James Frayne is Director of communications agency Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion. The focus of this column is Theresa May’s conservatism for “ordinary working people”.
Developing law and order policies that the public support and have confidence in.
There are a few areas in politics where the gap between public aspiration and political delivery is particularly large. Two of these areas are where the Tories have traditionally held an advantage over Labour – immigration and crime. Simply put, on immigration the public want the Government to control borders and reduce the number of migrants to a smaller number of higher-skilled workers. On crime, they want to see tougher and longer sentences for serious crimes.
It took a provincial English revolt to provide the Tories with a pathway towards a popular immigration policy. Now we’re leaving the EU, it will be easier to create an immigration system along the lines the public want to see. But what about crime? It seems unlikely at present that the Government will pass legislation that results in more people going to prison and for longer. This neither matches the philosophy of Government politicians, nor their hopes to keep spending down.
So what can the Government do to bridge the gap that exists between the public and those that govern them? Whenever people in politics talk about concepts like transparency and accountability, ordinary people roll their eyes – often with good reason. But the Government has introduced two policies that derive from such concepts and that will, over time, give people more of an understanding about law and order policies and more of a say in how such policies are developed. These are crime mapping and Police and Crime Commissioners. There is an obvious next step: the expanded use of cameras in courtrooms.
The Government has already allowed cameras to record the summing up of cases by judges in limited cases. This was a welcome first step, but this should be extended so that people can see all of the evidence given by all of the relevant witnesses and so they can see the interaction between those witnesses and the parties’ respective legal teams. Clearly, the jury should never be seen – and other precautions might be necessary, including delays to broadcast to prevent contempt issues. (Expanded coverage has long been a preoccupation of my former Policy Exchange colleague, Glyn Gaskarth).
People might worry about the sensationalising of our legal system. But at present, we allow newspapers to print vast amounts of detail about court cases. The highest profile cases can be page one stories for days – and newspapers endlessly lead with the most serious allegations, with the caveat, “a court heard today”. Allowing people to see for themselves what took place would place newspaper content in context – and it would give them what they would get if they went to court in any case.
At the moment, there is enormous dissatisfaction with the system of law and order because of this gap between aspiration and delivery. Cameras in courtrooms would help to alleviate this by showing people what really happens in our legal system – why juries make their decisions and why judges pass their sentences. It would make the legal system an ordinary part of our political discourse.