Editorial: Talking up crime now smacks of desperation

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

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most