Hints of sanity amid Mr Blunkett's illiberal populism

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The Independent Online

The Home Secretary's speech to the Labour Party conference yesterday contained welcome glimpses of sanity. Mr Blunkett spoke eloquently, albeit briefly, of the need to treat drug addicts and rehabilitate offenders. We applaud his recognition of the fact that "We cannot turn around crime without turning around criminals." This is the kind of progressive thinking that we ought to be hearing from the Home Secretary. His decision to roll out the weekend jail experiment across the country is also positive, as is his continued emphasis on non-custodial punishments such as electronic tagging. The truth is that, in many cases, prison does not work. Community service and supervision orders have more chance of reforming an offender. They also cost less.

Even the counselling scheme for antisocial families, in which parents and children will be coached to behave in a civilised manner, has merit. It may smack of gimmickry, but it at least shows a willingness to deal with the root causes of criminal behaviour in children, such as neglect and a chaotic family life.

It is difficult, too, to find fault in Mr Blunkett's plans to recruit more community support officers. This new type of officer has proved relatively effective, and a uniformed presence on the streets is vital if crime-ridden neighbourhoods are to be made safer.

Unfortunately, Mr Blunkett also showed that his illiberal instincts remain as strong as ever. He is intent on proceeding with his vaunted biometric ID cards by compelling people to acquire one when they upgrade their passports. He is apparently convinced that these cards will make it easier for the police and secret services to thwart terrorists, even though there is no evidence they will do anything of the sort. They will simply enable the Government to keep an eye on all of us better.

As we might have expected, the Home Secretary was hopelessly inhumane towards asylum-seekers, making no attempt to challenge the obnoxious right-wing view according to which most immigrants are a drain on our economy and a threat to our safety. Once again, the Home Secretary's populist rhetoric ended up drowning out the sensible things he had to say.