Women-only train carriages are a terrible idea

Almost exactly two years ago, Jeremy Corbyn took a whole load of pain for daring to suggest that women-only train carriages might be part of the solution to combating sexual assaults on public transport.

At the time, I looked at what he actually said and decided against against castigating him – although I was and remain convinced that it is a terrible idea.

First of all, it’s pretty good to see a male politician think that the issue of sexual assault on public transport is an important one that we should do something about. Where were the other politicians, including Liberal Democrats, when the statistics showing showing an increase in reported sexual assaults came out last week?

I also gave him credit for at least saying that he needed to consult women to come up with a firm view.

Labour MP Chris Williamson has not been quite as sensitive. He’s waded into the debate, following figures which show a doubling of sexual assaults on public transport.  

He told Politics Home that

I really don’t see how it helps to segregate women rather than concentrate on changing the behaviour of the men who assault them.  Apart from anything else, the sort of low-life who attacks women in this way would be likely to assume that any woman not travelling in a women-only carriage was simply asking for their attention.

A solution which discourages women from sharing the same space as men is not in my view desirable.

I also think that those of us who use public transport should look out for our fellow travellers. We tend to bury ourselves in our now thoughts and resolutely avoid any sort of interaction with the world around us. Keep an eye out for women who look uncomfortable and intervene to help them. If you see someone being groped on a crowded carriage, get up and offer them your seat or your space and report the perpetrator. These people need to be convicted.

If you think this is somehow exaggerated,  have a read of Louise Jones’ post for Bea magazine published back in 2013. It’s a harrowing account of horrendous behaviour.

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Shooting ourselves in the foot

During this year’s General Election campaign one of my friends, who doesn’t always vote Liberal Democrat, was enthusiastically considering voting for us. Then our cannabis policy was announced in the press. For her this cast a shadow over her voting intentions and she had grave doubts that she would now vote Liberal Democrat. She had run an urban centre in the UK for homeless men for 7 years. Around 50-80 men visited this centre each day. A common pattern, with a proportion of the men, was to arrive at the centre because of family breakup and unemployment but in a general state that they could be helped to turn their lives round. Then they would adopt the habit of taking cannabis regularly and over time become permanently mentally ill and no longer be in a state to access help. This is so tragic and so sad.

I’m personally in favour of legalising and regulating cannabis use. The aspects of doing this that particularly interest me are, those who choose to use cannabis for recreational and/or medical purposes are no longer criminalised and users can ensure being supplied with cannabis without impurities which is better for their health. With regard to the present position of criminalisation there is maximum sentence of 5 years in prison for use of cannabis and a maximum of 14 years in prison for trafficking. However in recent years the cautions for initial possession and people charged have fallen. From 2010 to 2015 by 48% and 33% respectively. This has resulted in the number of people imprisoned for this offence being relatively low compared to the general prison population for example in 2015, there were 1,363 imprisoned for offences to do with cannabis – about 1 to 1.5 % of the total prison population. These people are probably mostly cannabis traffickers. These figures all indicate that cannabis users are no longer a priority for the police no doubt influenced by recent cuts.  There are of course other benefits of legalising and regulating cannabis. It is thought that annually about I billion pounds could be raised in tax revenue in addition to the savings on criminal justice costs and regulation should create extensive employment through production, distribution and selling.

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Notes from a new councillor: Why we need decent bus services

I attended my first Cabinet Meeting recently as Oxfordshire County Councillor. OCC is led by a coalition of Conservatives and Independents. The question I put was:

Many villages in Wheatley Division are suffering because of the cut in bus subsidies. Elderly and vulnerable people are isolated; younger people cannot get to college and apprenticeships; those who relied on buses for work are now using cars and increasing the traffic on our already congested roads. Does the member agree with me that saving up to £4 million pounds from cutting bus subsidy was a false economy, and will she work with me to find room in our forthcoming budget to reinstate bus subsidies?

Well the member did not agree with me, and proceeded to inform me about all the community transport initiatives underway throughout the county. I am already well versed in these grass-root efforts, having been along to a fair number of community transport meetings over the last two months.

My problem is that offering locals buses twice a week for shopping; or relying on volunteers to get people to hospital appointments; or telling village residents to cross a busy highway (A40) for the nearest bus; is not good enough.

Connecting Oxfordshire, Local Transport Plan 2015 – 2031 includes the vision behind providing local buses. Here are three of the key outcomes (p. 16):

1. To support the transition to a low-carbon future.

2. To support social inclusion and equality of opportunity.

3. To protect, and where possible enhance, Oxfordshire’s environment and improve quality of life.

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Reversing Brexit

Once out, the pin can’t be put back in. Or can it?

Yes it can, so long as the strike lever has not been released. And that is the position we are in with Brexit. In theory, article 50 can be revoked if we act fast, but the clock is ticking. And According to both Emmanuel Macron and Alastair Campbell, editor of the New European, we have little time left. At some point, the EU will go into full self-protective mode and focus on performing a clean amputation. In grenade terms, the strike lever will have been released and the explosion will be inevitable.

That is why we have to move swiftly. According to Campbell, the time window after our August holidays will be slim. “When the political season resumes, we had better have got our act together”, he writes, ”or else this thing is happening”.

There are formidable difficulties facing us. Though we see tantalising signs of a national change of heart, a lot of energy has built up behind the Brexit juggernaut which means that simply aborting it is well nigh impossible.

Disarming the grenade

Brexit has been aptly described as an act of national self-harm, and self harm has a considerable cathartic value. It is like a wave which rears up before crashing and dissipating its energy on the beach. Anyone who has ever been distressed enough to think of harming themself will tell you that it is not much use being told “forget it, and just carry on as normal”.

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The Press Pack: A round-up of Lib Dem media comments – 22 August 2017

Here’s a roundup of  media comments made by Lib Dem parliamentarians and spokespeople today.

GP numbers

Norman Lamb slammed the Government for failing to deliver more GPs:

The government’s promise to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020 lies in tatters, with fewer GPs now than when this pledge was first made.

“The pitiful increase we have seen in recent months is nowhere near enough to cope with rising patient demand.

“This failure to recruit enough doctors will inevitably have a damaging impact on the ability of patients to access the healthcare they need.

“We are already close to breaking point, with people in many parts of the country struggling to get appointments with their GP.

“More doctors are urgently needed to guarantee a fully-staffed NHS that provides everyone with the care they need.

Swinson criticises UK support for Trump Afghanistan move

The government didn’t really get round to condemning Donald Trump’s appalling remarks in the wake of Charlottesville, but they were quick off the mark to support him sending more troops to Afghanistan. Jo Swinson said:

For once, sense seems to have prevailed in the White House.

“But to succeed in Afghanistan will require winning the hearts and minds of its people and working closely with neighbouring countries.

“On that front, Donald Trump has already done untold damage through his proposed refugee ban, Islamophobic comments and cack-handed approach to foreign affairs.

“The government’s rapid statement of support for Trump today contrasts with its failure to swiftly condemn his divisive views and actions in the past.

“Simply pouring more troops into Afghanistan will not work without a broader strategy involving careful diplomacy and redoubled efforts to build a stable government.”

Even Brussels must be tired of this waffle

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Was Champion right to “resign” from front bench over Sun article?

Trigger warning for child abuse.

There are kind of rules – good rules that are there for good reasons – governing how we talk about racial issues, when we must. Properly contextualise. Look for similarities rather than differences. Don’t make or appear to make generalisations about groups of people.

When I was at school we had leaflets thrown over the school fence with the faces of white people who had been killed by black people. The object of the leaflet was to encourage racially motivated violence to “even up the score” using crimes that, if they happened at all, probably weren’t racially …

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Brexit: We can’t gamble with our futures

Week by week the countdown to March 2019 looms closer. The chances of stopping a disastrous hard Brexit are slim, but there is a small window of opportunity if we go about it in the right way.

As Vince Cable and Nick Clegg emphasise, it all rests on building a coalition of moderates with the courage to break out of the extreme Brexit groupthink. This means that we need a Brexit position which is decisive, but also respects those who are resigned to the prospect of Brexit – for now – and reaches out. A clear majority of constituencies voted for Brexit, so for Parliament to block it, or at least soften it, we are going to need to bring people together.

That is why I’m very concerned by the motion being proposed for Autumn Conference, in which it is being suggested that we should play an all-or-nothing game of Russian roulette with people’s livelihoods. The motion suggests that we should retreat into stubborn rejection of the referendum, without securing a clear mandate against Brexit. The tide is slowly turning against a hard Brexit, but time is running out to stop it all together. That should still be our main aim, but it would be an act of gross neglect to take a gamble on suddenly halting Brexit in its tracks and lose.

That’s why we must consider very carefully how we would feel waking up in Hard Brexit Britain in 2019. With investment receding and jobs in freefall, our idealism and anti-Brexit fervour would be in vain. I know I would be thinking about what could have been. We could have had a soft Brexit. We could even have stopped it all. This could all have been less painful.

Even if you endorse this anti-Brexit gamble with our economy, you have to ask how best we can realistically build a coalition to stop Brexit. Surely the answer isn’t to retreat into introverted Europhilia, but to reach out to those sceptical about Brexit and make the case? If the tide of public opinion turns, this is how we stop Brexit – by giving the people the final say in a referendum. This is a realistic and democratic position which can appeal to ‘Releavers’ and soft Leavers alike once the dangers of Brexit become clearer.

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    @ Thomas I never said you said that Religious and History studies must be abolished. I did mention offering better alternatives to university which would...
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    Lorenzo I think the evidence shows there is very little gained from short sentences, which is what motivates proponents, not the fact that they are...
  • User AvatarTim13 23rd Aug - 11:18pm
    Apologies - Should have said "kept our subsidies over the last couple of years" (not days!!)
  • User AvatarTim13 23rd Aug - 11:16pm
    nvelope 2003 I really think we do have to go in for considerable public subsidies for poblic transport. I do agree with you that services...
  • User AvatarAlistair 23rd Aug - 11:04pm
    Some trains are massively overcrowded and stupid restrictions on who can use which carriages wont help. What would help is if guards can actually get...
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    Gordon, well done! Jackie, I greatly sympathise with the roller-coaster you've been on as a new councillor. Thank you for encouraging others to come forward....