The charitable way to view New Labour's Third Way is to say that it combines the best of both ends of the political spectrum. The uncharitable way is to say that it speaks with forked tongue, using conservative language to cover progressive policies. But the trouble with using socially illiberal language is that it tends to seep into policy even if one's intentions are pure.
That is the danger with David Blunkett's appointment as Home Secretary a job he secured with the declaration that he would make Jack Straw look like a liberal. It may be that this is posturing, in part at least.
We fear, however, that he may be genuinely intolerant. He did, after all, vote against equal rights for homosexuals. And the evidence of his first weekend in the post is alarming. His article in the News of the World yesterday took populism a step too far with its promise to "look at" that newspaper's proposal to allow "controlled access" to registers of sex offenders. Mr Blunkett is intelligent enough to know that lending credibility to a newspaper's incitement to mob justice against anyone identified or misidentified as a paedophile is in some cases literally playing with fire. So why do it? Why not explain instead that those few paedophiles who pose a demonstrable threat to society will be kept locked up?
On crime generally, we sympathise with Mr Blunkett's desire to look at the relationship between "the governed and the governing". Crime is an issue which did not get enough attention during the election campaign, and this may be one of the many reasons why voters are more disconnected from politics than at any time since the introduction of universal suffrage.
Tony Blair once came to our attention as a young politician who seemed to have found a way to bridge the gap between the superficial, punitive instincts of the voters and the more reflective posture necessary to make real progress in the war against crime. It was to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.
In the first four years of this Government, Mr Straw has tried to be tough on crime, but has been much less successful in tackling the causes of crime although, to be fair, that is more difficult and takes longer.
It would be disastrous, however, if Mr Blunkett were to emphasise the first half of that early Blair slogan even more at the expense of the second. His foolish rhetoric yesterday about "removing the plague of drugs" from our communities is discouraging. The more thoughtful side of the electorate understands that locking up the tiny proportion of offenders who are caught is not a strategy for reducing crime in the long run.
On immigration, meanwhile, our new Home Secretary struck a better balance, arguing simultaneously for an increase in legal immigration and a crackdown on unfounded claims for refugee status. The objective of providing a "controlled but legal route for people who seek work to fill the skill shortages in our country" is wholly commendable, while the rhetoric of clamping down on the "evil trade" of people-trafficking is right but irrelevant. Mr Blunkett seems to understand that the forces driving the rise in unfounded claims for political asylum are primarily economic and the way to deal with that is to relax the work-permit system.
Mr Blunkett was a fine Education Secretary, who managed to combine themes which had previously been the possession of the political right, such as specialisation and discipline, with raising standards with egalitarian effect across the board. That will be a much harder trick to pull off at the Home Office, which does not need to be tougher on crime but tougher on the causes of crime and tougher in the defence of our liberties.Reuse content