The Nation stands appalled by the brutal murder of Sarah Everard - made worse by the fact that the accused is a police officer; and that the whole thing was just so public. “She was just walking home.” Her death has also highlighted the dreadful level of violence against women. 85,000 women experience some form of sexual attack every year; in the year to March 2020, 207 women were killed and 9 out of 10 killers were men. These figures are a dreadful stain on our society.
Yet is there not something quite wrong about the way that Sarah’s sad death has become ‘politicised.’ Those people who walked slowly past the bandstand on Clapham Common during the day on Saturday - including the wonderfully understated Kate, Duchess of Cambridge – were showing their grief in a very real way. That must have been some comfort to the bereaved family. That is in sharp contrast to those who then chose to congregate for a Covid-spreading mass meeting in the evening, including some well-known activists who tried to make speeches, and who provoked the police into the four arrests they felt they had to make. The Police action is worthy of investigation; but so may well be the motives of those who were arrested.
I spoke in the Second Reading debate of the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill on Monday (welcoming the fact that at least two out of three demands in the Ellie Gould case are included in the Bill); but was frankly disheartened by the way that some speakers were using Sarah Everard for their own ‘virtue signalling’ reasons; and by the way in which they tried to conflate the police action at Clapham Common with the clauses in the Bill seeking to prevent disorderly protests. They tried to argue that these provisions – for example preventing emergency vehicles being blocked, keeping Parliament open for MPs and a variety of other very mild upgrading of existing laws - were somehow so outrageous as to trump all the good things the Bill does. They also absurdly argued that the maximum 10 years sentence for destroying war memorials was higher than the penalty for rape (wrong - that is up to 27 years); and that the Bill did not mention ‘Women’. True - I thought legislation had to be gender neutral these days. The sentence for murder applies irrespective of who the victim or the murderer were.
All of that is absurd virtue signalling. After all, even if it were true, would that really justify killing off a bill which does so very much that is so very important in keeping us all safe from violent crime? I was disappointed that despite their posturing, Labour and the Lib Dems chose to vote against a bill which would do so very much to limit violence against women. I know that many of my Labour friends were deeply embarrassed at being whipped to vote against such a worthwhile bill, and only did so because they knew that they would lose. Hardly a very principled way of making the law of the land! It may well count against them in the forthcoming Hartlepool by-election.
I spoke seven or eight times in the Commons on Monday one way or another, and long for proper full physical presence to be reinstated. Zoom cannot replicate the presence and influence brought to bear on Ministers by a physical appearance in that cockpit of democracy, the Chamber of the House of Commons, where egotistical self-righteous posturing is quickly called out.