Politics Summary: Wednesday, March 10th

Prison re-offending costs the economy £10bn a year, new figures reveal, plus the former head of MI5 on torture, Gordon Brown on the economy, Sarkozy and Karzai.

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Prisoner re-offending costs every household £400 a year, the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed, a total annual cost to the country of £10 billion. Today’s Telegraph reports that around 60,000 offenders are jailed for less than a year – at a cost of £286 million a year – three-fifths of whom went on to re-offend within a year, with each having an average of 16 previous convictions. Edward Leigh, chairman of the public accounts committee, which oversees the NAO, said short jail sentences served “little purpose over and above taking the offenders in question out of the community for a short time”, adding: “Only a tiny proportion of prison budgets is spent on activities to rehabilitate offenders serving short prison sentences. The uncomfortable truth is that they are not working, studying or doing almost anything constructive with their time.” The head of the NAO, meanwhile, told the Standard that “reducing reoffending by short-sentenced prisoners is challenging both because there are so many prisoners and because of the few weeks they have in custody”.

The United States concealed evidence of torture from MI5, reports today’s Times. Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, claimed last night that US intel services had “deliberately concealed their mistreatment of terror suspects”, saying: “The Americans were very keen that people like us did not discover what they were doing.” Baroness Manningham-Buller also said that allegations MI5 officers were complicit in torture could damage the fight against terrorism: “The allegations of collusion in torture and the lack of respect for human rights will wound those individuals personally and collectively, and in some respects – whether proven or not – it will make it harder for them to do their jobs.” The Telegraph reports that she “had protested to the Americans about their treatment of detainees” and her insistence that “torture could never be justified even if it saved lives”.

David Miliband will today urge Hamid Karzai to start peace talks with moderate elements of the Taleban, reports The Guardian. In a major speech in the US, the foreign secretary will urge the Afghan government to step up if its efforts to secure peace, amidts fears the conflict could escalate and drag on. He will say: “My argument today is that now is the time for the Afghans to pursue a political settlement with as much vigour and energy as we are pursuing the military and civilian effort … The Afghans must own, lead and drive such political engagement … It will be a slow, gradual process. But the insurgents will want to see international support. International engagement, for example under the auspices of the UN, may ultimately be required.” However, Gerard Russell, of the Carr Centre for Human Rights at Harvard University, warned that he had yet to see a workable plan from the Karzai Government: “We had a look at the Afghan government’s thinking on reconciliation, but we haven’t seen a concrete proposal or a workable methodology.”

Gordon Brown, in a speech to Reuters in Canary Wharf, will today warn that the “economic storm” is not yet over, and that “substantial risks” still threaten the recovery. His speech, reports the Telegraph, comes amid “intense speculation” that the date of the budget will be March 24, soon after which he is expected to call the election. The prime minister will say: “We are weathering the storm; now is no time to turn back … We will hold to our course. And we will complete this mission. We have got through this storm together but there are still substantial risks ahead … There will be bumps in the road. And I believe the only way to overcome them is by displaying the same strength and resolve as we did during the crisis.” On the election, The Independent reports that May 6 is “looking increasingly firm for polling day”.

And The Guardian reports another rebuke to the Conservatives over Europe, with Nicolas Sarkozy set to warn David Cameron over defence co-operation. The French president will deliver a “firm warning” to the Tories, telling them they “risk forfeiting vital French co-operation on energy, defence and the economy” if they “refuse to engage over the future of Europe”. Shadow foreign secretary William Hague, in a speech today, will, however, “hint at a willingness to work with the French” – stating that a key Conservative foreign policy objective will be to “retain the ability to project power on a strategic level when working alongside the United States or France, with speed, precision, safety and effect”.

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