Wednesday 4 December 2019

Election: a game changer?

When the news of the killing of two young people by a terrorist near London Bridge last Friday was first broadcast my heart sank.  This was partly, of course, in sorrow  at yet another violent attack in our otherwase relatively peaceful society, but also that this incident could boost yet further the Tory lead.

Past elections have sometimes  been knocked off course by unexpected incidents.  In the first one in which I stood, as he Liberal candidate in my home patch, the then Batley and Morley constituency in 1970, from the outset the main question was how big Harold Wilson's Labour majority would be.  However, a few days before the election international trade figures were released showing that our overseas trade (the difference between the value of exported and imported goods) was in deficit.  I think it was by about £60m, peanuts* by today's standards, but it was enough to shatter confidence in Labour's economic competence and the Conservatives under Ted Heath won a majority.

A similar "game changer" occurred in 2017, when the Tories published their manifesto.  It contained reasonably sensible measures for financing social care but Labour dubbed them a "Dementia Tax" and Theresa May, who had been on course to win, lost whatever momentum she had and, in the result, her majority.

It may well be, however, that these murders may turn out to be the game changer in this election.  The Tories can't lose their majority because they haven't got one, but as information about the killing leaks out,  Johnson's initial and predicable reaction, the traditional Tory "Lora Norder" response of "lock'em up and throw away he key, " which probably did resonate with many if not most of the electors, may come to be seen as a crass "knee jerk" reaction.

In the past few days incident has brought to light more reasoned approaches.  The two young people killed, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, were former students of law and criminology, and were working with an organisation, "Learning Together" designed to explore ways of effectively rehabilitating former criminals.  

Jack's father, Dave Merritt, has publicly declared that "Jack would be livid his death has been used to further an agenda of hate."  A pity he didn't write  it in the Sun or the Daily Mail rather than for the (mostly I presume) already converted readers of  the Guardian.

We also now know that one of the members of the conference at which Jack and Saskia were helping to lead, who risked his own life  by rushing forward to restrain the killer, was an ex-offender, Marc Conway.  For good measure, another person who put his own life at risk was a Polish kitchen porter named Lukasz, presumably the sort of person who would not be welcome in a Tory "points based immigration system."

Equally telling has been publicity given to the impact of recent cuts in the staffing and funding of the judicial system and police, prison and probation services. The Ministry of Justice budget has been cut in real terms by 40%, resulting in a 20% cut in police funding, several thousand fewer prison officers leading to prisoners spending up to 23 hours a day in their cells, and the disastrous part-privatisation of the probation service engineered by Chris Grayling

These details give the lie to the fatuous business-speak mantra that government departments can "do more with less."  This applies equably our NHS, local government. education, social security provision, consumer protection and health and safety monitoring.

The ideologically driven government austerity regime of the past decade has had consequences and will have more.

Of course there is no guarantee that the best provisions in the world would absolutely rule out to possibility of a maverick individual surviving the system unreformed.  But a rich country such as ours should be aiming at the best provision for the vulnerable, rather than cheeseparing to benefit the rich.

Locking people up and throwing away the key is not now and never was a civilised approach to criminal behaviour.  It was Douglas Hurd, one of the better Tories of past generations, who when Home Secretary told the party conference that  "prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse."

Sadly so far there is no sign of a more reasoned approach to tackling the problems of our society is affecting public opinion.  The polls remain static.

But there's still time. The best memorial for Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones would be a substantial dent in the Tory lead.

* It was in fact about 0.2% of the then GDP, compared with today's 7%. The 0.2% was largely the result of one-off payments for two Boeing jet aircraft, and was more than balanced by a 0.7% surplus on trade in services.  But his information didn't "trickle down" to the electorate.  On such misconceptions do the fates of general elections rest.

1 comment:

  1. Such cruel events make everyone shudder with horror. The current situation to prevent such cases, as time shows, is ineffective. Many people think so.