David Blackburn

Clarke ups the ante

Clarke ups the ante
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Perceptions count and the coalition are perceived to be vulnerable on crime. Its policy of reducing the number of prisoners on short-term sentences has been caricatured as a reduction in sentencing per se, a liberal assault on the consensus that prison works. I don’t agree with that analysis (which overlooks that excessive sentences in disorganised and overcrowded prison can create habitual criminals, who cost society in perpetuity thereafter) but readily concede that it’s easy to traduce the government as soft on crime, and I was surprised that Ed Miliband didn’t do so last week – as were plenty of Tories.

In fact, opposition comes from within the Tory party, even from the government. There are rumours of a whispering campaign against Clarke and Theresa May’s aides are openly saying that Clarke will ‘put crime up and we’ll get the blame’. Clarke will deliver a pre-emptive strike today, pledging to make inmates more productive.  Prisoners will work 40 hours a week and a law will be re-introduced that directs some of their earnings to victims in compensation. (Conservative Home has an extract from Clarke’s speech.)

This stone kills a flock of birds: support for the victim, preparing inmates for regular work on the outside and reinforcing the idea that prison is deprivation of liberty and punishment. It’s an important piece of re-positioning, aimed at the hall as much the country.