Just after the 1987 election I confessed to Margaret Thatcher that
I no longer felt I understood British politics. I simply could not
comprehend why crime and punishment were not the number one political
issue. I remain baffled, even though there has been a massive outcry, to
judge from the Sun’s telephone hotline, against the life sentence on
Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer convicted of murdering a 16-year-old
burglar with immense ’form’ - and even though William Hague, in calling
for a review of self-protection law, is revelling in having ’the whole
liberal establishment’ against him.
Perhaps the clue lies in Mr Hague’s delight. Just as the British felt
until recently their opposition to a single European currency was futile
because of its supposed inevitability, so perhaps they believe the
entire law enforcement establishment - judges, lawyers, police,
probation officers, the welfare world and most politicians - is soft on
criminals. The public may be up in arms about crime and lax punishment,
but there’s nothing they can do about it, except grin and bear it -and
pay the price. This is a dangerous state for public opinion to get into.
It means that when the swing comes it will be all the more difficult to
handle. But does the PR industry, which is supposed to be in the
business of identifying trends, think the backlash is coming? Is
Britain, led by Mr Hague, about to visit its retribution on the
establishment as once during a radio broadcast, I promised that wet
liberal Polly Toynbee, of the Guardian, it would?
I haven’t detected any sign, even though the popular press is in high
dudgeon over Farmer Martin. The liberal establishment still feels strong
enough to ridicule Mr Hague. And let’s face it, Mr Hague has a
Remember the outcry by judges against former Home Secretary Michael
Howard’s mandatory sentencing? Well, Tony Martin went to jail for ’life’
because the mandatory sentence for murder is ... ’life’. If punishment
is to be made to fit the crime, judges have to be allowed to reflect it
in their sentences.
But weren’t mandatory sentences canvassed in the first place because
tougher-minded politicians felt judges were too lenient?
It seems unlikely from my attempts to advise them that judges will take
on badly-needed PR advice. But, if they did, how would you improve their
image? By campaigning for the end of mandatory sentencing and free rein
for them to reflect all the circumstances surrounding the case? But how
far do you think that would get you when judges are felt to be as wet as
whistles? We shall be trapped in this circularity until public opinion
becomes utterly intolerant of crime in all its manifestations. PR should
perhaps organise a sustained peaceful anti-crime protest of countryside
proportions. Nothing will change until law-abiding folk frighten the
establishment into rediscovering its backbone.