Alex Stevenson's Rules of the game blog

How the government allows itself to break the law

The government is going to force judges to let it get away with breaking the law.

It seems a shocking claim. But, unnoticed by most, that is exactly what ministers are attempting to achieve under the criminal justice and courts bill currently working its way through parliament.

Forget the Maria Miller resignation - this is the biggest scandal of the year. And just because the detail is mostly legalese mumbo-jumbo, no-one seems to get what's about to happen.

The changes affect judicial review, the process by which the government can be challenged in the courts.

The government doesn't like judicial review one bit. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was prevented from making cuts to Lewisham hospital by a judicial review which established he didn't actually have the power to do so. Home secretary Theresa May's logic was declared "irrational" by a judge in a judicial review earlier this week.

But it's still staggering that the Ministry of Justice has the audacity to attempt to make it much, much harder for individuals or organisations to point out the government is breaking the law.

The government is hiking the costs of the process so much that most people simply won't be able to afford to mount a legal challenge against the executive - whether that's a government minister, your local council, or any other public sector area where busybody officials look to take shortcuts.

Civil liberties group Liberty's Sara Ogilvie, who has written for us on the attack today, puts it like this:

The cumulative impact of these hacks and hurdles will be huge, and their importance goes far beyond the legal world. Simply put, the changes will prevent individuals and organisations from holding the state to account.

It's even worse than that. Instead of always being required to act lawfully, as has been the case for centuries, the legislation will force judges to dismiss any attempted legal challenge where acting lawfully wouldn't have made a difference.

These changes will send out a clear message to the army of civil servants who govern our lives: you might just be able to get away with it. The urge to take shortcuts with the rules will be irresistible.

Minister with final say on women's issues is now... a man

For the first time ever, the new minister with the final say on women's issues is going to be... a man.

This appears to be the astonishing outcome from a rushed mini-reshuffle which has seen Maria Miller's old job of 'women and equalities minister' split into two.

Sajid Javid's official job title, as David Cameron tweeted this morning, is secretary of state for culture, media, sport and equalities.

Under him, for the first time, is a minister for women, Nicky Morgan. She will even get a desk in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to prove it.

Downing Street claims this is a "beefing-up" of the role of women's issues in the Cabinet. Before there was one Cabinet minister dealing with women's issues, and two junior ministers. Now Morgan has been appointed there are four ministers looking at women's issues in total - and Morgan will also attend Cabinet, too.

That doesn't change the awkward truth that Morgan remains subordinate to Javid. He retains responsibility for the entirety of the equalities portfolio, No 10 confirmed. The conclusion - that a man is in charge of the women's portfolio - is inescapable.

Everyone in Westminster suspects the real reason for this mess is that Morgan couldn't simply take on the whole equalities and women job herself - because she voted against equal marriage.

There is not a chance No 10 will admit this. But neither can it come up with a decent alternative explanation for the decision to split the job, either. Officials don't seem certain who will take the lead role in the women's and equalities questions which take place every six weeks in the Commons, for example.

Labour thinks this is bad news: it's going to be a "very difficult time for the equalities agenda", a spokesperson for Ed Miliband said. There are, after all, now just three government departments run by women out of a possible total of 22.

Cameron had a women problem before today, fuelled by examples of everyday sexism and the terrible paucity of women in senior positions in his government.

Now he has achieved the seemingly impossible and found a way of making it even worse.

UPDATE: 16:15

Following a rather embarrassing afternoon of chaos, the prime minister's spokesperson has now clarified the position. Sort of.

Nicky Morgan, it turns out, is not reporting to Sajid Javid after all. She will continue to have an office in Javid's department and answer questions in the Commons alongside him. But Morgan is no longer subordinate to Javid in the general sense of the word.

Instead she will sit in the Cabinet as women's minister and report directly to the prime minister. This, as far as we can see, is an unprecedented arrangement in this government.

The position is clear. Javid takes the lead on equalities. Morgan takes the lead on women's issues.

This is fine as long as the women's issues being discussed have nothing to do with the equalities agenda - on childcare, or pensions, or domestic violence, for example.

But the moment you have an issue that relates to both equality and a woman's issue, who exactly takes charge?

Across government there are areas of overlap, the prime minister's spokesperson says. This is no different.

Yet it is different - because the whole reason for this kerfuffle is the fact that Morgan can't be trusted to take on the entirety of the women and equalities brief.

She would have preferred denying lesbian couples the chance to get married. So, presumably, in Cameron's ideal world she would never give an answer on that, ever.

Only that's not going to happen, is it? It seems inevitable that she will have to comment on the issue sooner or later. Just because she now answers to a very important man rather than a slightly important man doesn't fix the problem at the heart of today's mess.

BBC edits out 'nipples' over breakfast breastfeeding horror

The BBC has refused to air the word 'nipples' on its Breakfast programme, Politics.co.uk can reveal, in a decision which highlights a continued discomfort with public breast-feeding.

It was a tough call. Earlier this year a BBC Breakfast producer was recording an interview on tongue-tie - a condition affecting four per cent of babies which can cause problems with breastfeeding.

The interviewee made the mistake of using the word 'nipples' and was asked to do the interview again, omitting the offensive word. Sure enough, when the piece aired there was no sign of any 'nipples' at all.

Visions of 1960s-style domestic scenes, with the father spluttering over his newspaper and the wife tut-tutting over the scrambled eggs, have been averted. The calm equilibrium of middle England has been preserved. So too, though, has an utterly perverse view of this rather important piece of anatomy.

Nipples fall under the 'awkward' category because they are dual-purpose. Western society likes to think about them purely in terms of sex - they are an erogenous zone and should therefore be approached with extreme caution. This applies, as the BBC Breakfast programme has demonstrated, both editorially and physically.

It is wrong to do so. The BBC's embarrassment at using the word 'nipple' in connection with breastfeeding means it remains the preserve of sex and titillation, rather than child rearing or public health.

Too many mothers decide they can't bear the thought of mixing up their breasts with anything as complicated as actual milk production and instead go down the bottle-fed route. Nipples are not to be mentioned. They are becoming a taboo, and they shouldn't be - not even over the breakfast table.

The BBC denies banning the word nipples, as it always does in these instances. Instead it adopts a general shoulder-shrugging stratagem that shies away from coming up with a definitive position altogether.

"There's no policy around the word 'nipples'," a spokesperson says.

"We always think very carefully about the language and images we use and the BBC has guidelines we follow depending on the context of a story and when and where it is being aired."

Right now the BBC is approaching negotiations with the government over its charter renewal at the end of 2016, prompting the latest round of talks at its role in public life.

Politicians shouldn't shy away from taking on the Beeb on issues like this. If they themselves weren't themselves too embarrassed by the idea of nipples, that is.

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