Conservative MPs have coordinated an attack against Labour tonight. After the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill was passed by the House of Commons at second reading, Labour tweeted a graphic with the message: “Under the Tories, rape has effectively been decriminalised.“ Bold and straight-talking. MPs from the governing party quickly made use of the quote tweet function to accuse Labour of “playing politics” and “scoring cheap points”.
The faux outrage over Labour’s tweet that has been confected by Tories this evening is undermined by the fact that the opposition party is quoting a government appointee. Dame Vera Baird QC was picked by ministers to take up the victims’ commissioner role in May 2018, and it was in this post that she concluded last year: “In effect, what we are witnessing is the decriminalisation of rape.”
The other key problem with Tory objections to the statement that “rape has effectively been decriminalised“? Labour is simply stating the truth: a collapse in prosecutions has led to a record low rate. The Crown Prosecution Service prosecuted and convicted fewer people for rape in the year ending March 2020 than in any other year for which data exists.
The CPS has denied changing its prosecution policy for serious sexual assault cases, and the Court of Appeal this week ruled in favour of prosecutors rather than the Women End Violence Against Women Coalition. But as Baird said, the CPS has “failed to offer any convincing explanation to account for the fall in the number of cases being prosecuted“. Conservative MPs have expressed more concern over a Labour tweet stating the truth about rape prosecutions than the shocking record highlighted by that tweet.
This isn’t playing politics. This is a deeply serious recognition of reality. The government may not want to face up to the truth and address the problem, but it is Labour’s responsibility to do everything possible to change that.