Jeffrey Archer, the disgraced peer, should be let out of prison as soon as he would be if he were Joe Bloggs, the disgraced dustman. In July 2001 Archer was given a four-year sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice, so in a few weeks’ time he will become eligible for parole. It could be said it is absurd that prisoners should be eligible for release after serving only half their sentences, but the fact that prison has become a devalued currency cannot reasonably be blamed on Archer. If he satisfies the Parole Board’s conditions for early release, he should be set free.
Within the past few days a rather odd story has appeared in the press. The Sunday Mirror printed a memo from John Gieve, permanent secretary at the Home Office, to Martin Narey, the commissioner for Correctional Services, which said, ‘Given the amount of press interest in Archer and the difficulties this has caused the Home Secretary and your department, we are keen to see that Archer is not immediately released at the halfway point of the sentence.’ A Home Office spokesman later said, ‘This letter appears to be a forgery.’ The use of the word ‘appears’ in this context is curious: surely the Home Office is able to establish whether the letter is a forgery or not. But the political value of the leak, or forgery, or whatever it was, to the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, was clear. The idea had been put into circulation that, as far as he was concerned, he would be delighted to see Archer rot in jail for ever.
Mr Blunkett is a politician, and one who has never been shy to articulate the prejudices of the saloon bar. He knows how little faith Labour’s working-class supporters, or ex-supporters, have in the judicial system.