The frustrating thing about tagging, or electronic monitoring (EM) is that it could so easily be effective — if only we did it properly. As a former police officer, I can vouch that Theodore Dalrymple is right when he says that it’s a relatively small number of prolific offenders who commit the majority of recorded crime. So if we used the right technology — if these criminals knew that any repeat offence would be almost certain to result in detection and punishment — then reoffending rates would fall.
‘They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work,’ said the Soviet worker in the good old days; the British criminal could nowadays say with equal reason, ‘They pretend to punish us and we pretend to reform.’
Recent statistics show that two thirds of young criminals ordered to wear electronic tags break their court orders almost with impunity. Nothing could better reveal the hall of mirrors that the British criminal justice system long ago became than the response of Keith Vaz, the chairman of the House of Commons all-party Home Affairs Committee, to very similar news last year.
A few years ago, I answered an advertisement on a flat-sharing website and ended up living with a fledgling pop star — I’ll call him Sam. He was not long out of adolescence, and was gnawed at by his need for recognition. For years, he and his bandmates had been plastering the internet with tracks, hoping to attract attention, but without much luck.
When I moved in, I was dimly aware that my new flatmate sang, but I didn’t own a TV, so what little coverage they’d received had passed me by.
Kenya: The Prime Minister has committed Britain to a struggle against the ‘existential threat’ of terrorism in Africa that he says will take ‘years, even decades’ of patience, intelligence and toughness. Well, there’s some truth in what he says, but not in the implication that this is a new threat to Africa — nor that our response should be a military one.
In a way this same struggle was happening when the young Winston Churchill was covering Kitchener’s war against fanatical Muslim, Mahdist forces in the Sudan in 1898.
Republicans turn pale with horror at the idea that Hillary Clinton might be the next president. She is the screeching harridan of their nightmares, made worse by her penchant for centre-left social policies. But they had better face up to the fact that no woman has ever been better placed to take the top job. Sixty-five now, she will be no older in 2016 than Ronald Reagan was when he moved into the White House.
Sajid Javid seems the very model of a rising young Tory: student politics, then investment banking, then a junior Treasury minister in his first parliament; well-cut suit trousers, crisp white shirt, pastel-blue tie. But what sets him apart, and so excites some of his colleagues, is his background.
His father arrived in Britain from a Pakistani village in 1961, with £5 to his name. It is from his father that Javid got his politics; specifically, from watching the Nine O’Clock News with him during the winter of discontent.
I think of myself as an adventurous eater. I’ve had kangaroo in Australia, crocodile in Cambodia, deep-fried Mars bar in Scotland… but not much could have prepared me for my trip to China.
In the narrow, brightly lit streets of Beijing, street vendors start early, preparing the day’s delights: steamed buns filled with pork, prawns or vegetables (known as baozi); spicy lamb kebabs (chuan’r) cooked on roadside barbecues; and tanghulu, ‘fresh’ fruit on bamboo skewers covered in sugary syrup.
‘Hong Kong is the most Chinese city on earth,’ says my old friend Jo McBride, who has lived there for more than 30 years. That may come as a surprise to those who knew the place as a resolutely British enclave of colonial officers, traders and bankers — of whom, long ago, I was one — and to more recent visitors reassured by the hands-off regime of Beijing’s stooges in the 15 years since they took over from our last governor, Lord Patten.
Friday night in Jaffa, and it’s a party. Jaffa, to the south of Tel Aviv, is where the cool kids hang, apparently — think Dalston or the meatpacking district, and add radical chic. An Israeli-Russian dude in big ironic spectacles tells me that, not far from here, they filmed scenes for the second season of Homeland. ‘So you can see how edgy it is,’ he says. He’s being sarcastic.
We’re in a nice big two-floor apartment.