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

Nursery assistants required across Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

SEN 1:1 Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a qualified teache...

SEN Teachers and Support Staff

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher or L...

English and Media Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English & Media Teacher - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Young voters leave a polling station in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh  

Scottish referendum results: The independence question is resolved for a generation at least

Douglas Alexander
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband addresses the public and media as he walks in Edinburgh  

Scottish referendum: Now let’s redraw the map of English politics

Janet Street-Porter
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week