Coffee House

Labour should stop whipping up fears about our prisons. They created Britain’s only recent prison crisis

1 August 2014

5:56 PM

1 August 2014

5:56 PM

Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Justice Secretary, took to these pages earlier to claim that ‘This Government’s disastrous prisons policy is putting the public at risk.’ He’s been trying to claim for months that we have a prison crisis, and it is quite simply not true.

Let’s start with some simple truths.

The figures published yesterday showed that prison overcrowding is falling.

And it’s much lower than it was under Labour.

That the amount of practical work, often with employers who will give a job to those prisoners when they are released, is rising steadily.

And it’s far higher than it was under Labour.

That the number of people who self-harm in prison is lower than it was two years ago.

And it’s lower than under Labour.

The number of assaults on staff is lower than it was under Labour.

The number of positive drug tests is lower than it was under Labour.

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The number of escapes from custody is lower than it was under Labour.

The number of people who abscond from open prison is a fraction of what it was under Labour.

And all of that is being achieved by a prison service that has had to reduce its costs substantially, as has the rest of the public sector as we deal with the mess that Labour left behind.

Yes there are some challenges. The rate of suicide in prison has increased significantly – and that’s a worry. It’s a trend that is happening across society, not just in prisons, particularly among young men. It’s something we are looking at carefully. No one has yet come up with a credible explanation.

But it’s not to do with cuts. We know that because this has also been an issue in prisons which have seen no change to staffing and in some places where staffing has increased.

We’ve also seen an increase in the number of serious assaults in the past year. There are various reasons for this, but in particular our staff say they are dealing with more complex prisoners with mental health problems than has been the case in the past. Any assault on a prison officer is unacceptable, and we are working with the Crown Prosecution Service to make sure every assault is prosecuted. That never happened in the past.

And we are pushing through a complex change programme to cope with lower budgets. I am grateful to our hard working staff for the work they are doing to deliver this change.

But this wasn’t a creation of ministers. It was put forward by staff and governors themselves as an alternative to privatisation of prisons, and it is the plan that they designed which is being put into place in prisons. So when the unions raise concerns, it is worth remembering that they themselves shaped the changes we are putting in place.

But if I would politely remind the unions that they designed that change programme, I take a rather more robust view of Labour’s position. They claim that there is a crisis in our prisons. Let me tell them what a real crisis looks like.

A real crisis is when you have to buy in thousands of police cells all over the country every night because you have mismanaged the prison system and run out of places.

A real crisis is when you have to introduce a special scheme to let prisoners out weeks ahead of their normal release date because you haven’t enough room for them all – leaving many of them to commit crimes all over again when they should have been behind bars.

A real crisis is when you have four prisoners a day walking out of open prisons, not four prisoners a week.

All of that happened when they were in power, and with much higher budgets than today. They have no right to lecture anyone else about prison management.

And now they say they would match our spending plans next year, and yet oppose all the difficult decisions we are taking to deliver those plans. It’s a ludicrous position to take.

We have a simple strategy for prisons. I want the courts to be able to send everyone who deserves it to prison. So we are increasing the size of the adult male prison estate by 3,000 places during this parliament. Prison numbers are rising as more serious offenders, like sex offenders, go to jail. We are opening more places to cope – 2,000 extra in the next nine months.

I want the regime to be tougher – so we’ve removed many of the privileges that victims and members of the public simply didn’t believe should be a part of prison life. And that doesn’t include books, which are still freely and rightly available in prisons.

To do all of that, I want our prison system to be more cost effective. So we have looked at best practice across public and private prisons, and are bringing down costs to the level of the best – as our staff and unions recommended.

So to Labour I say this. If you are seriously hoping to be in power this time next year, it’s about time you started setting out what you would do differently. Because so far all I have heard is serial oppositionism, and no real strategy at all.

Chris Grayling is Secretary of States for Justice and Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell. 

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Show comments
  • Jerry Adams

    Oh my godfathers, he really is totally deluded.

  • santer

    I have just finished 35 years in the Prison Service and bel;eive3 me the numbers of prisoners are up, the suicide rate is up and the Government do not care a damn about the staff whatsoever. If only if there were open days and then the do gooders and the general public can see what the staff have to put up with, mind you the Governors would hide the true facts, that is their job.

  • wizard

    Yes labour started it but the the coalition has made it far worse cutting staff and in many cases making it a very dangerous place to work 1 staff to 45 inmates doesn’t work get a grip and sort it out instead of your party point scoring games everyone is bored and sick of it. Recruiting new staff on poor wages and terms will only lead to corruption it used to be a career that people cared about and now is only a stop gap job . It’s a mess and is going horribly wrong. Media blackouts hide the truth.nothing will get done until they lose a jail or a member of staff is killed. The lot of you haven’t got a clue it’s all about money to the political parties .stop talking rubbish

  • John Muhammad Islam Strick

    This is the biggest load of scapegoating and lies I have ever read from this individual. He is lying and twisting stats to suit his ends. Ridiculous. Assaults on staff are up, violence is up, suicide and self harm is up, and staffing is at an all time low. Working in the service, I can categorically state that their “New Ways of Working” most certainly aren’t, and it is becoming worryingly dangerous. The public need to know what is happening, and not what the Government controlled media want them to know. Good luck to all behind the walls.

  • Anita Bellows

    To cut through Grayling b**s, Safety in custody statistics, which gather more data than prison statistics: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/339067/safety-in-custody-to-mar-2014.pdf

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26061816

  • swatnan

    The most cost effective Prison would be one that paid its way ie by prisonners working for their 3 meals a day. No work = No Meals. It sounds about right.
    It costs more to keep them in cacerated than it does to send them to Eton, and that can’t be right.

    • Shorne

      All prisons are ‘Working Prisons’ the Prison Rules state that all prisoners must work unless there are health reasons or they would present a risk if made to do so. There is an actual offence of Idleness for which prisoners can be punished. When I worked in a prison the problem was finding work, you can only employ so many cleaners, painters, gardeners etc.. There was a whole department dedicated to trying to find contracts for packing, assembly work and so on with mixed results. Prisoners are always asking for work because it means they are not in their cells for 23.5 hours per day.
      There are many things about which I know nothing and hence I would not pontificate about them without some research beforehand, it is a pity some people don’t consider this when talking about prisons.

  • http://batman-news.com Whizjet

    Great article Chris, highlighting as usual the bare faced egregious and meritricious cant used by Labour in opposition to justify their own record and support their ludicrous “policies” to attempt to get back into power. Regrettably, thanks to the Clegg and to UKIP, they may yet succeed.
    UK plc simply cannot afford the Eds.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Wasn’t it Blind Git that ordered the use of machine guns against rioting prisoners on the prison roof?

  • alabenn

    The suicide rate is rising among young men because Labour by importing millions of unskilled Third World immigrants combined with their dumbing down of education, removed all hope of any decent job.
    The young men cannot get the massive benefits and tax credits that immigrants get, Labour has ruined the future for millions and the likes of Khan has the nerve to blame others.
    They are dung.

    • Shorne

      Evidence of immigrants getting such ‘massive benefits and tax credits’ please.

      • alabenn

        Google Immigrants benefits.
        Tax credits and family allowances that can be remitted home, the sums depend on family size, housing benefits are another source of fiddles for them, social housing re let another.
        Almost all are subsidised this way.
        Very few are allowed for our own single men or women come to that

  • Smithersjones2013

    I want the regime to be tougher – so we’ve removed many of the
    privileges that victims and members of the public simply didn’t believe
    should be a part of prison life.

    Yeah but you won’t put right the insane changes in sentencing imposed by Major’s Tory Government that caused the spiralling out of control of prison numbers in the first place will you.

    One just has to look at the Parliamentary reports and everyone shows that prison numbers started rocketing during the Major Government after they had increased remission from one third to one half. Possibly the worst decision made in criminal justice since the 1960’s. As a result Prison Numbers have doubled and the taxpayers is being shafted to pay for all the extra prison places needed as a result of the governments revolving door Prison sentencing policy..

    The reality is that taxpayer is paying for the deranged liberal zealotry of Waddington and Clarke! Tory intransigence on such issues is what costs the taxpayer so much money! Sadly in the Prison Service we have the same type of entrenched but discredited liberal mindsets as we have in education. When is Grayling going to grow a spine and instead of tinkering around the edges pretending to be tough on convicts (its so easy to pick on them) and take on the Prison and wider Justice establishment and make Prisons not just work but cost effective to the taxpayer!

    Until Prison Numbers are dropping rapidly Grayling can go shove it where the sun doesn’t shine because the Tories unacceptable failure is little less disconcerting than Labour’s!

    • Alexsandr

      sorry but we want criminals in prison, not being let out to do it all again
      but for prison to be a real deterrent we need to make it more likely that criminals get caught. Need a cut in unreported crime too.

      • Smithersjones2013

        Oh dear you do get it the wrong end of the stick sometimes don’t you? The Major Government changes made sentences SHORTER!

        No one is talking about letting criminals out but changing the game so that people do not commit the crimes that end with them in prison in the first place

        The way to reduce the prison population in the long term is to reduce the amount of remission on sentences (therefore increasing the lengths of sentences) reversing the Waddington / Clarke changes of the early 1990’s (I’d do away with home detention and time off for guilty pleas as well).

        By making the idea of Prison a much greater deterrent (by significantly increasing the efdfective length of sentences) again many people over time will stop committing crime By holding convicts in prison for longer not only do Prison staff have more time to rehabilitate them they keep them off the streets for longer reducing their ability to reoffend.

        Yes in the short term Prison Numbers may rise but within a few years Prison Numbers would start to fall.

        Only fools would accept that spending a fortune on keeping double the number of Prisoners incarcerated as we did 20 years ago yet see them too often walk out of jail having served just weeks is acceptable (which is what Grayling is asking us to do)

        Unless of course you seriously think it is a worthwhile use of taxpayers money locking ever increasing numbers of people up with its spiralling cost without ever trying to reduce those numbers? Then by all means lets write off billions of taxpayers hard earned revenue……..

        • Shlomo

          There’s no point in increasing the length of sentences in a holiday camp. Deep dark fetid oubliettes with alligators, snakes and Somalis for company would do the trick.

          Prison can be really cheap if you want it to be: high walls, potatoes (grown by inmates, natch) for breakfast, lunch and supper, enforced labour on infrastructure projects etc. to add value (building more prisons, for example).

          Prison should not be about rehabilitation (it’s the criminal’s choice whether he wants to stay longer or come back after all); rather it should be about PUNISHMENT.

          Inmate numbers are a distraction. I’m pretty sure the 99% of Britons who spend their lives obeying the law would be content to see hundreds of gulags and forced labour camps for crims and sleep even more soundly at night to sounds of Blackthorn connecting with skulls.

  • southerner

    Two articles in two days. With our holiday camp prisons full to brimming with foreigners the government fails to deport and 5 people escaping a week we can see that writing copy for the Speccie falls at the top of this idiot’s list of priorities.

  • Alexsandr

    grayling needs to address the prison population of non brits. At the end of their sentence they need to be deported and records kept so they would be refused entry if they ever try to come here again. finger prints should do it.

    • Aberrant_Apostrophe

      Why ‘at the end of their sentence’? The deportation process should be started immediately after conviction, so they serve most of their sentence in there home country, at their country’s expense. The stumbling block is the HRA of course…

  • The Masked Marvel

    It’s probably racist to ask if there has been a significant change in prison demographics.

    • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

      Oh we all know there has been but never mentioned by the lying MSM in relation to numbers of xyz in prison as a ratio of abc population: it will always be “majority of prisoners are white British”.

  • Shlomo

    Has Grayling seen Wedlock or the beginning of The Running Man? Let’s have explosive collars too; no need to worry about the height of the walls then. Sorted.

  • Shlomo

    “I want the regime to be tougher…”

    Crime obviously pays in this country as evidenced by the HUGE number of Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian and Slovakian perps. travelling to the UK to commit all sorts of crime (mainly theft).

    We need a harsh and austere network of prisons in the UK where the only concerns are the height of the walls and whether there are sufficient rocks for the inmates to break. Cells should be bare apart from a bed, sink and toilet. Days should be spent working in chain gangs constructing infrastructure, site clearance and litter picking and should lead to the satisfying exhaustion of all concerned. Attempted escape or violence in the prison would guarantee inmates a lengthy stay in the prison’s oubliette. Prison would be harsh; it would serve as a punishment and it would be fair: same treatment for all, regardless of gender.

    This won’t happen because, in spite of the different coloured rosettes and branding, our er ‘representatives’ (I use the term loosely) pretty much agree with each other that prison should be soft and accommodating, to varying degrees of no real consequence.

    Simple. High walls, breaking rocks, black ‘n tan guards, terrifying deep and dark oubliettes…

    • Geoff

      Huge numbers of prisoners are guilty only of the crime of being ineligible for legal aid. Faced with a fabricated charge against them they are coerced by the police into pleading guilty in the (false) hope of a lenient sentence. Their choice is stark. Sell your home and throw your family on to the street or plead guilty. To reduce the prison population restore legal aid to people of modest means. Anyone can end up in prison. Even the holier than thou commenters on here.

      • Shlomo

        Huge numbers of prisoners are guilty only of the crime of being
        ineligible for legal aid. Faced with a fabricated charge against them
        they are coerced by the police into pleading guilty in the (false) hope
        of a lenient sentence.

        This appears fanciful, but then I really haven’t any idea. What do you mean by ‘huge numbers’? Plus, and I could be wrong, but don’t you have to have been convicted of a crime (and, by definition, be a criminal) to be imprisoned?

        To reduce the prison population restore legal aid to people of modest means.

        But why do we need to reduce the prison population, Geoff? Let’s build more prisons with high walls or Wedlock-style explosive collars for the inmates.

        Anyone can end up in prison.

        Yes, quite. One just has to commit a serious enough crime first, which 99% of Britons seem to avoid doing with ease for the duration of their natural lives…

        More prisons, higher walls, Wedlock-style explosive collars, dark, dingy fetid oubliettes and plenty of rocks to be broken are the way forward.

        • Geoff

          I fear you will never understand. You – and this could actually mean YOU – do not have to commit a crime to be convicted of one.

          • Shlomo

            Geoff, do you have hard evidence of a substantial number of wrongful convictions? If you do, I suggest contacting Ayman ibn Bongo Aidid of the Hargeisah League for Penile Reform. You can find their contact details on the net easily.

            • Geoff

              How on earth could an individual come up with such evidence? However, your blind faith in the system is very touching. You must be such a comfort to yourself.

              • Adro

                I wouldn’t bother. He clearly doesn’t actually think about what he’s saying before he vents his spleen.

              • Tony_E

                If there is no evidence – how can you be so sure?

            • http://batman-news.com Whizjet

              “Penile” reform, lol, lol, lol.

            • Aberrant_Apostrophe

              Penile reform? Is that a gender-changing operation? 😉

        • Shorne

          It’s difficult to know where to start with your comments.
          “don’t you have to have been convicted of a crime (and, by definition, be a criminal) to be imprisoned?”
          “One just has to commit a serious enough crime first”

          Each year about 30,000 unconvicted people are remanded in custody, many of them will be acquitted or receive non-custodial sentences. There will also be fine defaulters, persons convicted of Civil contempt, persons Sectioned under the Mental Health Act for whom no beds are available etc.
          I suppose you think throwing them in some sort of dungeon and hitting them would help.

          ‘Breaking rocks’
          The prison wing I worked on held 350 inmates the MSL (Minimum Staffing Level) for Officers was 13 (!) letting the prisoners outside with big hammers and big lumps of rock would have been madness. Actually in my experience they might have enjoyed it they were always wanting more exercise.
          Wrongful convictions?
          Modern stats seem hard to find but in the past there were about 770 p.a successful appeals in the Court of Appeal and 3,500 in Crown Courts.

          By the way excessive use of capital letters in comments is the equivalent of sitting in a shop doorway and shouting at passers-bye.

          Still you do show some insight,

          “I really haven’t any idea”

          • Shlomo

            It’s difficult to know where to start with your comments.

            Thanks for trying though – the ‘justice’ system is a very grey area for me.

            Each year about 30,000 unconvicted people are remanded in custody […]

            That’s interesting. Please excuse my ignorance as I’d thought there was separate ‘accommodation’ for those on remand…but, apparently, they’re all in with the general (post-sentencing) prison population. Interesting.

            I suppose you think throwing them in some sort of dungeon and hitting them would help.

            No. The oubliettes would be there as a deterrent to further misbehaviour once imprisoned. Oubliettes would, of course, be deep, dark and fetid, but they would sustain life and, most importantly, act as a deterrent. The black ‘n tan-style guards would be issued with cudgels on the understanding that they be used er ‘judiciously’ 😉

            The prison wing I worked on […]

            High walls and rock breaking were really just short hand for prison accommodation that is austere and unwelcoming. As I said, with Wedlock-style explosive collars there’d be no need for walls…and I wouldn’t have prisoners breaking rocks unproductively; rather, they’d be engaged full-time as labourers on infrastructure projects: site clearance, groundwork, litter-picking etc.

            By the way excessive use of capital letters in comments is the equivalent of sitting in a shop doorway and shouting at passers-bye.

            Get back to me when you can write a correctly punctuated paragraph with no spelling mistakes. You might want to start with that one.

            • Shorne

              Well, always willing to learn I just ran the paragraph you selected through a spelling and grammar check and it seemed fine but as somebody once said ‘Pedantry: stupidity that read a book.’
              You are, I’m afraid showing your ignorance to an even greater extent.
              There are segregation units for prisoners who break the rules.
              Prison Officers are issued with batons but only use them as a last resort because incidents requiring them to are rare.
              As for ‘fetid’
              When you have unlocked a cell in August when the temperature is 30C and the two prisoners occupying it haven’t been out of it for over twelve hours or showered for a few days and one or both of them have recently had a crap in the open toilet in the corner you’ve got enough fetidness to last for quite a while

              “prison accommodation that is austere and unwelcoming”

              Good grief have you ever been inside a prison, or even seen one up close? The one I worked in was completed five years after Victoria came to the throne, austere and unwelcoming it certainly is. There are on approximately 25,000 incidents of self-harm by prisoners in England and Wales every year which shows how much like holiday camps prisons are.
              ‘Wedlock collars’ are fictional.
              ‘engaged full-time as labourers’

              Prisoners clean prisons, work as painters, gardeners, kitchen hands and carry out all the unskilled manual tasks. They also clean up after ‘dirty’ protests. Work is eagerly sought by prisoners as it gets them out of their cells.

              • Shlomo

                Well, always willing to learn I just ran the paragraph you selected through a spelling and grammar check and it seemed fine but as somebody once said ‘Pedantry: stupidity that read a book.’

                If you’re willing to learn, why do you feel the need to insult the person pointing out your inadequacies, hmmm? Personally, I’d dispense with the ‘spelling and grammar check’ and go back to basics: there’s a missing punctuation mark and a spelling error in that sentence.

                I would never normally dream of suggesting a correction to a comment as I’m well aware that comments are often written in haste and, so long as they are legible, that sits perfectly well with me. I’m also well aware of how the use of capital letters can detract aesthetically from the look (and even the comprehension or perception) of a comment, but I’d rather use capitals at times to embolden salient sections of my prose rather than labouriously add bold tags.

                You are, I’m afraid showing your ignorance to an even greater extent.

                Then, please, enlighten me! I’ve made it perfectly clear that I’m ignorant of the inner workings of the ‘justice’ system.

                There are segregation units for prisoners who break the rules.

                Are the segregation units like mediaeval oubliettes/dungeons? If they’re not, then this is what I advocate.

                Prison Officers are issued with batons but only use them as a last resort because incidents requiring them to are rare.

                I was thinking more along the lines of hefty Blackthorn cudgels; perfect for cracking skulls and smashing kneecaps when they’re out of line.

                As for ‘fetid’ When you have unlocked a cell in August […]

                Lovely! Presumably, it’s so bad that no one reoffends; they can’t wait to leave as reformed characters never to darken its wings again. Is that the case?

                Good grief have you ever been inside a prison, or even seen one up close?

                I’ve never actually been inside a prison, but I lived and worked near HMP Strangeways if that helps?

                The one I worked in was completed five years after Victoria came to the throne, austere and unwelcoming it certainly is.

                Did it have an oubliette?

                There are on approximately 25,000 incidents of self-harm by prisoners in England and Wales every year which shows how much like holiday camps prisons are.

                I’m pretty sure the incidence of self-harm is unrelated to the standard of er ‘accommodation’. I could be wrong though…

                ‘Wedlock collars’ are fictional.

                Yes, they are, but they needn’t be 😉

                Prisoners clean prisons […]

                I thought as much. But does the type of work they do instil a work ethic that prevents them from reoffending? They should be doing back-breaking productive toil; painting and decorating, and cleaning might bore you to tears but it’s not the sort of work that will knacker you out. I was thinking more of groundwork or site clearance: get them digging footings with a spade, pick and shovel or working as a plasterer or brickie’s labourer for no pay – they won’t want to do that again!

                • Shorne

                  Thank you for confirming the quote about pedantry. Here’s another one

                  “Pedantry is the showy display of knowledge which crams our heads with learned lumber and then takes out our brains to make room for it.”

                  ‘I was thinking more along the lines of hefty Blackthorn cudgels; perfect for cracking skulls and smashing kneecaps’

                  Got a little bit excited when you typed that did you?

                  You admit you know nothing about prisons but still pontificate about them. ‘Groundwork or site clearance’ where? do you mean demolish the prison and rebuild it?

                  The Victorians had the ‘silent system’, the crank, the treadmill and shot drill but even they came to realise that
                  these didn’t work and more liberal regimes began.

                  One more quote as I’m not commenting on this anymore
                  “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
                  ― Mark Twain

                • Shlomo

                  My mistake was to react to your comment about perceived over-zealous capitalisation by pointing out your own inadequacies…politely.

                  It would’ve been clear to all but a dullard such as yourself that my prescriptions for cudgels, oubliettes and rock-breaking are simply metaphors for penal institutions worthy of their name; prisons that make recidivism a thing of the past and criminal behaviour a risky undertaking in the first place. The first job of the prison should be to punish, not to rehabilitate.

                  As I said, I suggest you contact Abu Koos-ummak ala Zibi at the Inta Mitnaka League for Penile Reform and share your concerns…they’ll see you right!

        • santer

          What a load of rubbish. You have not a clue.

    • Jack

      That kind of system only causes more havoc, transforming low-level criminals into society hating brutes. Your lust for authoritarianism belongs in North Korea, son.

      • Shlomo

        That kind of system only causes more havoc, transforming low-level criminals into society hating brutes.

        I disagree. Prison should be a sufficient punishment to deter re-offending. And as for being authoritarian, prisons, unless they are holiday camps, must deprive criminals of their liberty; ergo they MUST by definition be authoritarian. Put another way: your freedom to swing your fist stops when it connects with my nose; if you continue to swing your fist and I have to step back then IT’S YOU WHO IS DEPRIVING ME OF MY LIBERTY…hence the need for liberty-curtailing prisons. I’m not really fussed how they function so long as they help to preserve MY LIBERTY.

        • Geoff

          Best of luck with that mate. Let us just hope that the system preserves your liberty rather than cruelly curtails it by sending you to the awful regime that you would wish on everyone else.

          • Shlomo

            Did I mention that the circulation/possession of da’wa materials got you 2 years in the oubliette regardless of your existing sentence?

            that you would wish on everyone else

            Just the crims., Geoff. Just the crims.

      • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

        That is assuming they get out.

  • goatmince

    Not ‘prison works’ all over again, please!

  • Greenslime

    You don’t think that Khan is going to worry about a little old thing like facts do you?

    • Holly

      Nup….
      And Ed Miliband is being asked to clear up what he said about most of the new jobs created have been down south, when the opposite is true according to the BBC (red button)news pages.
      Labour = Polar opposite.

      • Inverted Meniscus

        Well Labour is the party of lies, lying, liars, sanctimony, mediocrity, failure and hypocrisy. Oh, I almost forgot, economic incompetence.

        • http://batman-news.com Whizjet

          Don’t EVER forget sexed up dossiers and illegal wars.

          • Inverted Meniscus

            Apologies, quite right. The list of failures and wicked calumnies inflicted on our country by those swine is so long one occasionally misses some of their crimes.

            • Holly

              That is why the internet and sites like this were invented.
              We can remind people just how abismal Labour are.
              I would have said were, but there is no change in Labour’s thinking or policies.

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