The day the arts took a swipe at cuts…

On March 31st my colleague Alex and I went to see the play “The day the arts took a swipe at cuts”.

My friend Alex and I actually went to see the play “Victim” which is currently playing at the Kings Head Theatre in Islington. We did this after being contacted through our roles with Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform and a brilliantly hard-hitting show it was too.

“Victim” is a play that perfectly demonstrates how broken our prison system is. It tells the harrowing tale of the power struggle between the inmate and the guard, and the roles they play in a system that has been brutally hit by harsher-than-necessary cuts. This blog is not so much a review (such a phenomenal performance has no shortage of positive reviews) as it is a cry out for support and an end to cuts in this frankly broken prison system.

The Prison Reform organisation, Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform have, since our launch, been looking for a way to exemplify how much reform is needed to our prison system to make it fit for the 21st century. This play does this in a way no article or speech has managed to do yet. Fydor Dovtoyevsky once said, “the degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” I must say that the fact that this theatre company wrote and performed this moving piece is testament to the scale of the challenge we as a country face.

The effect of the brutalist nature of the cuts was apparent throughout the play as it challenged the false narrative that prison cuts are somehow morally justifiable. It went on to highlight the fight we need to undertake in terms of our party policy going forward. We need to take steps to be more than just the party of Europe and move on to be the party of a fair justice system that recognises that no one is above rehabilitation, and recognises the role that a good liberal approach needs to take in this.

This is a call for those who are passionate about a restorative justice system to get involved. I must take a moment, however, to encourage all who can to see Victim at the Kings Head Theatre in Islington.

Those interested in supporting the work of Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform can email [email protected]

* Callum Robertson is the Lib Dem Candidate for Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner. In his day job, he works for a multi-national human rights NGO as an Advocacy Officer. Read about his plans for Essex here.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Apr '18 - 1:21pm


    You and your group, as with the play, would be more interesting to me if you saw, victim, as being, the victim of the criminal who is put in prison, before the criminal as victim, pitch is even begun to be put out there as a proposition.

    It is far more shameful that the victims of people like John Warboys are in terror, of his release, or never saw him charged with the many hideous offences he committed, than that cuts have meant more inactivity and tedium for prisoners.

    Do you have anything to say about the presence of women mainly, in prison for not being able to pay the TV licence, or do you, unlike most in the party have anything to say about the outrage of the licence itself, a travesty of civil liberties?

    I believe you probably, as here, make a good case, for necessary change. What t is what worries me.

    I do not want prison as a college and training centre for those who can, unlike most students, get free places in it, no fees!

    I want it, released of most completely non violent offenders, a place of punishment, full time work , and reparation for the victims, the victims of their crimes, violent crimes.

    There would be rehabilitation too, they would learn why they had been hideous to their fellow human beings and helped to not be again, after very many , hard years of doing just that in prison, or for the rest of their life if pre meditated murderers.

  • @Lorenzo without speaking on behalf of the group, or on specific crimes – the party is prioritising wholesale justice reform.

    Here is an excerpt from the 2017 manifesto:

    The criminal courts need modernising. There are too many people in prison. Our reoffending rates are terrible and our prisons, many old and squalid, are in crisis – overcrowded and woefully understaffed, with drug abuse, violence, suicide and self-harm endemic.

    That’s why Liberal Democrats will:

    + Introduce a Victims’ Bill of Rights that will create a single point of contact for victims in the criminal justice system, increase victims’ access to information about their cases, and give victims the right to request restorative justice rather than a prison sentence.

    +Introduce a presumption against short prison sentences and increase the use of tough, non-custodial punishments including weekend and evening custody, curfew, community service, and GPS tagging.

    +Promote Community Justice Panels and restorative justice that brings victims and wrongdoers together to resolve conflict, reduce harm and encourage rehabilitation.

    Much more can be found here:

  • David Evans 6th Apr '18 - 12:44am

    AM, I’m sorry, but yet again a post ignoring the facts. You say “The Liberal Democrats will …” but in fact “The Lib Dems won’t …” because we are nowhere near getting into power.

    The fact that these injustices remain, and will remain for a long time is because we didn’t do what we should have done when we were in coalition. I give Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform all my best wishes, but what will help us get one small step along the way to getting another chance for our MPs to show what real Lib Dems can do on government, is if we gain enough seats to get noticed for a day or two by the media – 200 gains should just about do it. If we do, we may just get noticed enough to start to build a real movement against Brexit in the year we have left, but if we don’t, we (and our country) will have a long hard battle ahead.

    That is why everyone (even the Scots who don’t have elections this time) should be getting out and helping as much as they possibly can for the next month. Then at least in a few councils, we will be able to say “The Liberal Democrats will …” and it will mean something! 🙂

  • There is of course a very strong reason for better conditions in prisons which I hope all can agree on. The are the work place for many people. They are entitled to safe working conditions.
    In the meanwhile we need to look at the groups of people over represented in prison. Let us start with looked after children. There is huge evidence that we are failing them. We need to recognise that aiming to bring their exam results up to the average is only a small part of the answer. Expecting local authorities to respond in a coherent way with adequate resources cannot really be expected to work.

  • @ David Evans

    I think 200 gains is a much too optimistic target. According to Wikipedia we lost 310 councillors in 2014 therefore I think to gain 155 seats would be a great achievement. We built up our councillor base over many years, decades so we can’t expect to recover from the Coalition years in less than 8 years. 155 would be our best performance since 2004 (193 gains).

  • David Evans 6th Apr '18 - 2:20pm

    Michael – It’s not about optimism, it is a question of necessity. As you say we lost over 310 seats in 2014, which was a very bad performance, in particular because we had lost 132 in the previous set in 2010.

    The reason I say we need over 200, is because I think that less than that won’t even register on the national news and no-one will pay any more attention to us than they did before. We now have less than one year to get noticed and turn Brexit around, if we fail to do that our one ‘reasonably’ well known policy will cease to be relevant, and further national decline will be almost inevitable.

    Also remember it may be 2003 since we last gained anything like that many councillors in a single election, but it even with 200 gains, we will still have less than half as many councillors as we had in 2009.

  • @ David Evans

    There is this saying from business – “under promise and over perform”. I am a great believer in managing expectations. If you get people to expect 200 gains and we only make 155 they will be disappointed.

    You may well be correct and less than 200 gains might not be registered on the national news and we will not get more attention. It was often said that we didn’t get much attention between general elections and this was why our vote increased during general elections. Therefore we have to keep plugging away until after Brexit and we can forget about EU membership and focus our policies on helping the disadvantaged of the UK and be clearly seen as an opposition party to the Conservatives. In 1964 the Liberals increased their number of MPs by 50% and in February 1974 by 133.3%.

    According to Wikipedia in 1979 the Liberals had 1059 councillors while the two other parties had 19,632. Now they state we have 1,790 compared to their joint total of 15,549 out of a total 20,349. After the 1979 general election the Liberals had 11 MPs. I can see no reason why we should not have at least 3,728 councillors and 20 MPs by 2031 as we did in 1992. I hope we can do it earlier than that.

  • Simon Banks 9th May '18 - 10:43am

    Lorenzo’s response raises some fundamental issues. We can wish to punish an offender because we think he or she should suffer in retribution, or because we think it will be a deterrent. Neither as a Liberal nor as a Christian can I accept the former. The latter is a practical argument. For calculated crimes, it works fairly well. Tougher penalties for fly-tipping or stealing metal from railways and church roofs, for example, might well work. But most criminals act on impulse (the drunken punch) or they’re “inadequate” individuals who can’t see another way and may well be drug-dependent. Prison does not deter these people and neither do nasty guards or long queues for the toilets or an absence of education. Lorenzo does not want prison to be a college. But education is one of the things that can give people a way out of a pattern of offending and so is guards having the time to be compassionate as well as firm. If we really care about victims of crime, we will want to support those things that stand the best chance of stopping offenders reoffending. Prison at present is not one of those things.

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