Leading article: Reverting to type on penal reform

Share
Related Topics

In the early months of the Coalition, Ken Clarke was as eloquent as a Tory ever could be about the futility of sending more and more criminals to jail. The prison population – then 85,000 – was "astonishing", the Justice Secretary said; keeping a prisoner in jail cost more than sending a boy to Eton, he noted, and often its only result was to produce "tougher criminals".

Sadly, in the 15 months since that courageous sally, Clarke has found himself ever more isolated, not only within his party but in Parliament as a whole. And yesterday he ran up the white flag. Only a politician with the hide of a rhinoceros – and the determination to make those gambling on his early departure pay up – would have had the cheek to announce policies diametrically opposed to those he championed last year. But Mr Clarke is such an individual.

The most significant changes unveiled yesterday are the introduction of mandatory life terms for anyone convicted of two "near-murderous attacks", and of mandatory terms for both adults and youths of 16 and over guilty of "aggravated" knife crimes. Neither proposal is entirely new. They were both trailed by David Cameron in June after the combination of his own backbenchers and the right-wing press forced him to overrule Mr Clarke on his effort to reduce prison numbers.

The Prime Minister was uncompromising. "The public need to know that dangerous criminals will be locked up for a very long time," he said at the time. "I am determined they will be." The populist tone has always been alien to Mr Clarke, but the fact that two-thirds of those convicted of looting during the riots had never been to prison fatally weakened his argument that jail is the main crucible of crime.

It has been a bruising year for the Justice Minister. He emerged from his latest scrap bloody, but still lamenting those "languishing" in jail on indeterminate sentences, "people who haven't the faintest idea when, if ever, they will get out". Such comments should stand as a warning to his enemies that his ideas are unchanged and he intends to stick around. It can only be hoped that a balmier climate for his civilised views will arrive while he is still in office.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Planner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - C#, ASP.Net, MVC, jQuery

£42000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking for a C# ...

Recruitment Genius: General Driver - Automotive

£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Day In a Page

Read Next
LaGuardia Airport: a relic from a different, gentler age  

New York's LaGuardia Airport to be rebuilt: It could become the best gateway to America

Simon Calder
An easy target: the wild red grouse - which lives in the heather-clad hills of the British uplands - is managed not for conservation but for the unsavoury pleasure of City types  

Nature Studies: Campaigners are taking aim at grouse shooting, and they're spot on

Michael McCarthy
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food