Hands up if you are still a bit shell shocked after last week’s disastrous election.
At least I was in Crete at the time so managed to avoid the painful TV coverage of the surprising Conservative victory. I have just been reading through some previous blogs. The last one I did was titled Vote 4 Justice. I did. Look where it got me. In fact I wrote post after post on the need for a change of government. Things seem to have got much worse. My lowest moment was when I told some teachers who was the new Justice Secretary. Their eyes were almost filling up with sympathy.
All of this makes you wonder if it is all worth the effort. I have seriously considered closing down this blog altogether and focussing on nice stuff like travel, food or sport. I know I’m not the only one who has been thinking along similar lines. Laurie Penny has written in The New Statesman of a feeling a lack of motivation; almost depression.
But her clear message is positive – don’t give up. I agree.
So here a few of the reasons why I will still be banging on about justice every few days –
- In reality even if Labour had won, or there had been a hung parliament, not much would have changed. They were not promising any reinstatement of Legal Aid. We might have escaped the inevitable deeper cuts but would still have had a fight on our hands. The struggle might have been different but would not have gone away.
- We still have a rule of law and can continue to hold the Cameron government to account where it crosses the line. Mr Grayling, remember him?, was subject to more Judicial Reviews than any other minister. That has to continue. Every questionable decision must be challenged. Mr Gove has to expect an uncomfortable ride from the profession. I expect that an increasingly sympathetic judiciary will add to that discomfort. We have seen some encouraging signs from the recent prosecution of Paul and Kerry Barker who were reported by TESCOs for trying to steal out of date food following benefit sanctions. District Judge Elsey imposed no penalty on them. He observed –
“They hadn’t had benefits or any money since December. It just seems that the state has failed them.”
- A slender majority does not mean that the government can simply do as it wishes. We could actually find ourselves looking to dissident Tory back benchers for support. I was at the Trussell Trust Conference this week. They are responsible for hundreds of Food Banks across the UK. At one session there were representatives from the four main parties. I asked the Conservative if we could expect to see some Tory MPs refusing to back the government if they felt cuts were going too far. His answer was not too hopeful! But he did acknowledge that this can happen. It will only take a handful to rebel before the majority is wiped out. In fact we might see this happen sooner than expected. Many leading Conservatives are unhappy about the plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, including Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve –
So we should keep in contact with our own MPs. They will know which conservatives might be willing to brave the whips and take an independent line. In reality this will not happen very often. But it is an option to consider.
- We can become activists ourselves. That is not to say that we should handcuff ourselves to railings or try to be arrested on every demonstration. There is far more to activism than that. We can sign every available petition. This might not seem like much but if enough people get involved it cannot be ignored. One obvious example if the 38 Degrees Petition in support of the Human Rights Act.-
We can actively support organisations providing free advice and those who raise funds for such advice. Hundreds of lawyers will be joining the London Legal Walk on 18th May. Many others will be joining other walks across the country during the year.
Some may consider joining a political party. Those of us who are members might consider going along to meetings, getting noticed and standing for election at some level or other. Involvement means being able to shape the direction of the party rather than simply complain about it. One obvious opportunity is the forthcoming debates over the new Labour Leader.
- Some might start writing a blog or submitting articles.
None of these things will change the world on their own. But as pieces of a wider jig saw they can send out a clear message – that we will not give up on justice without a fight.