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Wednesday 24 August 2011

The Telegraph Quarry

The dog whistle is being deployed across the print media today: typical is the Maily Telegraph with “Criminals to do eight hours a day of hard labour”. Yes, it’s back to the 1950s, with prison guards barking orders at convicts as they labour in the rock quarry. In black and white.

Or maybe not: Tom Whitehead’s piece is all about community punishment, not what happens to those doing a handful down the Scrubs. In fact, reading not too far beyond the headline reveals “fewer criminals being sent to prison and handed punishments in the community instead”.

But isn’t that being “soft” on criminals? Ah well. In what looks suspiciously like a rebranding exercise – all those “big society” relaunches may have gone to someone’s head – readers are told that “offenders ... will have to carry out unpaid ‘hard’ work for eight hours a day, four days a week”.

Hmmm. So how about some examples of this “hard” work? Whitehead is on the case: “That will involve clearing up litter, cleaning graffiti and maintaining parks, community farms and other green spaces”. Really? The thought occurs that, had the announcement been made before the last General Election, the Telegraph would have denounced it as a soft option.

Ken Clarke must be quietly pleased that the press has bought this creative reheating of an existing and often ridiculed idea. The rhetoric of justice minister Crispin Blunt, telling of “paying back ... your community through hard, honest work” will have helped. But here at Zelo Street the move will be believed when it is seen to be working.

And there will be no black and white rock quarry, so here’s a video snippet from the legendary post-Ealing comedy Two Way Stretch, to remind everyone that attempts to impose “hard labour” can have unexpected downsides.

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