On both crime and Brexit, rejecting liberal orthodoxies has been a boon for Boris Johnson
Is it any surprise that voters – as revealed in a poll commissioned by the Telegraph – are rejecting the synthetic outrage of parliamentarians who have plotted for months to undermine Parliamentary democracy and instead are now emphatically prepared to countenance the temporary suspension of the House of Commons in order to get Brexit done?
It is difficult to blame the electorate for feeling angry and frustrated at how out of touch MPs are, but an estrangement between the governing classes and those in whose name they govern is hardly new. After all, crowds gathered on the south bank of the Thames in October 1834 to cheer on the conflagration that engulfed the Palace of Westminster by fire, so it’s plus ca change.
This time, it feels more visceral and not just on the subject of our leaving the EU as we've seen this week in the reaction to the Government's crime and punishment policies. For too long the so-called “progressive” liberal Left has owned the intellectual commanding heights and has sneeringly regarded a tough approach to criminals and law breaking as the preserve of populists, nativists and ignorant vote grubbers.
That's why the liberal establishment, in Parliament, Whitehall and beyond, is genuinely bewildered and befuddled that a Prime Minister is seeking to repudiate their values and ideas and actually practically address the various crises exacerbated by the only notionally conservative May administration.
The public, however, are responding with a plaintive cry of: "About time too!" The Prime Minister’s crime policies are, unsurprisingly, hugely popular. As a former Mayor of London, who cut the city's murder rate and slashed youth crime between 2008 and 2016, he also has the bona fides to carry off these promises.
I say all this having, during my time as an MP, warmly welcomed the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 2012 and as a firm a supporter of both proper education and work for prisoners and a decent and compassionate probation service. Nevertheless, I believe we have lost our moral perspective and sense of balance in the last few years.
We have to ask how we have allowed this chasm to develop between the pragmatic common sense of most of the public – who broadly support sensible laws, tough sentences, more police on the beat, accountable judges, robust prison regimes and the appropriate focus on meaningful work for inmates and rehabilitation – and the abysmal law and order record which Boris Johnson is seeking to ameliorate.
A world where Mrs May made a fetish as home secretary of completely alienating a whole police service, which was once monolithically pro Conservative, where she reduced stop and search powers with flawed evidence in the period where we’ve seen stabbings rise by 34 per cent in the last five years and knife crime explode, particularly in our cities, by 82 per cent in the same period?
Where shadowy and unaccountable bodies like the Sentencing Council can set prison tariffs totally at odds with what most taxpayers would consider reasonable and appropriate? Where we allow activist judges to second guess laws made in Parliament across a wide variety of areas such as votes for prisoners, adoption, asylum, marriage, transgenderism and prison discipline?
A Conservative government that was peopled with liberal ministers like Rory Stewart and David Gauke, whose priorities were to abolish custodial sentences, make life easier for prisoners and release more criminals earlier back into society via “community sentences” which, evidence suggests, did nothing to stem reoffending?
This week, we saw the most ludicrous example of the liberal nonsense now infecting too many of our police forces, particularly at senior levels when Gwent Police warned Facebook users, under threat of arrest, not to mock the hairstyle of wanted serial drug dealer Jermaine Taylor. Who thought that a sensible suggestion? PC Snowflake?
We seem to have reached the bizarre situation where boosting police numbers, increasing prison places, clamping down on crime in the prison estate (including 35,000 assaults on prison officers last year) and reviewing unduly lenient sentencing and early release schemes, are actually seen as negative and retrograde steps. If this is indeed the case then things have gone badly awry in our polity and governance.
The Prime Minister is comprehensively winning the media war on crime for two key reasons. He looks and sounds focused, engaged, single minded and persuasive. More importantly, he instinctively understands that you can’t win big political battles without the public sentiment at your back and particularly in this case the support of those most affected by the miserable impact of crime – whether it be inner-city mums terrified of knife crime or middle-class parents in market towns plagued by the scourge of so-called “county lines” drug dealers.
The bien pensant liberal bubble who’ve held sway over penal policy and crime fighting strategies for many years need to wise up: Boris has started a much needed debate with the public, conceded mistakes, offered serious money and a real hope for change. His detractors have not just been caught blindsided by his ambition but will also find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion.
Stewart Jackson was a Conservative MP from 2005 to 2017 and was Chief of Staff to David Davis MP as Brexit Secretary from 2017 to 2018