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Women's right wronged ...

Let’s get real here. We’ve all been thoroughly inconvenienced by the fuel crisis, some of us have behaved idiotically and it’s taking time to simmer down, but for god’s sake a woman lost her life. Horribly and hauntingly. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the police have many questions to answer, and restoring trust won’t happen any time soon. Facile though the observation might sound, the youthful innocence and serenity in Sarah Everard’s face somehow brings it home. She could be the girl next door. Could be anyone’s sister, girlfriend, mum, daughter. And any woman could be entrapped the way she was. Sarah’s father tried to make the rapist/murderer/loathsome piece of excrement Wayne Couzens give him eye contact in court as he spelt out his grief. Didn’t have much success. Though the likelihood is Couzens won’t be looking anyone in the face for as long as he lives. An ex cop? And sex offender? Life behind bars will be as bad as it gets. Impossible to imagine anybody feeling sorry for him. Meantime, the force he served has myriad questions to answer. He’d got form, quite a lot of it, but stayed in a job. Could that be because his misogynistic attitudes are more widely shared than the force likes to let on? And what’s a woman to do when she’s stopped in the street by a man with a police warrant card? All very well saying she might try calling 999. Bit tricky if he’s already got the cuffs on her. A loophole in police practice here that’ll probably be plugged. Another obstacle for the vast majority of decent, law-abiding coppers just trying to do their job. This in its turn will be bad news also for the public, as protecting people’s safety will be further hampered. Met Police Chief Cressida Dick is under pressure to quit from a variety of sources. Though she’ll probably ride it, she’s need to fight harder for her gender. And while we’re on the subject let’s not forget that other blameless victim, the young teacher Sabina Nessa, murdered during her short walk to meet a friend. It’s also worth widening the picture. The Taliban’s new chancellor for Kabul University has announced women will be indefinitely barred from the institution. From now on they can’t teach there. Nor can they go in to learn. Then there’s what happened in a Spanish court last week. The (male) judge threw out a case where secretly filmed videos of women having a wee in public were uploaded onto porn websites. Strategically placed cameras captured them having no choice but to go in a side street, because of a lack of loos, at a festival in the town of Cervo. The nastily skilful operators made a point of getting close-up shots of their victims’ faces and, well, you can guess the rest. And yet Judge Pablo Muñoz Vázquez concluded this was not a crime against privacy. A line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet springs to mind. ‘What a piece of work is a man.’ Or, as Spain’s minister of equality Irene Montero put it: ‘Taking photos of a woman without her consent and spreading them is sexual violence.’ Quite. Closer to home, meanwhile, there’ve been reports of punch-ups at the pumps as fuel supplies ran out. Albeit unevenly, the problem’s easing now, as supplies to petrol stations outstrip the collective urge to get as much juice as possible before anyone else. The military input will help, as will the civilian delivery drivers biffed out by Brexit but now allowed back for a few months. Of course it’s been a real worry for people who professionally or personally have to get from A to B. But there has been an echo of the bog roll crisis of last March, when the nation decided it might just get indigestion in the next year or so. There’s also a sense, however, that Boris Johnson might care to reread a few old memos to self. For example the ones that say: ‘Never use the P-word – because it’ll provoke precisely that.’ There has been a bit of catch-up in that direction, as keen-eyed Beeb hacks have spotted a government document dished out to local authorities. It advised councils not to use the phrases ‘panic’ or ‘panic buying’ about fuel supply problems. Instead, it recommended saying ‘filling up earlier than usual’ or ‘changed patterns in demand’. Which sounds like archetypal politico prattle, aka total b*llsh*t. Though in fairness, just this once, ministers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The other memo to self Bojo might revisit is the one that says: ‘Better to choose ministers for competence and foresight, not just for loyalty to me and Brexit.’ They’re much exercised by what they’re calling the EFFing crisis, short for energy, fuel and food. And wondering how much of it they could have averted. Plenty to ponder then while the party faithful’s gathered oop north to learn all about how busy the government’s going to be levelling everything up. Many suspect that’s codespeak for ripping off rich people down south to shore up less well heeled ‘red wall’ voters gained at the last election. Others, including plenty of Conservative MP’s, still haven’t the foggiest what the slogan’s supposed to mean. Perhaps we’ll find out in coming days. Er, maybe. At least at Labour’s conference last week Sir Keir Starmer gave us a few clues who he is, and what he stands for. The former Tory Prime Minister David Cameron once rejoiced in the title ‘heir to Blair’, but it seems that Starmer’s stated position now. Facing down grumbles from the Corbynite left, he got the rules changed in a way that weakens its ability to choose a leader or chuck out an MP. That gelled with his centre-leaning keynote speech, in which he tried to overcome his natural shyness and talk about his own personal life. His, has to be said, extremely glamorous wife Victoria, was a big hit. Even the far from Labour-backing Daily Telegraph admitted she might be his secret weapon. And the story emerged of how he, as an ambitious young barrister, first encountered the solicitor whom he’d later marry. Apparently, after he questioned on the phone the brief she’d given him she turned to a colleague and said: ‘Who the f*ck does he think he is?’ Things picked up after that, obvs. And Sir Keir’s probably hoping that, after an uncertain beginning, the voters will clock him in the same way. Locating someone in the eyes of others does tend to be more a process than an event. An altogether lighter missing person story last week involved Beyhan Mutlu, who got drunk and wandered off in a forest near his home in northwest Turkey. Family and friends sounded the alarm and search parties were sent out. Not knowing any of this, and having decided this was no time to die, he joined in the hunt. And couldn’t understand why everyone was calling out his name. Maybe he hadn’t heard about the Bond mania here in UK, because he didn’t murmur: ‘The name’s Mutlu. Beyhan Mutlu.’ Instead he settled for saying, in a doubtless puzzled tone: ‘I am here.’ The authorities took a statement and drove him home, and it’s unclear whether he’ll face any penalty for wasting everyone’s time. Probably safe to assume though his wife had a word or two to say. Also safe to say he jolly well deserved it.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.


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