Sadiq Khan Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary gave the Howard League’s annual Parmore lecture in Canary Wharf last night.
As a working class kid from a South London housing estate, with 12 years experience as a councillor and having had an impressive legal career outside politics before coming into the Commons, Khan isn't one of those new breed of politicians who the accusation of lacking real life experience can be thrown at. He is clearly a product of his family and proud of his roots.
The speech was thin on policy specifics, which was not surprising as we are 3 1/2 years from the next election, but full of a detailed demolition of Ken Clarke and the Coalitions agenda at MOJ. He also gave a resound defence of Labour’s record in office on CJS policy. I would take issue on some of Khan's defences of the Labour Government’s record. He spoke of the need to balance punishment and reform in taking forward a progressive justice policy and informing public opinion. Too often in my view the last government seemed to be led by public opinion.
Khan said nothing in his speech on the major race equality challenges facing the CJS which was disappointing as it falls into the all too familiar establishment orthodoxy of not viewing race equality as a central issue for the CJS when the stats and informed people on the ground (for example in the two prisons I have recently visited with BAME populations in excess of 60%) clearly state the opposite. Unfortunately, I didn't get an opportunity to ask a question on race equality so we didn’t get a chance to hear his position, but BTEG will send in a short submission to Labour’s Justice policy review. Too often attending events like this even in the context of a British Asian front bench spokesperson I am left feeling that race really isn’t embraced as part of the debate and a huge part of the answers moving forward.
However, I found his approach of both challenging and giving accolades to reformers, providing at least the opportunity to have a grown up debate. What we have to try and ensure is that race equality is fully part of that debate and as always this will be a struggle, but I am sure we can make a valuable contribution through the network.
Over 25 people attended our first consultation event yesterday at the offices of Foundation 4 Life in Croydon. The feedback from the events will help to inform the development of the network over the next two years. Of course the current environment for all voluntary sector organisations is difficult but there was sense of optimism that the challenges facing BAME communities in the area of the justice system could be addressed with greater engagement within communities and government showing greater commitment to address these problems.
A final report from the consultations will be available in December.