The centrepiece of Labour’s conference, as with any party conference, was the leader’s speech. In Manchester Ed Miliband’s hour-long noteless oration went down well with the press on performance, but it was noticeably lacking on the minor detail of policy.
I seemed to spend my two days in Manchester trailing the shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan, and I expected that his speeches would be similarly policy-light. But for me, Khan delivered sensibly and honestly, as well as being much more amusing than I had expected.
His starting point was to admit straight up that if it gets back into government in 2015, Labour will have to meet the savings targets agreed by Kenneth Clarke and will not be able to increase spending.
Khan criticised the Tories for ‘over-promising and under-delivering’ and he was anxious not to do the same by committing his party to policies that it could not deliver. So, pragmatically setting out Labour’s stall on justice, Khan said he would focus on measures that were effective as well as ultimately money-saving.
Reducing reoffending and cutting the number of people in prison are central to his plan, which will seek to encourage greater collaborative working between local authorities, schools, social services, probation and the police among others.
So, getting down to brass tacks, here are the things he said his party would do in government:
1. Establish a Women’s Justice Board – to emulate the success of the Youth Justice Board and reduce the number of women in jail;
2. Give a justice minister specific responsibility for dealing with the high number of people in the criminal justice system who have mental health problems;
3. Make it compulsory for courts to consider restorative justice with every sentence they pass; and
4. Extend the reach of the Freedom of Information Act to cover private companies running public services, including prisons.
A relatively modest list of commitments, but time will tell whether even Khan has over-promised, or whether his government will actually be able to deliver in today’s tough landscape.
Catherine Baksi is a reporter on the Gazette
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