This budget does not really look far ahead and indeed, given COVID and Brexit, it is hard to do so.
But the figures suggest a lot pain ahead for public services. Certainly for MoJ, with no increase in underlying funding at all in 2021-22 (ie excluding temporary COVID-related funding for Nightingale Courts etc). Given the parlous state of legal aid, the enormous backlog of court cases (now being listed for hearing in 2023!), the continuing crisis in prisons (rates of self harm and assaults on harm still around twice what they were pre austerity, and a surge in numbers inevitable as the backlog of cases is tackled, never mind Johnson's plans for increasing the prison population), there seems little scope for repairing the damage done to every part of the justice system since 2010. Meanwhile MoJ makes the most of doling out penny packets for this or that specialised need.
For a Department which for years has been quite unable to live within its means, it's a poor outlook.
And yet, with different policies, this is the one department which could do more with less, if we were prepared to acknowledge the pointlessness of our addiction to ever-increasing incarceration.
Latest in-depth polling on parties and party leaders by ISPOS Mori is poor for Johnson and the Tories – but devastating for Labour and Starmer.
It seems incredible that in the midst of a chaotic mess on Brexit, nearly the worst COVID death rate in the developed world, plus evidence of corrupt practice, cronyism and huge waste of public funds, the Tories are still level pegging with Labour.
And while Johnson's personal ratings are negative, they are not hugely so. In fact, no worse than many PMs at this stage in their premiership.
And remain very high amongst his base, whatever he does or says (echoes of Trump there).
This despite strongly negative net ratings on the Government’s handling of both COVID and Brexit (though with some recovery on COVID as the vaccines come on stream).
And while there's support for Govenrment's emergency support for the economy, peoples' outlook is very bleak indeed.
The clue may be in the collapse of Starmer’s own ratings since the very positive level in mid summer, though remain positive, while Johnson’s are negative (and more to the point, Starmer's are still vastly better than Corbyn's - the worst ever recorded). What’s striking is that Starmer’s have collapsed among his own supporters most of all – while Johnson retains the support of his supporters.
Why Starmer is doing badly is speculation. It predates the removal of the Whip from Corbyn and so it doesnt seem that these are disaffected Corbynites. My own view is that he is dull, timid and uncharismatic, has failed to make much impact in the media, and on the big, complex issues – Brexit, COVID lockdowns – has often avoided taking any position at all (though to be fair, he was an early exponent of a second lockdown, a month before Johnson finally took action). To be sure, these are difficult issues, because the public itself is hugely conflicted - for and against Brexit, or rather perhaps both sensing Brexit is a mistake but wishing it were 'over' - and simultaneously in favour of tougher action to suprress COVID, but not if it affects them personally. Yet for leaders to abstain in such circumstances is even less popular.
So, we are in the odd position of having two very different party leaders who share a disinclination to take strong positions and who often seem to dither or prevaricate. But Tories seem to forgive that in their leader, while Labour supporters do not forgive it in Starmer.
For my part, how I long to hear a politician speak the uncomfortable truths about our plight, on the unprecedented dangers and challenges facing this country, including its very dissolution, and to tell us persuasively what we must do about them! But I'm not holding my breath....
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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