Crime and punishment are in the news these days, but at the same time a central question about crime and punishment is being ignored. Let’s first concentrate on the part that’s out in the open.
Jeremy Corbyn found himself in the position where he had to say that the London police took appropriate action when they shot dead a man who was lying on the ground and without even his original weapon, a knife. Jeremy said the police took “appropriate action” because if he hadn’t the anti-Labour Party press would have damned him to hell and back as a terrorist sympathiser. The police said they shot him because he appeared to be wearing a suicide vest. Mmm. Then how come members of the public jumped on him – did they not see that, besides the knife, he had what appeared to be a suicide vest? Or were they just brave in a very stupid sort of way?
Corbyn made an absolutely crucial comment about the incident. The man who was shot dead had spent some time in prison for terrorist links, but was released. Clearly prison didn’t work on him – he came out more radicalised than when he went in. Corbyn’s point is that prison is to punish serious wrong-doing but also to try to make sure the wrong-doer stops doing wrong and does right. Prison, as most people agree, is a place where a lot of prisoners learn not how to repent, but how to do even more serious crime. Links are made, grievances fester, freedom becomes an opportunity to pay back the world that incarcerated them.
Boris Johnson on the Andrew Marr Show on TV this morning blamed the early release of this killer on legislation introduced by the Labour Party over ten years ago. When Marr repeately pointed out that the Tories had ten years in which to do something about it, Johnson ignored the point and kept repeating that the Labour Party was to blame. That’s like saying Hitler sent thousands to the concentration camps because his mother met his father.
But how about this: you’re running for election and the interviewer asks you would you kill an innocent, defenceless person with a gun you’ll be issued once you’re elected. No, wait, make that a dozen innocent people. Would you pull the trigger? The assumption is that any half-decent person would be appalled at any such suggestion and would say, not only would they NEVER shoot dead any innocent person but that they wouldn’t want the gun in the first place.
That’s the question that was asked of a number of party leaders in a debate during the week on ITV, I think it was. Except they were asked would they push the nuclear button and guarantee the deaths of millions of people. Some, like Nicola Sturgeon, said they would never do that, regardless of circumstances. The Brexit Party representative and the leader of the Lib Dems said that, if Britain was attacked, they would retaliate.
You would think that Britain’s supply of nuclear weapons would, on moral grounds, be a massive point of discussion. Imagine saying you should be elected because you’d have the bottle to slaughter millions of innocent people. On moral grounds nuclear weapons are totally unacceptable.
But le’t s assume you have no morals. Let’s assume you judge stuff only in terms of pounds and pence. Given that nuclear weapons cost around the £100 billion mark, wouldn’t it at least be worth arguing that using the £100 billion to transform the NHS and schools would be a very good idea? It obviously would, but there isn’t a leader in Britain who would dare make this a central plank in his/her campaign.
Put crudely, the killing of the terrorist on London Bridge cost only the time of the officers involved and the cost of their weapons and the bullets they fired into this man. The potential killing of millions upon millions and bringing to an end civilization as we know it costs hundreds of billions, yet everybody in every party appears to accept that situation with a shrug of the shoulders.
No wonder the unspeakable Boris Johnson gets away – literally – with murder.