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Thursday, 9 June 2011


I am about to do something I never thought I would – say something nice about John Gummer.  He’s the one who famously fed a beef burger to his unfortunate child on telly, to prove that BSE was mere tosh.  He was brilliantly captured by Steve Bell as the twit in the Hiawatha riff, called, if I remember, Running Gaga (no relation), and later in 1975, as the onlooker at the mock pieta, Thatcher as Mary with John Major’s head in her lap (isn’t he brilliant?).  Gummer wrote to the Guardian immediately, complaining that "to be forced to participate in Steve Bell's perversions is degrading." Bell said later, "I put Gummer in because he is a religious bullshitter...I have framed his letter like a commendation."  
Anyway, that was then, and this is now.  I heard him on the PM programme last night, and I accept that he was brought on to stick up for his friend of many years, Ken Clarke, but he was also sticking up for what Ken Clarke is trying to do with the criminal justice system, which, I believe, is the beginning of a very sensible move.

The fact is that prison doesn’t work.  As Gummer pointed out last night, Britain locks up more people than anywhere else in Europe; it has the highest reoffending rate, and we don’t feel any safer.  Gummer went on to blame the Labour Party (on the grounds that it was letting people out of prison before, but not telling anyone about it – an argument I found slightly hard to follow) and what he called the “irredeemable extremists” who run the newspapers, that'll be those guys who won the election for his party through the 80s.  Then he threw in the wrongheaded right of the present government.  

I want to get into why prison doesn’t work, and that the alternative isn’t to let everyone off, scot free, but to put in place processes that help perpetrators of crime and anti-social behaviour understand, acknowledge and find better ways to conduct their lives, is a lot more effective and satisfying both for our society generally, and usually the victims too.  But that’s for later.  For now, let’s have more John Gummers bashing the right wing press, Oxford convocation voting no confidence in the universities minister, The Archbishop of Canterbury reminding everyone that the government has no democratic mandate for the misery it’s delivering to the country.  

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