Leading article: No excuses please, Mr Home Secretary

Share

Pity the Home Secretary. There is always the same trajectory. In comes the new man, to the accompaniment (if he is a Labour home secretary) of grainy news footage of a younger, thinner, hairier figure, waving a CND placard or protesting against apartheid.

Come the assumption of high office, and the change of heart is dramatic. Perhaps it is the regular meetings with the police chiefs, or the read-overs of focus groups' reports on how crime is the number one issue among "ordinary" voters. Perhaps, more recently, it is a niggling fear that the white working class is slipping away, angry and alienated by a new concentration on ethnic minorities and a liberal obsession with relativising crime.

Whatever the cause, the effect in our view is often bad policies - knee-jerk crowd pleasers that have a whiff of insincerity about them, as if their primary purpose was to give the Government a free ride from criticism while the public digests the latest muscular pledge to "get tough" on criminals, illegal immigrants, feral youths, drunks, the underclass, squeegee merchants, liberal judges, juries that don't convict people, and so on.

The list is almost endless, and so is the number of "initiatives" designed to show that something somewhere is being done about any of them, although, in reality, some "solutions" are so transparently unworkable as to be laughed off the stage at once, while others die a lingering death following their debuts on television news screens. Remember the plan to have teenage miscreants frogmarched to cash machines where they would be given on-the-spot fines? Alongside such tragicomic attempts to show New Labour is not a prisoner of Hampstead liberals and assorted luvvies have come more damaging initiatives, some made not in response to a perceived need to reconnect with angry white working-class voters but to show Britain is just as tough as George Bush's America in the war on terrorism.

This has produced perhaps the worst excesses, with important civil liberties being rolled back, curtailed or otherwise emptied of their former force. We have had the attempt to massively extend the period in which alleged terrorists can be held and questioned from 14 to 90 days (we are now on 28 days), drives to deport foreign suspects to countries with a record of torture, a failure to stand up for British residents detained in Guantanamo Bay, bans on spontaneous demonstrations within a kilometre of Parliament, the advent of ID cards and, most recently, an act banning a poorly defined new offence known as "glorifying terrorism".

Bad laws, moreover, have bred more bad laws. Alongside the the crude attempt by the Government to kit itself out with various blunt instruments in its struggle with home-grown "Islamists" have come back-handers - payoffs to mullahs, in effect. One was the recent ban on "inciting religious hatred", which, as some of our most respected comic actors pointed out, potentially criminalised what were harmless sketches.

The wisest counsels in history have usually pleaded for the passage of only a few laws, long in gestation. Charles Clarke and his predecessors have done the opposite, stacking hastily drafted law upon law and so progressively diminishing the impact of each of them. It is indicative of a mindset that can not be bothered to think through any of our society's ailments but which instinctively reaches for a quick "ban" or "curb", as long as it makes the headlines. This newspaper makes no apology for having condemned this tendency. Given the feeble state of the Opposition during most of the Government's lifetime, it has been a positive duty. Much harm has been inflicted on Britain's civil liberties under the guise of suppressing crime and terrorism. If it annoys Mr Clarke to draw public attention to this, so be it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn