All quite irrational on the home front

'Michael Howard went slightly demented and jumped up and down, crying: "Prison works!"'

The case of Jack Straw highlights one of the biggest problems facing society today. It can be summed up in one little question: how can Home Secretaries be prevented from reoffending?

We have seen it so often in the past. Time after time, a poor, unfortunate man (and it is always a man) makes a promising start in life. He gets a good education. Then he becomes a politician or a lawyer. But even then there is hope for him. He finally becomes Home Secretary, a job he enters with bright intentions and progressive ideas.

Then things start going really wrong.

He gets depressed by his inability to reduce crime.

He has mood swings.

He antagonises the police and feels they are against him.

He forgets the idealism of his earlier days.

And sooner or later he starts locking people up in a frenzy of retribution and moroseness.

It happened to William Whitelaw, who came to think that the only answer for the world was to give people a "short, sharp shock".

It happened to Michael Howard, who went slightly demented and jumped up and down in Parliament, crying: "Prison works! Prison works!" and later found himself on TV unable to answer a single question put to him by Jeremy Paxman. And now it has happened to Jack Straw.

Once it was thought that Jack Straw had a future as a reasonable, hard-working, willing lad who could hold down a job reliably.

All right, he had blemishes on his record. It was known that in his youth he had helped to run a vicious neighbourhood gang called the National Union of Students, which liked to jump out and say, "Boo!" to non-members and professors. But Straw had outgrown all that, got married, had a haircut and buckled down to a normal way of life.

Now, however, he has suddenly decided that the only way he can do his job properly is by locking lots of people up until they say they are very sorry and go out and do a proper job in their turn.

Clinically, this is known as "taking leave of your senses" or "flying in the face of all logic". It has been proved beyond all reasonable doubt that locking people up does not make them fit for a job, nor does it make them write letters of apology to their previous victims.

As a result of having Home Secretaries over the years who have constantly reoffended in the same way, Britain now has just about the largest per capita prison population in Europe, with no reduction in crime figures.

It is ruinously expensive for a well-off country such as Britain to maintain even one Home Secretary such as Jack Straw. So why does he persist in this sort of antisocial behaviour? Why does a well-educated person from, we assume, a stable background suddenly go on a spree of retribution and punishment (and then persist in seeing it, deludedly, as a deterrent measure)?

Is it the result of a sort of retribution rage brought on by feelings of inadequacy and helplessness?

Is it maybe a disguised way of saying that he is fed up with the job and wants to be moved to a post where he can cause less damage?

Is it, even, the influence of the rough crowd he meets inside the Home Office, all previous offenders themselves?

There have always been question marks over Straw's circle of friends.

After all, it is well known that in the last year or two Jack Straw has formed a close attachment to the notorious Chilean gangster Augusto Pinochet.

Straw arranged for Pinochet to live in a safe house in a posh part of the Home Counties, at the expense of the British taxpayer. He warded off all attempts to have Pinochet brought to justice in Spain, and he personally ensured that Pinochet was flown back to safety in his native Chile.

Is that the sort of behaviour we want from our Home Secretary? The man who is tough on immigration but not on the causes of immigration?

The man who wants us all to drink throughout the night if we feel like it, but will not even talk about drugs?

The man who now seems to be undergoing the same regressive spiral of behaviour as Whitelaw and Howard?

It simply doesn't make sense. So write to your MP about it today. Unless, of course, he is Jack Straw.

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