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In one sentence, Jacqui Smith became the Gerald Ratner of the Home Office

Rod Liddle says that the Home Secretary’s admission that she would not feel safe walking the streets after dark reflects not candour but arrogance and aloofness

23 January 2008

12:00 AM

23 January 2008

12:00 AM

There is a term for what Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, did at the weekend. She announced that she would not feel safe walking the streets of London alone after dark. This, I believe, is called ‘doing a Ratner’. If you remember, Gerald Ratner was the boss of the eponymous down-market jewellery company which dissolved into nothing in 1991 when he cheerfully pronounced that his products were ‘crap’. Matt Barrett, the chief executive of Barclays, did a Ratner too, when he told a bunch of MPs that he would not let his daughters anywhere near a Barclaycard and did not use one himself because they were too expensive. Perhaps those who behave in this way should be ‘Ratnered’ — lose their livelihoods as a result of having confessed that the products, goods or services for which they are responsible are utterly bloody useless. A Home Secretary who says she dare not step out of her flat of an evening for fear of being stabbed, mugged or raped should most definitely be well and truly Ratnered.

Of course, there is another way of describing those supposedly shocking statements from Barrett, Ratner and Smith — that they were telling the truth. And a truth which, underneath, the rest of us know all too well. Particularly so in Jacqui Smith’s case: there has been a mass exodus from London in the last five years precisely because people do not feel safe walking the streets of an evening. People have been fleeing to the most terrible places — Guildford, Basingstoke, Broadway — so that they might sleep at night unilluminated by the fierce lights from a police helicopter circling overhead, undisturbed by the sudden sharp crack of a bullet entering a teenager’s skull.

Ms Smith might have added, ‘I especially wouldn’t walk the streets of London in areas where lots and lots of black people live.’ This would have been recognised as another truth by almost the entire population, except for the Labour party, Conservative party, Liberal Democratic party and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who would have denounced such an admission as racist. And Jacqui might have added further, ‘And while it’s bad enough for me walking the streets as a white middle-aged woman, it would be even worse if I were a young black male.’ All that stuff is demonstrated by the crime statistics which suggest that young black males are responsible for a hugely disproportionate amount of serious violent crime in the capital, and are also the principal victims of it. But she went far enough as it was. Quite how Jacqui currently gets around central London after dark is another question: held aloft on a litter by armed midgets, perhaps. Or in a ministerial saloon car.

That absurd pantomime dame of an MP, Diane Abbott, criticised Jacqui Smith for having contributed towards a — yes, that old canard — ‘climate of fear’. Perhaps Diane thinks the streets are perfectly safe; perhaps she doesn’t walk the streets herself or know of anyone who does. And perhaps she doesn’t read the newspapers, either. There was a story last week about a teenage girl who had been gang-raped by some black men in Tottenham. In order to destroy any possible forensic evidence of their crime, the men poured caustic soda on the girl’s genitals, leaving her appallingly badly burned. Perhaps Diane thinks that reporting things like that in the newspapers is also contributing to a climate of fear and that we shouldn’t mention them. Perhaps she thinks they’re all dreamed up by Paul Dacre and didn’t really happen at all — the muggings and stabbings and shootings and the rapes. It was presumably a baseless ‘climate of fear’ about declining educational standards in the capital which prompted this self-regarding hypocrite to send her own child to a private school, rather than run the risk of him mixing with other black boys at her local comprehensive. Yes, Abbott has also done a Ratner of a sort, although she was insufficiently Ratnered herself as a consequence, in my opinion. She should have been thoroughly Ratnered. But then, in the Labour party (and especially on the relentlessly attitudinising faux-Left, where Abbott abides) there’s a Ratnergate every few weeks and a remarkably high survival rate.

The reason Jacqui Smith is in trouble, of course, is that it’s largely her party’s fault that things are quite as bad as they are. She is not responsible for the individual wickedness of street criminals, and only slightly for the impoverished, welfare-dependent state of hopelessness from which most of the perpetrators emerged. But she is directly, 100 per cent responsible for the fact that, often having been convicted of an offence, or on bail for another offence, these vile little creatures are still roaming the streets with impunity. The message from the government to the magistrates and judges in the past five years has been absolutely clear and straightforward: if you’re thinking of remanding someone in custody for a crime of violence, think again and maybe try a curfew with one of those expensive tagging gizmos. If you’re thinking of a custodial sentence, think again — try a spot of community service. This is especially the case if the perpetrator is a yoof offender. We do not have sufficient room in our prisons for people who simply stab someone, still less are merely accused of having stabbed someone. Let ’em back out, on to the streets.

You might think it odd that in each case — of Jacqui Smith, Gerald Ratner and Matt Barrett — the people doing a Ratner were seemingly unaware of the fact. In fact, that is the very definition of ‘doing a Ratner’ — a state of aloofness and arrogance, an assumption that the general public are a bit stupid and, by extension, feeling oneself impervious to criticism. Which is why we shouldn’t mistake the Home Secretary’s remarks for simple candour. It would have been candour if she’d said that she felt unsafe walking the streets of London of an evening, and this was at least partly a consequence of her own party’s policies towards crime and policing; the relentless pressure upon courts to find alternatives to prison, the diversion of police resources into the investigation of fatuous, ectoplasmic ‘hate crimes’, the refusal to accept that a specific criminal justice problem exists among one specific ethnic minority. And had then added, ‘Henceforth, this is something which I will try to put right.’ But she didn’t say that. There was no admission of culpability of any kind, no recognition of what seems — to almost all the rest of us — a simple case of cause and effect. ‘I don’t feel safe walking the streets: now, I wonder why that can be?’ was the gist.

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