Local school success

Well – no surprise what the gossip at the Palace of Varieties is today. Members of the other parties and the media keep asking – did you know? I think the answer is that no-one knew – except apparently the News of the World. And I guess, after Mark had withdrawn from the leadership they had to get their story out before their hook for it with the leadership contest wasn’t headline news any more.

I am kicking myself because the odds are shortening on Chris – and when I first urged him to run he was on at 300-1 and fourth in line for the throne – and I haven’t had time to put a bet on. Now the odds have shortened faster than any other political odds in history and he is in second place.

I go over to Alexandra Park School later morning for a photo op with two of the sixth formers who have gained Oxbridge places – one at each Oxford and Cambridge. The head, Ros Hudson, rang me last week to tell me the good news – so this is to celebrate to have two kids in the first year of the new sixth form attain such places. We have a cup of tea and a chat about the interviews they have both been through to get their places – terrifying. The newspapers turn up to take the photo – and hopefully this ‘good news’ story will encourage others to reach for the stars too.

When I get to the Commons, I discover it is Questions to the Minister of the Defence Department – and decide I want to put a question to him. In order to get called (if you are not one of the MPs selected in the ballot for Questions on the Order Paper) you have to stand up each time anyone finishes speaking during this session. I sit quiet until Question 5 which is on Iraq – as the question I want to ask is on this subject.

This time I am lucky and I get called to ask my question – which is: ‘Has the Minster had any discussions about gradually replacing British troops in Iraq with troops from Muslim Countries?’ John Reid, I think, looked pretty pleased to get an opportunity to say who he had been speaking to and push this up the agenda as he had had a number of meetings on the issue. So that was good all round – as I do think the sooner we are replaced by troops better trusted than ourselves the better for all.

I have a short meeting with the man who has been the subject of the police trawl for Operation Minstead and who was asked to give a ‘voluntary’ DNA sample and refused. The deadline for Met to respond to the CRE call for extra information is 30 January – as is mine for a response from Met Commissioner Ian Blair to my enquiries on this matter.

In fact DNA is in the news for all sorts of reasons at the moment. I have had a bee in my bonnet about it for some time and my various Parliamentary Questions (written) have elicited some startling statistics including the disproportionate amount of DNA taken from black men and the fact that the DNA of around 134,000 innocent people who were never charged or cautioned is now on the record books.

This weekend the coverage is about the 24,000 of those who are juveniles. This is shaping up for a real battle at some point – as there is a national database being built by stealth. If the Government want this – then they should have the balls to put forward legislation and have the public debate. My simple question to those who defend what is happening is this: ‘if it’s so great and without any problems, why not be upfront and have an explicit debate and agreement (or not) to set-up such a database?’

I think it would be dreadful – but at least there would be a logic to it if the whole country was held. Randomly keeping the DNA records of people the police erroneously arrest is ludicrous. Doing it by default also means we don’t get the same safeguards in place as we would if there was a proper debate and decision.

Personally, and this is not necessarily the party view we will come to when we discuss it further, I think it will lead to all sorts of mischief. For instance – once DNA is the main arbiter of guilt or innocence – how easy it will be to set someone up! I can foresee absolute nightmare scenarios – and what is a phenomenal detection tool and confirmation of guilt – will be misused ultimately. And a million other issues – but the temptations will probably be too much for old authoritarians to resist. Let alone if we have a malign government who might misuse such a system.

This issue comes up at the emergency Home Affairs Team Meeting which Alistair Carmichael has called as he has stepped up to take Mark’s place until the leadership contest is decided and the new leader reshuffles us. It would be fair to say that there are a variety of views on the issue – and so we need a paper that brings us up to date on facts around DNA before we can make our judgements. Alistair seems to have it all under control.

We sit talking into the late night between and after votes – about the leadership contest. We may all have differing views on who should be crowned – but the spirit is good between our different camps – thank goodness!