Ken Clarke's Justice Reforms

It’s still “silly season” in political news, so rather than try and analyse the finer points of whether or not Charles Kennedy is leaving the Liberal Democrats for Labour, I thought I’d use the opportunity to raise (briefly) something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while.

Ken Clarke has said that the rise in the use of prison as a sentence has often been ineffective, citing reoffending statistics. This has inevitably drawn criticism amongst the politicians, particularly since it leaves the coalition open to the “soft on crime” argument.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the rate of child imprisonment and the effect that “locking up” young offenders has. Currently, out of every four young offenders released from a Young Offenders Institution, three will reoffend within two years.

Of course, those who are imprisoned in the first place are more likely to be serial offenders, but it is also worth noting that in a survey of those in YOIs, 90% said they wanted to stop offending [PDF].

This is just food for thought. The question is, is prison the real problem, or is this a misdiagnosis which validates the “soft on crime” criticisms?

Personal opinion? Prison isn’t just for punishment, but also for rehabilitation. With incredibly high reoffending rates, regardless of the number of actual crimes committed, prison doesn’t seem to rehabilitate nearly as well as it should, and is worth looking at again. Being seen to be “tough on crime” might be politically sound in the short term and grab the headlines for the day, but won’t do much good when an opposing party starts researching the numbers before an election.

Then again, maybe it’s just me.

An AV Referendum Could be a Political Minefield

This morning on PoliticalBetting.com, Mike Smithson speculated that the proposed measures to scrap free milk for under-5’s would be “saved” by the Liberal Democrats to try and retrieve a few points in the polls. Doing so would balance-out the fortunes of the coalition parties a little, especially given the Lib Dem’s plummeting poll numbers. My initial reaction to this was that it turned a political disaster into a crafty, if slightly dangerous piece of political manoeuvring.

Then Number 10 rejected the idea.

This will almost certainly become a non-story today, although it is still the middle of the day, so with my track record on predictions it might well have escalated to international incident by the 10 o’clock news. Either way, the fact that political bloggers are speculating on Lib Dem attempts to pick up a few points in the polls does raise the question as to what sort of a reaction the 12 point polls are getting from the coalition.

Nick Robinson’s excellent “Five Days that Changed Britain” programme (which is on iPlayer until Tuesday if you missed it) highlighted the importance of voting reform for the Liberal Democrats a coalition deal, and how negotiations with Labour forced Cameron to offer a referendum.

The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that this means to a great extent this term will be judged by the referendum. Even though the Alternative Vote system isn’t the full Proportional Representation they want, a “No” vote would do some serious damage to the Lib Dems. At the same time, a “Yes” vote would probably give them a huge boost, but wouldn’t be the full measure they want.

On top of all this, there are still a few splits amongst the party. There are some rows to sort out, and it has been made clear that some would have preferred a coalition with Labour rather than the Conservatives.

What might be interesting is if the Lib Dems find a way to inoculate themselves against a “No” vote by arguing “we didn’t really want it anyway – we really wanted PR”. Any split might prove useful in this, with further left MPs being able to speak out. The only thing left open with this theory, is what happens to those who made the coalition, and in particular Nick Clegg.

This is all speculation, and depends heavily on not only the referendum, but the intervening time as well. Still, the prospect of a referendum on changing the electoral system will have significant consequences before the next general election.

They Won’t Like it, but Labour Need the Wilderness Years

If, like me, you have a tendency to skip through headlines and then read the interesting articles, David Miliband’s latest remarks might have seemed a bit defeatist. The idea that Labour may spend “years out of power” (although to be fair, it’s was hardly ever going to be just “months”) seems an incredibly pessimistic prediction for a leadership hustings, but as ever, the quote itself is slightly different.

We could be out of power for a long time, history tells us we will. I want to buck that trend.

David Miliband

Dizzy’s angle on this is an interesting one. He argues that Labour haven’t yet learned the lessons of the Conservative time in opposition – nobody is the “natural party of government”.

The leadership contest has been a civil one, and much more civil than was expected. Most people, myself included, predicted a bloodbath between Brown and Blair factions – in particular the Balls and Miliband (David) camps, but nothing like this has emerged so far.

As much as this protects Labour from negative press and prevents a political implosion, it doesn’t provide a debate. I can’t seem to find much real discussion in media coverage of the contest as to why Labour are now in opposition. The Newsnight hustings did give some insight, with Diane Abbott commenting that the idea that immigration somehow lost Labour the election “takes us nowhere”.

This is almost certainly true – the problem with the famous "bigotgate” incident wasn’t what was said or the issue – it was the attitude that had been taken to a member of the public.

Amongst Diane Abbott’s remarks in the Newsnight hustings one in particular stands out:

[It is] quite tragic that we have conceded the civil liberties agenda to the Tories

Diane Abbott

Labour need to focus on why they conceded that agenda. Personally, I believe it was a habit of control – Labour genuinely believed that the popular opinion was wrong on issues such as ID cards, and the arguments in favour of controlling measures regularly (if not almost always) outweighed the value of preserving freedoms in the face of terrorism.

Both Miliband brothers, now considered the leading candidates, have said they believe the state became too centralised, so perhaps they are on the verge of thinking that control and the approach to the public were part of the reasons behind Labour’s defeat. I suspect however, it will take the party much longer to recognise this, especially so soon after the end of a period in government.

Rejecting the past attitudes of a party is not an easy thing to do from within – if it is rushed, then there will be those who argue their voice hasn’t been heard, and if there is any lesson from the last government, it is of the damage those voices can do.