Leading article: New Labour's reactionary agenda has failed

Share

When New Labour was in opposition, it adopted a progressive stance on questions of crime and punishment. In 1993, Tony Blair famously spoke of the need to be tough, not only on crime but also "the causes of crime". When the former home secretary, Michael Howard, declared that "prison works", he was criticised for being dangerously over-simplistic.

But New Labour in office has been a very different beast. Since 1997 we have been subject to a succession of home secretaries, each wielding more reactionary policies on criminal justice than the last. New Labour's approach to criminal justice over the past decade has amounted to a crude demand that the courts lock more up people - and that they lock them up for longer. All those progressive intentions on crime and punishment have crumbled in the face of sustained hysteria whipped up by the populist press.

Yet as Mr Blair's government sinks ever further into a failing reactionary agenda, there are distinct signs the rest of the country is tiring of this approach. The response of the parents of Tom ap Rhys Pryce to the sentencing of his murderers this week was significant. Rather than expressing hatred for Donnel Carty and Delano Brown, they spoke of their pity for the murderers. They have also set up a foundation to help young people in deprived areas avoid a similar path. Mr Pryce's parents do not feel the solution to rising levels of violent crime is ever harsher punishments.

The rest of the political parties are also showing a greater understanding that crime is not just a problem to be addressed by the police and the courts, but by the whole of our society. The Conservatives are finally beginning to accept that prison alone can achieve nothing. This is not before time. We learnt yesterday that the UK prison population has risen to more than 80,000 - the largest number incarcerated in British history. As the former chief inspector of prisons points out in The Independent today, this has created chaos.

The Tories also accept now that there are too many mentally ill people in prisons and that treatment for drug addicts inside is inadequate. The scandalous lack of training and education for prisoners is also beginning to get the attention it deserves from politicians. David Cameron has even questioned the lack of opportunities for many young people before they come into contact with the criminal justice system. In other words, the spotlight has returned, once again, to the causes of crime.

Those on the left of the political spectrum have been forced to question a few old preconceptions on crime too. Few now argue that criminality is fundamentally a response to poverty. A credible new study has found that many of those who engage in violent street muggings do not do so primarily for the money, but rather for the sheer thrill of attacking someone. Awareness is growing across the political spectrum of just how poisonous elements of street culture have become.

There is also an acceptance from the left that the role of the family cannot be ignored. It is clear that the majority of those who slip into criminality come from broken homes and abusive backgrounds. This is not to say that the chauvinist "back to basics" perspective, that denigrates single mothers and other unorthodox family structures, has been proved correct. But there is an increased understanding that stability is lacking from too many young lives.

All of this has profound implications for public policy. It will require genuinely progressive political leadership to push the necessary measures through. Most of all, it will require the kind of courage that has been so conspicuously lacking from this present government.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Head of Affiliate Sales for Emerging Markets

competitive + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you looking for your next role ...

Brand Engagement Manager - TV

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is your chance to join a gl...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Experienced Primary Teachers We are curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside  

Autumn’s subtle charm is greatly enhanced by this Indian summer

Michael McCarthy
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits