Leading article: No excuses please, Mr Home Secretary


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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice