Editorial: Talking up crime now smacks of desperation

Share
Related Topics

Every government in hot water feels tempted to reach for the button marked law and order, and press hard. Dramatic-sounding promises to get tougher on crime, even when they involve mingling recycled old policies with genuinely new material, are guaranteed to calm feverish headlines and soothe the panicked brows of the party faithful – for a while. Such considerations have fed into the calculations of the Prime Minister as he delivers his first major speech on crime today. It's been planned for some time but the timing is fortuitous, following a week in which Andrew Mitchell's resignation led straight into confusion on energy policy and the furore over the Chancellor's first-class train ride.

Some of what David Cameron says in unveiling a "tough but intelligent" approach on law and order breaks no new ground. Life sentences for gun runners who supply lethal weapons to gangsters sounds like a fresh idea. But pledges to toughen community sentences and the prison regime generally are hardly revolutionary. What Mr Cameron is engaged in here is that New Labour speciality, "reheating" policies, and it suggests an element of barrel-scraping.

Nor do the Prime Minister's words mark quite as radical a rupture from the liberal, rehabilitation-centred approach of the former Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, as some may believe. Policies in place on rehabilitation of offenders, Mr Clarke's hallmark, are not about to be done away with, hence the inclusion of the term "intelligent" to balance out the accent on toughness. Not for the first time, Mr Cameron is trying to have it both ways, sounding tough on crime, but not so tough as to incur accusations of being reactionary.

At the same time, the Prime Minister's speech is, in a sense, part two of the same cabinet reshuffle that saw Mr Clarke eased out in favour of the more traditional Tory Chris Grayling and a shift to the right. The tougher-sounding crime strategy dovetails with a less environmentally sensitive approach to energy and transport questions and a more aggressive stance towards Brussels. Bundled up with a promise of an eventual referendum on Europe, it forms part of a mission to reconcile Mr Cameron to grass-roots Tories who feel alienated from his inner circle and bewildered by the experience of coalition government.

The risk in this strategy is that Mr Cameron will end up enthusing a rump of traditional Tories at the expense of floating voters, while the lesson of recent decades is that vacating the political centre ground rarely leads to an election victory. Some Tory strategists will say that crime does not fall into this political danger zone, as the population as a whole is more right-wing on crime than the elite. This may have been true, but a potential snag in this line of thinking is that as crime rates in general fall, crime may be losing its former potency as an election issue. Pledges to bang up more criminals may no longer be the guaranteed vote-winner that they once appeared to be.

The other problem facing Mr Cameron with his new crime strategy is of political credibility. The Prime Minister started out as a leader who married fiscal conservatism with socially liberal attitudes – a man who was believed to want to hug hoodies, not lock them up. By suddenly changing tack, he risks leaving traditional Tories feeling unconvinced and liberal Tories – a diminishing crowd, admittedly – feeling betrayed. If the net result is further confirmation of his reputation in the country at large for inconsistency, he may regret having embarked on this question in the first place.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week