Labour has just committed to a presumption against short prison sentences and to more funding for community services to reduce use of prison.
They are the last major party to get there, but better late than never. A cynic might say that with Labour trialing the Tories by an astounding 15%, the Labour Party position on Brexit in chaos and Corbyn's ratings the lowest for any Opposition leader since records began, this isn't a promsie they will need to make good on. But it's certainly, in Sir Humphry's terms, a 'brave' policy to oppose Johnson's pledge to increase sentence engths and build 10 new prisons. I suspect that most voters, in the febrile atmosphere of the Election, will back Johnson on this. The run up to a bitterly fought Election isn't the ideal time to introduce voters to the nuances of criminal justice policy. Recall that Labour won in 1997 with 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'. Of course, that was wicked New Labour. Still - they won, eh?
Does Burgon's policy stack up? Not really. The number of prison places taken up by offenders serving sentences other than for sex and violence (excluded from Labour's policy) would be around 2,500 on MoJ figures. If one assumes, on past experience, that some sentencers will use the override of discretion (implied by the word 'presumption') and that others will impose over 6 months in order to get a custodial sentence, the policy will save maybe 1,500 places. Some relief for hard pressed locals but not enough to significantly reduce overcrowding.
As for investment in community services, the time lag involved in building up the services and then persuading sentencers to use them means there would be little result on the ground for 2 or 3 years. Moreover past experience suggest that simply increasing options in the community doesn't necessarily have a big effetct on prison numbers.
Plainly what Labour are not going to do is question the huge increase in the proportion of offenders sent to jail, and in the length of sentnces, that has occured since 1997 (most of it under, as it happens, Labour).
Finally, Labour's (and Johnson's) plans to increase police numbers will result in an increase in numbers convicted and sent to prison. At present we are seeing a big drop in numbers sentenced because of cuts 'upstream' in the police and CPS. Reversing those cuts will liberate pent up demand. This would be more than enough to cancel out the relief for reducing use of short sentences.
So while Labour's policy may be the right thing to do, the timing is pretty unfortunate, and if implemented, it would not ease the prison crisis.
Whatever else Brexit may bring, today appears to mark the final extinction of Liberal Toryism, the rich history of which began with Disraeli, included Macmillan and Heath (who took us into the EU) and which ends with Grieve, Clarke, Gauke, and others, de-selected for daring to oppose the leadership (something even Thatcher never did to her ‘wets’, and which Corbyn now dares not do to those who oppose him in the Parliamentary Party).
Indeed, the Conservative Party itself has been destroyed, and re-invented to look and sound like UKIP, in the same way as Trump re-made the Republican Party in his own image. The Party of the Union has become the party that does not give a toss if Scotland breaks away and Ireland absorbs Ulster (the DUP about the reap an appropriate reward). The Party of sound finance is going on an unfunded spending spree that would have had Thatcher in a rage. The Party of the Constitution is tearing up the restraint on which our unwritten ‘Constitution’ rests. The Party of the rule of law denounces the Supreme Court of this country as ‘Enemies of the people’ (get ready for elected judges; why is it the Tories love so uncritically anything American?). The Party of the City is throwing our financial and manufacturing sector to the dogs. And so on.
What does the New Tory Party care for? Ugly English nationalism. Suspicion if not hatred of foreigners and immigrants and Muslims. Featherbedding the rich. Hatred of the public sector. Contempt for the Welfare State or, at least, those parts of it not directed primarily to the needs of the old. The crushing of opposing ideas by any means. Delight in transgressive language and behaviour. Not fascist, of course, but perhaps ‘pre-fascist’. The Party of Cummings replaces the Party of Disraeli.
This seems to delight some on the Left. It should not. Liberal Conservatism is part of our political heritage, how we think, how we see things. It has been a hugely civilising and moderating influence and helps explain why we have (to date) been so free of extremism in our politics.
All parties need to some extent to be coalitions. The idea that there is only one truth, one policy, one leader and that all doubts and dissent are wicked, is deeply unhealthy. It is, dare I say, positively Continental. If Liberal Toryism goes under, we become less …. English. We lose something vital.
What astonishes, both in the case of Trump and our mini-Trump here, is how few of the old party mind the wrenching change in policies and the outrageous behaviour of the new regime. As long as we stay in power and the money stays with us, we don’t give a fuck about anything, seems to be their motto.
How much more, then, to respect those who have said ‘No’:
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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