campus, will agree to accept or work with us to include it as the bill passes through parliament.

Maybe they didn’t mean that sort of freedom of speech? Maybe this freedom isn’t red meaty enough for them. Let’s find out.

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