It’s been tough for the Liberal Democrats and Coalition supporters over the past few weeks. Many on the liberal flank of the unholy union have been getting jittery, talk of rebellion on the forthcoming tuition fees bill is rife and the party is openly mocked for renegading on their pre-election pledge.
But for those who have struggled to understand how a coalition works and are horrified by the Liberal’s concessions, they should keep a close eye on today’s announcement by Ken Clarke.
If free education is something close to a Lib Dem’s heart, then crime sits in every Tory’s gut. Before the election (and indeed, probably before any election) the Conservatives campaigned under a ‘tough on crime’ banner, promising more prisons, harsher sentences, and abstinence programs for drug addicts.
And yet, despite these promises to their electorate, the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has announced that instead of creating more prison places, there will be less. Less prison places, more community sentences. Why? Because the evidence suggests that prison does not work, and community punishments do.
“I think the prison system is not doing some of the things it’s meant to do. That’s stopping us preventing the rise of a criminal under-class who commit more crime when they are out.”
Ho ho ho. What a crazy mixed-up world this is, when a conservative party is proposing sensible policies on crime. He also wants to put more emphasis on putting drug addicts into treatment instead of prison and identifying inmates with mental illnesses.
This could all be straight out of the Lib Dem’s Big Book of Crimefighting and no doubt those of a liberal persuasion will be delighted. One significant delight is the dropping of the Tory pledge on mandatory sentences for carrying knives. On this Clarke said:
“Serious knife crimes will get serious prison sentences, but we’re not setting absolute tariffs.”
This will anger many Tories who campaigned under a ‘tough on anyone who looks like they could be a criminal’ stance, and indeed there is already talk of a rebellion from Tory back-benchers.
But this is the price of a coalition. Without the Liberal Democrat wing there is no chance Ken Clarke would be able to push this ahead. Indeed, it is doubtful such a sensible and liberal conservative could hold such a position in government at all. This will anger many conservatives, but the reply is the same as it was to the lib dems who are getting ansy about the tuition fees: you didn’t win the election so you have to compromise.
The fate of Ken Clarke’s proposals may well rest in the hands of the lib dems. If they rebel on Thursday over the education bill, then that will give an excuse to the Tories to rebel over crime. And this will cause a downward spiral to the end of the coalition, a snap election, and ultimately victory to Labour who will slime their way back into power without a shred of conviction between them.
We wait with baited breath.