Saturday, December 27, 2008

Crime & Punishment

While the feelings & emotions around the Rhys Jones trial are still raw, some may think it imprudent to address the issue of youth crime in the round. However, that is what Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats' leader, did a week before Christmas ( ).
[Of course, Tony Blair, then Shadow Home Secretary, ran with the Bulger case, shamelessly so, in fact. It wasn't just a stick with which to beat the Tories, it was an early indication of Blair's willingness to inject religiosity into UK political debate, something hitherto confined to the United States.]
The Post reports:
"In a speech to a think-tank, Mr Clegg said politicians must not 'let the worst set the rules' - whether that was the murder of James, the death of Baby P, or the kidnap of Shannon Matthews.
"He added: 'We know it was the disaster politics response to the killing of Jamie (sic) Bulger that led to a massive upswing in the number of children in prison, or prison-like secure accomodation.
" 'And we know it isn't doing any good, it isn't cutting crime, it's just turning fragile children into damaged adults.
" 'Turning out a generation of career criminals..' "
Clegg should be commended for identifying the Bulger case as the catalyst for emotive, impulsive & ill-considered policies; the tabloid agenda drove the legislative process, dangerously so. The Post article pretty much concedes this point:
"By making the speech, Mr Clegg became the first senior politician to voice an argument long made by many political commentators -- that the Bulger case triggered a disastrous 'arms race' in crime policy."
The response from local MPs has been predictable & depressing. Mindful that he is the MP for Kirby, where James' mother still lives, George Howarth issues a defensive & cliched missive which fails to address Clegg's central contention. Walton's MP, Peter Kilfoyle, goes even further: he maintains that " 'there was a considered response on all sides, -- a real sense of wanting to know what had happened and how we could prevent such a thing ever happening again.' "
Considered response, Peter? I recall the mayhem in Snowdrop Street, Kirkdale, days after James' murder, when a frenzied crowd wrongly suspected a local boy of involvement in the case & nearly dragged him out of his family's home. There were, also, the scenes outside South Sefton Magistrates' Court in Bootle when Thompson & Venables, James' killers, made their first court appearance. That emotions ran high that day was entirely understandable. However, to use the term "considered" in describing the response is perverse in the extreme.
The BBC's account of Clegg's address to Demos ( ) is more nuanced & rounded than the Post's treatment:
"[Clegg] added that the economic downturn could lead to many people switching off politics and 'as more people lose their jobs and end up on the streets, an alienated and frustrated minority will turn to aggression, to hate and to blame'. "
The full transcript of Clegg's speech can be found here: .

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