Saturday, March 06, 2010 

Venables, anonymity and tabloid retribution part 3.

We know now then that contrary to earlier claims by the Daily Mirror, Venables has most likely been returned to prison after allegations were made that he has committed some sort of sexual offence. It doesn't yet seem that he has been charged with any offence, although the Sun suggests that he shortly will be.

This changes absolutely nothing, and in fact if anything further undermines the calls from various newspapers, individuals and politicians for them to be told what Venables has done to be recalled on licence. In no other circumstances are those that have only been alleged to have committed an offence named; only after they have been charged are the details made public. Even then the reasons for why Venables wouldn't necessarily be named are obvious: the fact that his past notoriety might influence a jury and make any trial potentially unfair would be uppermost in the minds of the Crown Prosecution Service. While the past record of the offender can now be cited in certain cases on the judge's approval, it would be certainly doubtful whether this would happen in the eventuality of Venables going before a jury on any charge. It appears that many seem to have decided that when it comes to notorious past offenders, guilt is presumed rather than innocence, regardless of how far away any actual charges are.

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Friday, March 05, 2010 

Venables, anonymity and tabloid retribution part 2.

This blog doesn't often focus on the journalistic deficiencies of the Daily Mirror, which is somewhat unfair on the other tabloid purveyors of much the same material, especially considering the way in which the paper often reports on David Cameron with just as much subtlety and fair play as the Sun does on Gordon Brown. Its latest report on the alleged activities of Jon Venables is though, as the Heresiarch points out, just as bad as the very worst Sun equivalent:

Skulking into Liverpool under his new identity, James Bulgers killer Jon Venables cynically flouted his strict parole rules to go on wild benders with mates.

In a cruel snub to the memory of the innocent toddler he and Robert Thompson battered to death, the 27-year-old hit the nightclubs to get smashed on cider and cocktails while snorting cocaine and popping ecstasy pills.

Sources revealed Venables has also slipped into Goodison Park to watch Everton play football in the nine years since he was freed from jail, despite being banned from Merseyside.

The barbaric thug even clumsily chatted up women in clubs not too far away from where he and Thompson killed two-year-old James in 1993. During his sessions he would down Cheeky Vimtos, a lethal cocktail made up of two shots of port and a bottle of blue WKD.

Yes, how dare Venables act in the same way as the vast majority of his peers do? Clearly this sets him out as fundamentally unreformed, causing only further anguish and heartache to the relatives of the boy he killed. It doesn't matter that going by their description of his apparent brazenness that he didn't "skulk" anywhere, nor that the paper has provided no evidence whatsoever that any of this actually happened, apart from the word of their "well-placed sources", being conveniently prevented from doing so by the injunction that also blocks the revealing of his new identity. It is though instructive that the passing of 17 years hasn't diminished even slightly the casual demonisation of someone who committed a crime, albeit a truly terrible one, as a child, and one which he will be paying for the rest of his life as this latest episode more than illustrates.

It was always going to be next to impossible for Venables' new identity to stay hidden once he'd been recalled to prison, and the Sun reports that it has been compromised, while the Mail adds that officials are already resigned to having to give him a new one. How long it will be before the former identity begins to circle on the net, as it almost certainly will, is anyone's guess.

The Sun, like the Mirror, is making the most of his recall. According to them, he's been "gorging [on] burgers and chips in his cell", as only the truly evil and most loathed individuals in the prison estate do. To add to it, it provides the fantastically enlightened views of Anthony Daniels, a former prison doctor, who at least has some credentials with which to comment, and Tom Crone, the Sun and News of the World's execrable chief lawyer, who has absolutely none. According to Daniels a Martian might imagine that we reward a child for killing a toddler, and that "he lived a life of luxury". Venables may well have had it easier than someone put in a young offenders' institution, but I'm not exactly sure that you can call 8 years of imprisonment, regardless of where it was and under what conditions, as a life of luxury or as anything even approaching a normal upbringing.

It's Crone however who really extracts the Michael. Crone you might remember was one of the News International higher-ups who appeared before the culture, media and sport committee's investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World, where like his colleagues, he failed to recall absolutely anything about absolutely anyone. He had never heard of Glenn Mulcaire, never heard of phones being hacked, and had never heard of payments for illegal activity. It's difficult not to imagine that the committee was referring to some of his deeply unconvincing evidence when they concluded that the NotW was suffering from "collective amnesia" and that they had indulged in "deliberate obfuscation". For this same man to then declare that "Jon Venables owes us big time" and that his "crime redefined the extremes of evil" is the utter height of cant. He claims that Venables has "breached the bond of trust" by not living a crime-free life, even when it seems that Venables has not been charged with any crime, and that all the allegations made about his life are just that, allegations. He concludes by claiming that he's "forfeited any right to protection". Crone felt the same way about Max Mosley when he endorsed the publication of the NotW report which led to his action on privacy, just as he endorsed the NotW going to trial rather than settling, which led to the paper's utter humiliation. Mosley was described by the NotW as a "vain deviant with no sense of truth or honour." As someone else recently said in response to a hypocrite, those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

As for the Sun's editorial, it seems to deliberately misunderstand the nature of what a life sentence entails, with the life licence which hangs over someone after they've been given parole:

And we cannot secretly throw people in prison as if we were some medieval tyranny. If someone is jailed, there must be transparency.

Well, err, yes we can, and since when has that bothered the Sun in the past? As the ministers have pointed out, there will be transparency once the proceedings have reached a conclusion and when Venables' identity is presumably no longer in jeopardy. The tabloid media almost as a whole are pretending that the former doesn't matter when it involves someone as notorious as Venables and only regarding the fact that he has anonymity as a historical outrage, hence why they're pretending that it has nothing to do with why the information hasn't already been given. Venables might well be all the things that the tabloids are alleging and more besides, but to pretend that this to do with transparency in the criminal justice system, let alone to do with Labour's record on law and order is absurd. The Sun will undoubtedly use it to give Labour an extra kicking, but this remains all about a press that hasn't forgiven the government for not allowing it to hound the two young men from the moment they were released.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010 

Venables, anonymity and tabloid retribution.

There's a glaringly obvious reason why that as yet no further details have been released concerning the recall of Jon Venables to prison. Given life-long anonymity and a new identity, both to ensure his safety from potential vigilantes and to also give him the opportunity to try to start afresh, something which admittedly James Bulger never received, this puts all of that into absolute jeopardy. Venables has probably only entrusted those very closest to him with the details of the crime he committed, something which would exclude most work-mates and even friends. They will however either know that someone in their acquaintance with a different name has been arrested, or has suddenly disappeared, put two and two together and in most cases make five, but also might equally discover the truth. There's also, as ministers have been more quick to point out, the potential for prejudicing any future criminal proceedings involving his recall, but which is also something of a cop-out, considering how others accused of crimes have no similar protection.

That's the short answer as to why ministers have been determined not to release why he's been recalled, that to do so at this precise moment would both ensure that his identity does become known to those people, and also make life extremely dangerous for him during what might well be a short stay in prison. The hope presumably is that the parole board will decide at the end of the month, as he doesn't actually seem to be facing criminal charges, that this was just a blip or that it's still safe for him to be released, both for himself and the wider public and that then the details of why can be made clear. This still may well reveal his identity, and he could have to be moved and given another one as a result, but going through this torturous and politically damaging process is in the best interests of Venables himself.

It certainly isn't however in the interests of the media, especially the tabloids, who are in one of their irregular tedious rages at not being allowed to know why he's been recalled at least for now. They know equally as well as everyone else that this is for the reasons as detailed above, if indeed they don't know anyway why he's been recalled, considering how some of them seem to know so much about Venables' life since he's been released. The Mirror, which apparently had the scoop before the Ministry of Justice released it to the PA, claims that he's a raging cokehead, for example, and that he's been recalled after what seems a relatively minor bust-up at work, but which a complaint was made about. The real reason for their fury though is apparent: the tabloids opposed at every turn the forced anonymity of both Venables and Robert Thompson, and this gives them the perfect opportunity both to rake over that and also to potentially, perhaps "accidentally", reveal the new identity of at least Venables. They also loathed how both were released "early", having had their minimum terms reduced by the Lord Chief Justice, not to mention how the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that they were denied a fair hearing during their trial. The whole way in which the boys were treated during their incarceration, not serving any of their time in actual young offenders' institutions, has also always rankled. That boys who were denounced and demonised as beyond redemption and evil had been treated with, well, kids' gloves, only heightened the outrage.

The Sun, as per usual, is the one making the most noise, already launching an e-petition demanding to know now why Venables has been recalled, under the headline "Justice for James", more than just an allusion to the repeated allegation that Venables and Thompson weren't dealt with harshly enough. The paper's leader column has also already made up its mind, saying that

WHATEVER Jon Venables did to be sent back to prison, it had to be bad.

before going on to link the incredibly tenuously connected issues of Peter Sutcliffe asking for his jail term to be set out, the privacy battles in the courts and how inquests can now be held in secret. It doesn't once set out, let alone admit that Venables' anonymity is the key issue.

Whether or not the initial decision by Justice Morland to allow the boys' identities to be known was correct, as usual the very reason why they had to be given anonymity to ensure their safety from potential vigilantes was helped along by the role of the tabloid media in whipping up even further hatred against them. Richard Littlejohn, typically, wrote:

"This is no time for calm. It is a time for rage, for blood-boiling anger, for furious venting of spleen."

It was completely forgotten that, despite the truly shocking aspects of their crime, this was a case of children killing a child. Indeed, if anything, the fact that they were children only added to the lurid coverage, and politicians, especially the then in opposition New Labour used it for their own ends. Since Bulger the debate on crime and punishment has not questioned whether prison works, as Michael Howard notoriously stated, but on how many additional places should be built

Which leads us to just why the tabloids are so cock-a-hoop at Venables' recall. It brings into doubt that their rehabilitation was so successful, although if the Mirror's report is right it doesn't involve anything nearly as serious as some had clearly hoped. That two boys who committed such a terrible crime at such a young age, who were dismissed in such brutal terms, seem to have been able to rebuild their lives, albeit with major help from the state, and apart from alleged minor drug offences not re-offended is to undermine everything which was originally written about them, and if there's one thing that the tabloids hate more than anything, it's to be contradicted and proved categorically wrong. The events of this week mean there has to be a reassessment of that presumption, and it's one which they'll take as much as they possibly can from. For all their calls for "Justice for James", it is and always will be about them.

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Monday, January 25, 2010 

Baby P to Edlington and angels to devils.

Here's a very quick test of just how soon we forget: who wrote the following and about whom?

HIS bright blue eyes stare out at us beseechingly.

A gorgeous, blond-haired, blue-eyed tot with a heart-melting smile.

If you answered with anything other than the Sun and Baby P, or Peter Connelly, as he is never going to be known, then I'm afraid you're wrong. It does however already seem so long ago though, doesn't it? A furore where the fervour has dissipated often later seems to be unreal when it's recalled; were we really that outraged, that angry? After all, it's not us, detached from the case who end up being personally affected, just those with the misfortune to be connected, however tenuously, who find themselves trapped within the vortex of a nation's temporary indignation. Social workers are still getting used to the voluminous amount of new recommendations as advised in Lord Laming's report on Haringey's failings, not to mention the increased workloads after councils across the country played it safe and took more children into care than perhaps needed to be. As for the Sun, well, one of the front pages from during their campaign took pride of place in their 40th anniversary celebrations.

I've gone over this before, but one of the most telling contributions at the time was from Martin Narey, the head of Barnardo's, who suggested had Peter survived he may well have grown up to be the "feral yob" of tabloid nightmares, condemned and castigated without a thought as to what made him. It was part of a speech which was intended to provoke, which is what it did, but it has also now rung almost too true. The case of the two brothers who committed their crime in Edlington could almost be the inverse of the Baby P case: there, an innocent child killed and tortured by those meant to be taking care of him; in Edlington, two "brothers from hell" torture and almost kill two other young boys. On the one hand, the angelic, on the other the demonic. The biblical implications of referring to the unnamed boys as the "devil brothers" is not openly alluded to, but it is there if you look deep enough: "the battle" between good and evil itself seems to be only just below the surface.

And as then, a similar political battle appears to be under way. Both examples of our broken society, of the failure of the state to protect children, with a familiar number of opportunities to intervene missed. According to David Cameron, not just an "isolated act of evil". Michael Gove described it, while calling for the full serious case review to be released into how social services dealt with the family, as "unspeakable evil". The Sun in its leader calls for the review to be released as well, but perhaps there's a clue to its real motives in the actual report's first paragraph:

THE Government was last night urged to publish the full report into the "Devil Brothers" case and shame the bunglers who allowed the savage attack on two boys.

The bunglers? One of those awful words which only the media use, and one which was put into repeated usage to describe Sharon Shoesmith, head of child protection at Haringey council when Baby P was murdered. And there is the other obvious parallel with Baby P: like then, we have no actual names to put to the individuals whose actions we have read about it. Then it was because there was another court case going on at the same time involving Peter's mother and her boyfriend, with their identities needing to be protected to prevent prejudicing that separate prosecution; here it's due to the judge quite rightly concluding that there was no public interest to be served in the brothers being identified. One suspects that it might have been different had they "succeeded" in killing their victims, like how the fact that everyone knew that Child A and Child B had killed James Bulger perhaps influenced the removal of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson's anonymity. With everyone in the Edlington case behind a shroud, the same never applied. And hence, because we don't know who anyone is, there's no one we can personally blame. The social workers who failed Baby P then became the natural scapegoats, even though they were hardly the ones that personally killed the blue-eyed tot. Without names, it's impossible to keep the story going for long: by changing the emphasis from the "devil brothers" themselves onto "the bunglers" they might just give it a longer shelf-life.

Cynical? Certainly. The Tories' reasons for calling for the release of the case review are purer, but not by much. They know that there's political mileage in embarrassing the government yet again, even if it's unlikely that anything will be achieved by its full publication. It doesn't seem to matter that the NSPCC have recommended that while executive summaries of the case reviews should be released, they oppose their release in full "as sensitive information must be kept confidential to protect vulnerable children."

That we are so quick to ascribe evil to the actions of children is itself a cause for concern. This goes far beyond whether those responsible understand the difference between good and bad, which was so hotly debated during the trial of James Bulger's killers. It goes to the heart of our own relationships, our own feelings for our offspring, which have never been so conflicted. We seem caught, not between the dichotomy of angel and demon, but between small adult and friend, and inferior and threat. We hug our own tighter, while pushing everyone else's further away. Until we're willing to unravel just how we've become so insecure about our own successors, we're likely to continue refusing to admit that ultimately the blame, if we're going to lay it at the foot of anyone, is with ourselves.

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Friday, September 04, 2009 

From Bulger to Edlington.

Probably one of the worst moments in this country's recent media history was the hysteria which followed the murder of James Bulger.  In one sense, it was to be completely expected: Bulger's death, at the hands of two 10-year-old boys, with the toddler snatched from his mother in a matter of minutes, was the most appalling, shocking and inexplicable of crimes.  It was also one of the rarest: although we have since gotten sadly used to slightly older teenage boys knifing and even shooting each other, not since Mary Bell had those so young committed a crime so grave.  It was one of those crimes which managed to affect the psyche of the nation, even if only temporarily: the Daily Star's headline the day after the identities of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were revealed still remains to this day one of the most disgusting and despicable, quite possibly of all time: "How do you feel now, you little bastards?"  It was, in fairness, shouted by someone in the public gallery, and probably reflected a mood which many felt, yet it also just highlighted that many had completely forgotten that those in the dock were children, regardless of whether or not they understood or could comprehend what they had done.

The effects of Bulger's murder are still with us today, with politicians reacting in much the same fashion as the media did.  Labour played off of it appallingly, much as the Tories do today with their "broken society" meme, but the real damage was inflicted by Michael Howard, who declared that "prison works", a position which has been only built upon by Labour.  For better or worse though, considering the major controversy over how their sentence was imposed and served, both Venables and Thompson came out of a system which so often fails those older, and genuinely were reformed.  If they were "evil" or "monsters" when they went in, there is nothing to suggest that they still were or still are now that they're living under their new identities.  Some will baulk, understandably, at how those who murdered got might what might well be described as preferential treatment because of the seriousness of their crime, yet surely the ends in this instance justified the means.

How little we've, or rather the media have learned, is reflected in the coverage today of the case of the two brothers in Edlington who more by luck than apparent judgement failed to murder the two other little boys with whom they had been playing, in circumstances similar to that in which James Bulger was murdered.  The differences though are surely important: neither Venables or Thompson had anything close to the record that these two brothers apparently had, although there were some similarities, and also the key, most terrifying detail of the Bulger murder was that he was snatched from his mother by pure chance, something not the case here, and dragged along for hours, in front of numerous witnesses.  Nonetheless, much the same attitude pervades, as typified by the Sun's editorial.  These two brothers are, variously, "hell boys", "evil", "monsters", "dangerous predators" and guilty of "sickening bloodlust".  Not once are they actually described as what they are, despite everything they've done, which is children.  It reproduces a litany of those who failed, in various guises, as well as those who failed to protect the "innocent children" from these savages, but it doesn't even begin to suggest that maybe it was these two brothers who were failed more than anyone else.  That would take the blame away from them, or rather undermine the stated fact that they had "a measure of evil" beyond even the normal "feral" child.

You can of course argue endlessly over whether those who kill or attempt to kill are created by nature or by nuture.  A background similar to that which these two brothers had can be a signifier for such crimes, but equally it would be an insult to those who have struggled through such deprived backgrounds and came out of it without being damaged to suggest that explains it all.  Likewise, you can blame anything else you feel like: the Bulger murder led to attacks on both video games and "video nasties", even though there was no evidence whatsoever that either of the boys had actually watched "Child's Play 3" as the media came to claim he did.  The very mention of the "Chucky" films by a supposed "relative" makes me wonder about the veracity of her comments; it seems far too much of a coincidence that the exact same series of films featuring that same doll would be brought up again.  With that in mind, it is however interesting to note that the same source claims that the boys were dealt with harshly by their father, maybe far too harshly.  That rather undermines the Sun's refrain that "consistent discipline" is the only means by which to tame them, and even Iain Duncan Smith, a proponent of "tough love", made the point that the discipline they received may well have had the opposite effect.

The most distasteful part of the Sun's leader though is that "intimidation is long overdue", as the court in which the brothers plead guilty apparently "bent over backwards" to "show them kindness" by the judge and lawyers wearing suits rather than their usual garb.  This has far less to do with kindness and much more to do with ensuring that they understood properly what was going on, even during a relatively short session in which they plead guilty to lesser charges rather than the attempted murder which was initially proposed.  Intimidation would probably be the very last thing which they need, something already presumably provided by their father.  Then there's just the complete failure to perform a reality check, calling regimes in youth custody "disastrously lax".  These would be the same regimes which are currentlyusing force more than they ever have, leaving little surprise when they fail just as much as prisons at preventing re-offending and reforming as well as punishing.

The hope has to be that same almost made up on the spur of the moment detention regime which Venables and Thompson went through, which involved not young offender's institutions but secure units, held separately, with both going through therapy as well as other programmes is also at the very least attempted in this case, although the sentence the two will receive is doubtful to be as harsh as that which Bulger's killers got, and how they will handle the fact that the two are brothers is also likely to be difficult.  It is though also worth reflecting, as the chief executive of Barnardo's Martin Narey did, on how close angels are to demons.  His suggestion, meant to stir debate, that Baby Peter may well have grown up had he survived to be a feral yob, the kind which are dismissed and demonised without a thought, inflammatory as it was, was the exact thing that the Sun did here.  If evil is inherent, then nothing can be done to prevent it or cure it; if it isn't, and naive liberals such as myself will protest profusely that there is no such thing, then it can be.  These two might not become "pillars of the community" as the Sun puts it, but to abandon hope in children and to demonise them in such a way is to abandon hope in humanity itself.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007 

Scrabbling over the bodies for political gain.

If you wanted an example of just how polarised Britain is over crime, you need look no further than today's poll in the Grauniad. 49% now believe that prison doesn't work, an astounding figure when you take into account the overwhelming view of the media is directly the opposite. Accordingly, 51% think that building prisons is the wrong way to go, and that an alternative has to be found to punish criminals and deter crime. 46% believe that the answer is to build yet more. Even so, 77% still want judges to pass ever tougher sentences, a finding that only adds to the thinking that the public in general wants to have its cake and eat it.

Perhaps if the Guardian's poll had been published at the weekend, it might have given the Tories some pause for thought before outlining yet another package for tackling what they're calling "Britian's Crime Crisis" (PDF). More a hodge podge bringing together all their recent thinking on how crime has to be tackled than any radically new thinking, it's clear that the Tories have decided that there's the equivalent of political money to be made out of the blood recently spilt on Britain's streets.

That would be unpleasant enough on its own, but it's also apparent that this is Cameron's attempt to turn the death of Rhys Jones into his own "Bulger" moment. While James Bulger's murder was a horrifying anomaly, the death of Jones does at its root have much to say about modern life in Britain in 2007. Even so, it by no means proves that we're living in a broken society, no more than Bulger's death back in 1993 said that we were a sick society. His death was however though the excuse or cue needed for political opportunism on all sides, leading directly to Michael Howard's "prison works!" speech to his party's conference, Blair's "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", which was actually Gordon Brown's soundbite, and Lib Dem David Alton's thankfully failed attempt to ban all films with a certificate higher than 12 from being released on video. Appropriately, you can find elements of all three knee-jerk reactions in Cameron's own knee-jerk response to Labour's knee-jerking over the last 10 years.

The document opens with an introduction by none other than David Cameron himself, which means we can directly accuse him of scrabbling over the dead for his own political gain. "Deaths by fists, knives and guns are becoming a regular feature of British news" - they haven't always been? "It is simply unacceptable -- a moral reproach to our country -- that someone should have the opportunity and inclination to kill an 11-year-old child with a handgun" - seeing as we don't know whether Jones was the target of the shooting yet or not, hadn't we ought to concentrate on the facts rather than start issuing blanket statements on the state of the nation before anyone has even been charged, yet alone tried? Next he tries to accuse Labour of failing to understand the problem, quoting Blair when he said that it was a "specific problem within a specific criminal culture", without bothering to mention the fact he was talking about gun crime and not violent crime in general, and most likely also trying to blame it all on black youths, as he subsequently did later in the year. Then comes the selective use of statistics that back up what the Tories are saying: that violent crime has doubled in ten years, without acknowledging that the British Crime Survey, regarded as more authoritative, says the opposite; that gun-violence has increased four-fold, dealt with by Unity here; and that knife crime has doubled in the last two years alone, without mentioning that this is robberies involving knives and that it's on disputed figures when the actual research hasn't even been released yet. Then we get the American "example" shoved down our throats yet again, also involving either some faulty quoting of statistics or a deliberate mistake: the murder rate did indeed fall between the years 1990 and 98, but it was from 2,246 to 924, not 2,245 to 633. The most recent figures recorded 874 murders in New York in 2005, which is still more than in both England and Wales as a whole. The least said about the ridiculous "Social Covenant" that Cameron's come up with, a patronising document more familiar to school children than responsible adults the better.

What then are then Cameron's great new ideas to solve our crime crisis? The actions with supposed immediate effect are thus: firstly, he wants to abolish the police stop form, which has to be filled out whenever a police officer stops someone, although one gets the feeling that this is hardly followed to the letter. More controversially is the extending of stop and search, even though some police officers have already raised concerns that the powers they already have are being abused. This would give ordinary constables the power to seal off any area where they believed that someone was carrying or hiding firearms for up to 48 hours. Seeing as black and Asian men are already those most likely stopped under stop and search, you can imagine where this will most end up getting used. The Tories want a review that would examine what restrictions would be necessary to prevent excessive use or abuse of such power, but one hardly expects that it would come up with much. Next up is "permanent police visibility", which as we know is no panacea and can increase the fear of crime rather than necessarily reassure, but it's a simple and popular measure. They also want to reform the police, but don't exactly overburden us with details on either how or why. Penultimately they bring up last week's suggestion that magistrates remove or suspend the right to a driving license, which is unlikely to affect the average gang-member who doesn't have the money to either learn or own a car, and besides, if they're really that involved in such low-level crime, why should they care either about bothering to get a license or getting their own car when there's others out there to steal? Last is the idiotic scrapping of the early release scheme, even though there's no extra prison places which can be used or brought on stream quickly. The suggestion that prison ships or camps should be used is an example of the Tories stealing John Reid's most Sun-pleasing and ridiculous policies, which he realised he couldn't actually achieve once they were looked into. Still, what does that matter to a Tory party that's still in opposition and doesn't actually have to be good to its word? Cameron's speech on the matter also showed his own personal ignorance: he suggested that cells should be used by two inmates rather than one, even though that's exactly what is happening right now. The very reason the early release scheme was brought in was because the prisons chief executive rejected the idea of putting three inmates into a cell meant for one, knowing it was a recipe for riots and even more violence and suicides.

The actions with medium-term effect aren't much better. Enforcing school discipline is easier said than done, and naturally, the Tories' suggest making home-school contracts enforceable. Us lucky adults get a social covenant, the kids get a junior version which if disobeyed can lead directly to their exclusion. Lastly, the ever popular voluntary and independent sector has to have a hand in helping those expelled. Next to come under fire is alcohol licensing, even though the real effect of the introduction of the changes in November 2005 has yet to be properly established in any real fashion. The problem with alcohol isn't when or how it's available, it's down to how the people themselves consume it, which is predictably forgotten because that is something that will take a lot longer to tackle. Local control over policing might be the only worthwhile suggestion out of this whole sorry lot, although local people really want yet another election for a local "Crime Commissioner" (which is an Orwellian term if there ever was one), who would hold the local chief constable to public account is another matter. The Tories claim they'll restore honesty to sentencing, which seems to amount to ordering judges to hand down both a minimum and a maximum sentence, just to confuse things even further, with no one released on parole before the end of the minimum. Considering the way the tabloids etc responded to the minimum sentences handed down to Learco Chindamo, Craig Sweeney et al, this might not be the cure all the Tories think it will be. Magistrates will be given the power to send someone down for a year, also announced last week. They also promise to build more prison places, while also "ensuring appropriate provision for the mentally ill and offenders with drug problems", something that Labour has been promising for years and has spectacularly failed to follow up on. There's no reason to think the Tories will fare any better. Finally, the Tories will introduce that wonderful border police force we're all crying out for, and rip up the "hated" Human Rights Act, for no other reason than it'll please the Daily Mail and Sun while destroying some of Churchill's legacy. How times change.

The long-term actions are just as underwhelming. The Tories will discriminate in favour of families, bribing the middle classes while sticking one up to the single mother in standard fashion, while also introducing flexible working for those with children, which should please the CBI no end. Cameron's favoured bugbear, hip hop and rap music, will apparently be tackled by the party having a "regular process of consultation" with music producers. Considering that most of the music he's so disgusted by is American in origin, no doubt there'll be regular trips across the Atlantic, presumably on a boat so as not to affect his carbon footprint. Also coming under fire, in a direct parallel to Bulger's death are films and video games, even though the BBFC is still one of the strictest censorship bodies in the western world, as the banning of Manhunt 2 has shown. The problem isn't with films/games getting more violent, it's with the parents that are buying them for their darling children despite the certificates they've been given. As ever, children are used as a justification to stop adults from making their own decisions about what they want to watch or play. Lastly, the Tories will reform welfare by, you've guessed it, handing it over to the independent, voluntary and commercial organisations to sort out the feckless jobless. Nothing about tackling inequality or poverty, but just what did you expect?

Just then as the public comes to the realisation that prison really doesn't work, that the endless crackdowns and knee-jerk responses have failed, the Tories outline their own detailed, badly thought out and highly discriminatory reflex to end all reflexes. Our society is broken, but don't worry, the Tories have come up with the quickest sticking plaster "solution" of all time. Whether the families of those killed will be receptive to the Tories' use of their dead relatives for their own political benefit remains to be seen.

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