The front page of the Daily Telegraph includes an example of the change that would take place in our country if we had a Conservative Government.
The report says:
Violent criminals will lose their right to automatic early release from prison under plans being drawn up by the Conservatives in the wake of the Skull Cracker case.
The Telegraph has learnt that the Conservative Party manifesto for the general election next year will promise to reform rules that mean violent and sexual offenders are eligible for release halfway through their sentences.
Instead of becoming eligible to be freed automatically, offenders would have to earn the right to be considered for release by building
a record of good behaviour and participation in rehabilitation activities.
The final decision to release prisoners before the end of their sentences would be taken by the Parole Board.
The change would mean that many serious offenders would spend longer in jail, with ministers suggesting that an inmate sentenced to 10 years would spend the whole term behind bars.
Even with the constraints of coalition government there is some progress being made towards greater honesty in sentencing. The Criminal Justice and Sentencing Bill will end early release for child abusers and terrorists. However the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling would like to go further.
There has been public dismay at the leniency towards Michael Wheatley who absconded from an open prison – even though he was soon caught.
A Telegraph leader adds:
What this affair most exposes, however, is the disconnection between the sentences passed by the courts and the length of time served. Some 20 years ago, it was proposed that there should be more honesty in sentencing – it is past time for this idea to be looked at again. Public confidence is more likely to be reinforced if judges pass sentences that they know offenders will serve.
Then in The Guardian this morning there is an article by Nick Clegg explaining why the Lib Dems are blocking increased penalties for knife possession.
Of course law and order is an areas where there is a different approach between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. There will be plenty of argument about practicalities and expert advice and interpreting evidence. But the Lib Dems start with an instinctive antipathy towards tougher punishment.
So Mr Grayling is right to start setting out what a Conservative Government would do. We have a year to go but it would be wrong to leave everything to the manifesto’s publication date. There should be time to get across what the differences are. That is not only in the Conservatives interests but also of an informed democracy.
Other Conservative Ministers should follow the lead Mr Grayling has given. It is reasonably well known that the Conservatives favour an in/out EU referendum – while the Lib Dems (no longer) do so.
But in other area we have left this to the Lib Dems. Mr Clegg’s Party Conference speech last year highlighted as key Lib Dem achievements in Government the retention of Inheritance Tax, the Human Rights Act and Harriet Harman’s Equality Act. Also Mr Clegg boasted about the retention of Housing Benefit for those aged under 25 – that means that those on welfare can have their own flat while those young people who work have to stay at home with their parents. Then he mentioned various Quangos and items of red tape relating to the environment.
Some might worry that talking more about these differences would put the coalition under strain. I don’t believe so. There is a mutual interest in getting attention for them.
The Lib Dems are interested in winning back their supporters who have drifted off to the Green Party or the Labour Party. They want the Guardian readers to return to the fold. So even if their policies are unpopular with the electorate overall it still makes sense for the Lib Dems to trumpet them.
These policy differences, and the philosophical differences from which they derive, should be openly acknowledged openly – rather than by hostile briefing in the style of the Blair/Brown era.
Some might fret that a focus on future policy would mean the coalition having “run out of steam.” However there was a lot of talk about that before the Budget. Then with pensions reform it proved more radical than anything in George Osborne’s previous four budgets.
Conservatives and the Lib Dems should be polite to each other. They should certainly point to what has been achieved together and press on with further measures they agree on in the coming year. But the Conservatives must also do far more to tell the British people what a Conservative Government would do – including far more substance on what changes would be pushed for with the EU renegotiation.