Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke's, reversal of Tory election promises is the result of surrendering to Lib-Dem policies. The two manifestos were based on diametrically opposed assumptions and the haggling has been won by the Lib-Dems.
The Liberal-Democrats said they would cancel Labour's prison building programme and replace many prison sentences with what they call 'rigorously enforced community sentences'. Penalties, they said, do not deter criminals. The Conservatives criticised Labour for failing to build enough prison places and promised to stop the early release of criminals and to increase prison capacity as necessary.
The Lib-Dems are not liberals but Fabian social therapists
The Conservatives have long been the main home of British liberalism and some Tory MPs are looking hopefully to the 'Orange Book', published in 2004 by a group of liberals including Nick Clegg, David Laws and Vince Cable to 'reclaim' liberalism for the Lib-Dems. The Tories will look in vain. The crime chapter says that 'simply incarcerating ever-increasing numbers of prisoners is not working'. It is 'the job of government to remove, then rehabilitate, that element in society that is restricting other people's liberty - the criminals.' What is completely missing from the Orange Book and the Lib-Dem manifesto is any recognition that crime is a personal responsibility. It is not the 'job of the government' to rehabilitate people as if it were a kind of therapist dealing with a helpless patient. Offenders should rehabilitate themselves and make the right choice next time round. Of course, everything should be done to help individuals to make the right choice, including the provision of educational opportunities, but we should never forget that crime is a personal choice.
The Lib-Dems might find it worthwhile to go back to their roots and read one of the greatest interpreters of modern liberalism, Leonard Hobhouse. He identified two ideas with which liberalism should have nothing in common. One he called 'mechanical socialism', by which he meant Marxism. The second he called 'official socialism', which conceived 'mankind as in the mass a helpless and feeble race, which it is its duty to treat kindly'. And true kindness, he told his readers, required 'firmness' such that 'the life of the average man must be organised for his own good'. Writing in 1911, he was thinking of the Fabian elitists of his day, but he could just as well have been describing the thinking behind the 2010 Lib-Demo manifesto.