This morning’s Telegraph splash says that “Magistrates have been told they can ignore sentencing guidelines and hand down more draconian penalties to rioters and looters”. While I completely understand the desire for sharp lessons, prison sentences should not be based on vengeance.
David Cameron has an unexpected opportunity to use the impetus provided by the riots last week to make an enormous leap forward in the policies he has been promoting since before he was elected leader. Schools, welfare reform, sentencing reform, understanding of both rights and responsibilities, fairness, aspiration, community cohesion – all of these things can and must change.
It is however deeply deeply disappointing that amongst the first responses to last week was to suggest closing down various social networks, banning face-coverings, and making retrospective changes to both the benefit system and sentencing policy.
These things – the freedoms we have, the liberty we enjoy, and the certainty of knowing what the rules are – are what makes Britain British. They are what make Britain a great place to live. Of course the government needs to paint Ed Miliband as ‘just talking’ and themselves as ‘taking action’, but it would be far better if they enforced the current laws properly and even-handedly, and realised that they have this chance to explain, once and for all, why and how Broken Britain can be fixed by the Big Society.