Nick Clegg: Optimism serves children better than worries for the next Baby P

Optimism in people, and dispersing power: these are the key instincts of liberals. But surely this optimism makes no sense when the newspapers are filled with harrowing accounts of people doing untold damage to others?

Karen Matthews, who had her own daughter kidnapped, drugged, bound and imprisoned to try and make some money. The mother and step-father of Baby P, who beat their child to death. The father in Sheffield who raped his daughters for 20 years. How on earth is it possible to be optimistic about human nature with these crimes in mind?

And surely, as the economic recession tightens its chilling grip, Big Government is the only answer? Only the state can provide the protection and intervention needed at a time of economic emergency?

Wasn't it precisely economic liberalism which spawned the regulatory failure and corporate greed which toppled our economy into a binge of unsustainable private debt?

I flatly reject both allegations. Evil may be the right word to describe what some individuals have done to their own children. But our outrage as a people, our fury and our determination to stamp out these crimes all show that, as a society, we are moral, we are decent.

And we have a choice: do we let the worst set the rules? The world is not made up of the horrific examples I've listed. These cases make the news because they are extraordinary. Most parents, almost all parents, are loving, caring, and put themselves last when it comes to decisions that affect their children. There are minor miracles done by parents, teachers, carers, total strangers, every day in schools, hospitals, homes, playgrounds. Acts of kindness that are the overwhelming majority of human experience. It is disaster politics to assume otherwise.

We know that it was the disaster politics response to the killing of James Bulger that led to a massive upswing in the number of children in prison or prison-like secure accommodation. And we know it isn't doing any good, it isn't cutting crime, it's just turning fragile children into damaged adults. Turning out a generation of career criminals.

Yes, we need to protect against the worst, but we should not assume it. Crime must not end hope.

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, spoke at Demos yesterday