Saturday, 10 May 2014
Shortly after the stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire in her classroom in Leeds Nick Clegg was asked on his London Radio phone-in programme if he supported having airport-style electronic security machines to vet pupils as they entered school. No, he didn't, he said, and felt that Mrs Maguire wouldn't have wanted that either.
Now Clegg and, as far as I can tell, most if not all of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary team, are refusing to support the Tory call for the mandatory imprisonment of anyone convicted for the second time of carrying a knife. At a time of media hysteria generated by the Leeds stabbing, and with Labour cravenly supporting the knee-jerk reaction, this takes political courage.
I can see no case for mandatory sentences for any crime. There is a Yorkshire saying which one of my uncles was fond of quoting:
Circumstances alters cases just as noses alters faces.
(I'm afraid I don't know how to write this to indicate a Yorkshire accent)
That is why we have magistrates and judges to evaluate each case on its merits and decide, after hearing all the evidence, an appropriate remedy. If that leads to something of a" post-code lottery" so be it. That's what democracy is all about.
Apart from mandatory imprisonment failing to take into account individual circumstances (eg a gang member spotting the police and quickly handing his knife over to a younger lad or an accompanying girl) Tories should be reminded that it was one of their Home Secretaries who admitted : "Prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse." We should be making fa more use of non-custodial sentences, which are not only more effective but also much less costly.
So congratulations to Nick and our MPs for being a beacon of sanity in the midst of pre-election populism. That is what Liberalism should be all about.
The opinion polls show our support down to 10% (bless them) but I believe our true core support is at least double that, provided we stick to and have the courage to propagate our fundamental beliefs.