Tribune leader, 29 November 1991

For British politicians of all persuasions, the year since John Major moved into Number Ten Downing Street has been the jumpiest and most exhausting in living memory. With the exception of the period of the Gulf war, all the parties have been on permanent election alert;   electioneering   rhetoric,   speculation about the date of the election and talk of opinion polls have drowned out just about everything else for all but the past couple of months, when the Tories’ deep splits on Europe started to make the headlines again.
It has not been a bad year for Labour. Major’s eleva­tion was a blow to the party, which had carefully con­structed its political strategy on the assumption that Margaret Thatcher would not be removed in mid-term. After the success – in military terms – of the Gulf war, Labour politicians were terrified that Major would go for a “khaki election” in the spring and win.
Instead, luckily for Labour, the British public turned out to be more concerned about the recession, the poll tax and the state of the health service. The Tories lost Kibble Valley to the Liberals in March, did poorly in the local elections in May and lost Monmouth to Labour later the same month. Major abandoned the idea of a spring election, hoping to go to the country in the autumn. The Tories edged ahead in the polls by the end of the summer but then lost their advantage dur­ing the conference season. Major postponed the elec­tion again and hastily cobbled together a legislative programme to last until next spring. Today, the two main parties are neck and neck in the polls.
Labour can afford to be reasonably pleased with this position, but not too pleased. Given the Tories’ record, Labour should be doing better. Very little of sub­stance has emerged from Major’s year as Prime Minis­ter; a VAT increase to pay for cuts in poll tax, a handful of forgettable charters, a bill to replace the poll tax, another bill to tighten up asylum procedures, a slight relaxation in public sector borrowing. The Tories are in chaos on Europe, the economy is in deep recession and there is widespread popular concern about the fu­ture of the welfare state. Labour has a decent chance of victory, but it still has a mountain to climb.
Inadmissible evidence
Miscarriages of justice as a result of police fab­rication of evidence are inevitable under any con­ceivable legal system – but the English one is pe­culiarly prone both to convicting people for crimes they have not committed and to taking an extraordi­narily long time to make amends for wrongful convic­tions. The case of the Tottenham Three, Winston Sil­cott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite, wrongly convicted for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock in the 1986 Broadwater Farm riot, brings into sharp relief, yet again, the need for reforms both of the rules of admissi­ble evidence and to make appeal against conviction easier and quicker.
It is true that, since 1985, the police have introduced tape-recorders to interview-rooms, making the sort of fabrication involved in the Silcott case much more dif­ficult. But coercion before the tape-recorder starts run­ning remains possible even now. If the police are to be trusted, nothing short of making uncorroborated con­fessions inadmissible in court will do.
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