How ministers dance to the media's tune

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Indy Politics

Expansion of European Union

Media coverage The approaching expansion of the EU in May 2004 brought dire warnings about the effect on Britain. The Daily Mail reported: "Fury as 73 million get the right to British benefits."

Government reaction David Blunkett and Tony Blair decided on partial concessions to the critics. Borders would still be opened to the newcomers, but they would be barred from claiming benefit until they had been in a job for a year and be required to register with the immigration authorities.

Verdict In retrospect the sense of alarm in the run-up to May 2004 was unfounded.


Media coverage The Government reached a turning-point in February 2003 when it announced a record 110,000 asylum-seekers had claimed refuge in Britain in the previous year. One million readers of The Sun backed the paper's "End The Asylum Madness Now" campaign, with sackloads of coupons delivered to Downing Street and the Home Office.

Government reaction In the past three years the Government has introduced the Asylum and the Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Bill and the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. Their provisions include action against "sham marriages" and cuts in support for failed asylum-seekers.

Verdict The legislation has undoubtedly had some deterrent effect but it has been more helped by the international drop in numbers of refugees.

Early release of prisoners

Media coverage A spate of murders by criminals released early prompted newspaper demands for an overhaul of parole arrangements. The Sun demanded, "Tomorrow's killers must be kept inside". The fury reached fever pitch with the short sentence imposed on a child abuser, Craig Sweeney. The Daily Mirror launched a "Life Must Mean Life" campaign.

Government reaction Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, acknowledged there was a problem with "the system overall". Downing Street has promised to tighten the rules on probation, with Mr Blair expected to announce details within days.

Verdict It is impossible to prove that someone held longer in prison would have committed a crime had they been released. What is beyond dispute is that the new rules will push up numbers in prison, adding pressure to an already overstretched jail system.

Foreign Prisoners

Media coverage The disclosure that 1,019 foreign prisoners had been freed without deportation hearings provoked furious coverage. The Mirror declared the situation "criminal", the Daily Express branded the Home Office "idiots", while The Sun described the situation as a "shocking failure".

Government reaction Charles Clarke, later to be sacked, ordered a hunt for the foreign offenders and Tony Blair promised that all foreigners convicted of an imprisonable offence would be deported.

Verdict Details of Mr Blair's promised crackdown still to be revealed.

'Megan's Law'

Media coverage The News of the World has long campaigned for "Sarah's law" based on the so-called Megan's law in the US to give parents access to information about paedophiles in their neighbourhoods. The short sentence imposed on Craig Sweeney reignited the issue last week.

Government reaction John Reid moved paedophiles out of bail hostels near schools and sent a junior minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, to the US to look at their laws.

Verdict Mr Reid accused of making policy on the hoof after No 10 said there were no plans to change the law.

Police Mergers

Media coverage There has been a barrage of protest from the regional and national press over plans to merge police forces across the country.

Government reaction John Reid has put the mergers on hold until autumn.

Verdict The retreat was forced by Mr Reid's need to fight fires elsewhere in the Home Office.

Knife crime

Media coverage The death of Kiyan Prince, 15,who was stabbed outside his school in north London last month, fuelled fears over recent rises in violent crime.

Government reaction John Reid promised tougher sentences for knife crime.

Verdict Last-minute response to headlines.