In praise of Alan DuncanJanuary 24, 2010 at 11:13 am | Posted in Conservative Party, Crime | 7 Comments
I have no idea yet whether Alan Duncan is an asset or a liability to the cause of penal reform, but he certainly appears to be an ally, and is the author of two cracking soundbites:
Ms Crook wrote: ‘Alan Duncan said that the slogan “prison works” was repulsively simplistic. Anyone in politics should work to improve society and there was no more useful target than offenders.’
Ms Crook added: ‘He said, “Lock ’em up is Key Stage 1 politics.”’ Key Stage 1 is the first part of the primary-school curriculum studied by children as young as five.
To which the Mail has helpfully editorialised:
Suggesting that an old-style tough Tory approach to crime is worthy of a five-year-old will infuriate the party’s grassroots activists.
Well, if they’re going to act like five-year-olds…
Regardless of the bruised feelings the ‘lock ’em up’ brigade will have today, Duncan is entirely correct. What’s more, it is reassuring to see that there are figures inside the Tory hierarchy who are prepared to defend their policy on prisons from the punative populism apparently favoured by David Cameron’s inner circle.
The spat within the front bench over the ‘prison ships’ proposal gives further evidence of something I’ve mentioned before. For quite some time now, it’s been apparent that there exists a real tension & contradiction in Tory justice policy, and one which will need to be resolved if the party takes power.
On the one hand there is the thoughtless, tabloid-fawning opportunism practiced by the likes of Chris Grayling. Under this ‘Key Stage 1 politics’, there is no sentence too punative, no cure but incarceration, and the only area where the conservatives would envisage more state spending is in the building of more prisons.
These are contradicted by a policy for prison reform which is, by and large, excellent. Their ‘Prisons with a Purpose’ paper, influenced heavily by outside experts and the fine work done by the Centre for Social Justice, is a thoughtful, well-informed engagement with the problem which rightly concludes that the purpose of the prison system should be reformation rather than revenge.
These conflicting instincts in Tory policy cannot coexist with each other in government because being progressive on prison reform will require restraint on sentencing which the would-be Home Secretary seems incapable of practicing. Even if he did, he would have to restrain not just his own instincts, but the reflexive vengefulness of the Tory tabloids and grassroots.
Sadly, I don’t hold out much hope that this conflict will be settled on the side of reform, but I may always be proved wrong. Until I am, Alan Duncan deserves praise for standing on the right side of an unpopular and perpetually losing battle.