Good news and bad news today.
The good news is that it is another Friday with Liberal Democrat policy making the headlines.
The bad news is that the headlines are saying that Sir Mr the Merciless has decided to lock people up forever.
Here is my response to the headlines: we are never, ever EVER going to win by trying to be tougher than the Labour and the Conservatories on law and order.
That is because they have gone INSANE.
Sir Mr the Merciless may be, well, merciless but he is never going to scoop out his big brain with a ladle and join Lord Blairimort and replacement safety elephant John Reid in their desire to electrocute fair dodgers and to reintroduce transportation to Australia for breathing without a licence.
The other parties will ALWAYS call us "soft on crime"; in fact they do it in that VERY article:
"But junior Home Office Minister Joan Ryan said: "…His party is still soft on crime and soft on thugs."
Colour me not so very stunned in fact.
We are well known as being the party that says "now, just hang on a minute!" and not being the rush to judge, convict, hang and flog 'em party. The short term advance of getting onto the Today Programme again for a few minutes is a BIT outweighed by the long term disadvantage of making all the civil liberties people VERY VERY CROSS.
We Liberal Democrats have a STRONG and UNIQUE position of being the party of HUMAN RIGHTS and STANDING UP FOR THE LITTLE PEOPLE. That means saying that punishments should be APPROPRIATE not VENGEFUL; that means being for REHABILITATION and not RETALIATION. It means thinking about the solutions, not just shouting about the problems.
The airwaves are already full of reactionaries crying "fifty years in prison is too lenient; make it one hundred!"
Joining that croaking chorus makes us sound very much like "me too". (And also sounds very much like Sir Mr the Merciless desperately trying to change the record from "leader in crisis". Sir Ming, you AREN'T in a crisis so stop flapping your arms and squawking!)
But, but, but…
Having had a fluffy fit about all that, I then went away and read what Sir Mr the Merciless ACTUALLY SAID. And felt a lot less cross afterwards.
(Funnily enough, this is the EXACT opposite of what happened when I went away and read what Mr Balloon ACTUALLY SAID about happiness and supermarkets being a great place for the over fifties to work since they were now useless. VERY happy making, I think not.)
Reading Sir Mr the Merciless's words, I discover that there is ACTUALLY a different story behind the headline grabbing announcements like "no votes for Hannibal the Cannibal!"
Missed by the news people was the WHOLE POINT of the speech: Sir Ming wants to tackle the UNDERLYING causes of crime, particularly the low-level crimes (petty theft and burglary) that disproportionately affect the worst off in society:
"Crime is a liberal issue too because the victims of crime are often the poorest, the most vulnerable and the least influential in our society. Those who are least able to protect themselves and their property are the most at risk.
"A party which is serious about social justice, cannot fail to be serious about preventing crime and enforcing the rules."
"The better Liberal Democrat approach is to use ‘ASBO plus’. This means ASBOs come with a package of measures to persuade the offender to mend his or her ways, and to supervise progress. "
Merciless on Crime; Merciless on the Causes of Crime, you might say.
And there are several point where Sir Mr the Merciless EMPHASISES the need to make our prisons and parole service work more to REHABILITATE:
"…for the illiterate and inadequate it should be an opportunity for education and rehabilitation with early release conditional on progress and achievement."
"…offering offenders a way to pay back for the harm they have done to the community. "
"Money spent on rehabilitation is money saved on keeping people locked up. We would reallocate resources to boost provision, and offer prisoners a choice: prove your worth or lose your chance of parole. "
Plus the usual Liberal Democrat suggestions of PRACTICAL solutions to the problem of the Home Office and LOCAL answers for safer communities that are really working.
We need to make it clear that, yes we will deal firmly with the REALLY nasty people, but we also want to tackle the problems that cause the sort of crime that is REALLY to blame for most of the misery but is too trivial and too un-sexy to be covered by the news headline writers.
As usual, we aren't very good at SPIN, so Sir Mr the Merciless's speech got caught up in the SPIN CYCLE of the media. For them, the sizzling, soaraway story is "Lib Dems to change minds".
The REAL story should be "Lib Dems to change HEARTS AND MINDS".
Because filling the prisons to bursting and leaving people there forever has been tried and it doesn't work.
And we have a better answer.