The government cannot win

Much though I find the policies of the incumbent government largely appalling, I’ve always been bemused and saddened by the treatment of the government of the time by both the media and the opposition. Here’s why.

The opposition and certain sections of the media (in this, they are one and the same—hereafter referred to simply as the Opposition) generally disparage the policies of the government. They pick holes. On the odd occasion, they might counter with their own stance on the matter. But disparage they will.

Yet if the government changes its stance with respect to the policy in question, they are accused by the Opposition of performing a U-turn—oh the shame.

On the proposed reduction in prison sentences, this is exactly what has happened. The proposal a few weeks back to increase the sentence “discount” from 33% to 50% in cases where the defendant makes an early guilty plea was met with anger and rhetoric, rapists being the headline of choice.

Today, the government has reversed that proposed policy, to cries of a U-turn from the Opposition.

I would much prefer a government that listens to public opinion, whether official by way of consultation or otherwise, in determining its final stance on policy issues, particularly on the more important and wide-reaching ones. There should be no shame in admitting a change in direction. But the farcical nature of politics in the UK (and likely in many other countries) means that shame abounds. Jeers in the House of Commons is one of the things upon which our nation’s shame is founded.


3 Responses to “The government cannot win”

  1. S on June 22nd, 2011 10:52

    On the general point I agree, there’s something rotten in the state when a government cannot make changes fro something they’re being criticised for but doing so leads to U-turn criticism.

    However, the specifics of this debacle I think are entirely of the government’s own making and handling; quite frankly they bottled it. Just because something is unpopular doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do. Governments always come to power saying they’re willing to make unpopular decisions, but often when it comes to the crunch point they cave – funnily enough only when it’s unpopular with their core constituents not, doesn’t matter if decisions ‘go against’ the vulnerable or sections of society that are under-represented/have little voice (thinking swingeing benefit cuts here). They ask advisers and ministers to think the unthinkable, but never have the guts to follow these ideas up.

    I digress. There was a fairly straight-forward compromise in this justice issue – to limit the types of crimes for which the up to 50% ‘discount’ would be applicable. That would have been a refinement and not a complete U-turn (although, undoubtedly, someone would characterise it as such, I think they’d have less widespread support on that view). It wouldn’t have pleased everyone, but it may have been the right thing to do for the nation. I find it particularly laughable the PM wants this to be seen as a sign of strength, rather than the cowardly retreat back into the ideological shell.

  2. Simon on June 28th, 2011 16:01

    Here here. Tough decisions may not be popular. The rape example was both taken out of context and all reason went out of the window. That’s the crime for me. No sensible debate is doable through the media and maybe the gov was right to pull the plug in some respects because the media only provides a route for journalists opinions and not the reality.

    As I understand it, his point about rape not always being serious was right (oh my god I will now be stoned). And the devil is in the detail. A 16 year and one day old has sex with a 15 yr old and 364 days technically (as I understand it) if they were to have consenting sex would be rape. Rape is not always rape. That does not diminish the horror of the crime most consider to be the default definition. His comments were probably careless but not technically incorrect. And law is all about technicalities and not emotion.

    The second aspect of this event was the 50%. There are a wide range of sentencing guidelines and in many cases a lot of flexibility for the judiciary to decide upon type and duration of punishment, the ability to dictate minimums etc (i.e. overrule potential for early release). This idea could easily have been implemented, even for rape if the judge was left to decide. I.e. you get caught with a crime. IF you confess straight away and avoid the court then the judge MAY take this into consideration and be allowed (at his discretion) to reduce the penalty by 50%.

    It would then be up to the criminal to get advice and make an early decision about how to tackle their situation.

    The third point is also that of the perspective of the victim who does not have to face their attacker (or whatever the criminal type is) and witnesses do not have to relive it etc etc. More consideration of the victims I am sure would be considered a positive.

    But I totally agree with the above. We need a tougher gov to stand up behind difficult topics and decisions.

  3. A on June 28th, 2011 21:21

    Very right, the fault lies partly at the feet of our political system; the way we make laws. Although I have had the privilege of witnessing brilliant showcases of verbal sparring in the floor of the house of commons, I also feel that the gusto and easiness with which a debate on serious matters can turn into a circus punctuated by lofty witticisms sets the tone for the media.

    As you mentioned, even before the media thinks of it, it is ‘the opposition’ that cries U turn first and it is under the cloak of this farcical ‘higher ground’ taken by the honorable members that our laws are supposedly decided. Debates on these issues should be had under the mantle of sobriety, not with jeers of ‘hear, hear!’ and slaps of papers on knees. making laws is not a raucous occasion, it is a situation where we hope the finest aspects of the minds of our elected representatives come to play.

    I am afraid that it becomes a media spectacle in the process of being debated, from there on, what is left for the media? a morsel too juice to ignore.

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