There has rightly already been widespread condemnation of Ken Clarke’s comments about “serious” and “date” rape and his seeming differentiation between the two. A great deal of furore from Labour and a strong attack on Clarke’s judgement and the policy in general by Ed Miliband at PMQs has been widely described as “outflanking the Tories on the right on crime”. This is nonsense.
To expect a strong state to support and protect all its citizens is not a right wing concept. As a left of centre party, Labour must enable the state to support and empower the vulnerable and that includes those vulnerable of being victims of crime.
Where the difference can be seen as having a right/left divide is in a belief in the power of the state to rehabilitate and in the definition and punishment levels of some forms of damaging crime (such as corporate manslaughter and other “white collar” criminal activity). Labour must be on the side of all victims and potential victims of crime. Where we would differ from a right wing analysis is in how different the state as actor can be in reducing crime rates and reducing reoffending. If one believes that the state and society – at our best – can have a positive effect on people’s lives, we have to believe that a large part of this is in reducing the incidence of crime in our communities. This means not leaving criminals who have been convicted to be ever hardened and better trained future perpetrators. It means spending on rehabilitation programmes that can be proved to work however much the Daily Mail bang on about a cushy ride.
Labour has a responsibility to the victims of crimes that have happened to bring the criminals to justice and to punish them. But we have a responsibility to potential victims of the future to combine that punishment with rehabilitation to dramatically reduce the likelihood of future crime. We also have a responsibility to those who are likely to commit crime and to look at innovative projects that can rescur them from the brink. For example, Chepstow House in Stoke is a free service that provides support and information to help women change the things in their lives that lead them to offending. The service is open to women who have current or previous offending history, or who are at risk of offending. They offer a holistic approach to support, bringing services together under one roof. They can help women with accommodation, skills and employment, health, drugs and alcohol, finance, benefits and debt, children, families and relationships, attitudes, thinking and behaviour, abuse, rape, domestic violence and sex work. Figures from the Probation Service indicate to the end of October 2010, of the 44 women referred into the service, 32 accepted support and of those only 2 have reoffended since engaging with Chepstow House. 12 women declined the service and of those 5 women reoffended, suggesting that Chepstow House does help women reduce their offending.
It is project like this that are exemplary of the way that a Labour government could support projects that make a real difference to the lives of all people touched by crime. By trying to stop crime before it takes hold of a person’s life, we reduce pressures on every part of the system, save victims from potential crime and stop the wastage of lives. By working to rehabilitate criminals, we do the same.
Tony Blair once brilliantly pledged that Labour would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Labour needs to maintain his correct stance that these two are part of the same larger project of protecting citizens.
It’s not right wing to use the state to protect its citizens. It is right wing – not to mention counter-productive – not to remember that this includes all its citizens, and that those often most at danger of committing crime are also most likely to be victims.
This post first appeared on Labour List