Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Conservatives in Manchester (III)

Passing lightly over the proposals by Michael Gove (a Scot, I should point out) for education in England - though I do worry about the return of the imperial view of history to the curriculum of the dominant nation of the union - I want to concentrate on what Dominic Grieve and Chris Grayling had to say about crime and justice.

Disappointingly, the message was the same invocation of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) which has disfigured Labour's pronouncements on crime since their 1996 conference. In one respect, the Conservatives have gone backwards. Last year, they were honest enough to state that their hard line on early release and on replacing fines with prison would involve building more gaols. This year, there was not a mention of the cost of their programme: neither the buildings, nor the extra staffing required for the increased discipline in prisons. Dominic Grieve wants a policy of zero tolerance of drugs in prison, but surely he knows that in the most under-staffed prisons, warders tacitly accept the easy availability of drugs which keep prisoners quiescent.

Chris Grayling seemed to think that the only cause of youth offending was the low price of drink, and that preventing supermarkets from selling booze below cost price would solve that problem. (The supermarkets say that they don't sell below cost, and I believe them; their purchasing power is such that they can drive down the cost to them and probably still leave a healthy margin in their normal pricing. I doubt that they make a loss on price promotions especially since the practice on many other lines is to force the supplier to share part of the cut.)

The only positive messages came from the discussion sessions. Such as Mary Smart, Junior Stuart and others whose names I didn't catch, were working practically on the ground in various ways to turn round the lives of offenders. It was good to see them given a national platform. They (and those in the same field who spoke to Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth) ought to be an encouragement to others in the community to do the same. Sadly, apart from a few words of praise, there was no encouragement from either of the Conservative spokesmen in the way of commitment to help from government.

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