Labour calls for action – not “crocodile tears” – for victims of sexual violence

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
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Keir Starmer has appointed an interim director of communications. Following the resignation of Ben Nunn confirmed last week, the Labour leader has chosen former press spokesperson and adviser to Tony Blair Matthew Doyle to pick up the reins. A Labour staffer from 1998 to 2005, Doyle went on to work as a special adviser to Blair from 2005 to 2007 before going on to serve as political director for the former Prime Minister once he left office. He worked on Liz Kendall’s ill-fated leadership campaign in 2015 and has most recently worked as a consultant and as director of communications for Europe in the International Rescue Committee, the global humanitarian aid organisation headed by former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband. LabourList understands he will be starting the job on July 5th.

Starmer used Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday to challenge Boris Johnson over the appallingly low rates of prosecution and conviction in rape cases. Highlighting that figures have been trending down over the past five years to hit the record-low 98.4% of reported rapes not resulting in charges, Starmer told MPs: “This wasn’t inevitable. It’s the cost of a decade of Conservative cuts.” The pair debated at cross purposes throughout the session; the Labour leader asked for an explanation on why prosecutions and convictions “plummeted” over the past five years, but the PM remained determined to talk about sentencing. Starmer asked Johnson to apologise, an unusual move for the Labour leader. But while the apology was given, Johnson betrayed how little he cares about the problem by describing the questions on rape and sexual violence as “jabber”.

Johnson’s “they jabber, we jab” retort predictably produced a backlash and swift criticism from Labour. Jess Phillips sought an apology in parliament. “The Prime Minister when questioned about the falling rape conviction rate asserted that this was merely ‘jabber’ and not something that sees for every 60 people who come forward to say that they have been raped one charge, and that doesn’t even cover convictions,” the domestic violence and safeguarding shadow minister told MPs. “I would like to seek an apology from the person who is meant to keep our streets safe and currently, if you are a woman or a girl in this country, they are failing.” In a comment following PMQs, she also pointed out that this is the PM who referred to investigating historic cases of child sexual abuse as “spaffing money up the wall”, adding: “He simply doesn’t care about tackling sexual violence.”

David Lammy said Johnson was right to apologise to rape victims in PMQs, but argued that the apology was rendered “hollow” by the PM having instructed his MPs to vote against a new minimum sentence for rape on Tuesday. Tories rejected several of the proposals outlined in Labour’s green paper on ending violence against women and girls, including the rolling out section 28 to allow the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses to be prerecorded rather than taken in court, introducing tougher sentences for stalking and domestic murder as well as rape, making misogyny a hate crime and creating a new offence of street harassment. “Rape victims don’t need crocodile tears, they need action,” the Shadow Justice Secretary said. “Under the Conservatives, criminals have never had it so good.” Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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