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David Davis speaks out against Ken Clarke's prison plans - again

Screen shot 2010-07-03 at 22.24.06 Readers of Melissa Kite's Tamsin Lightwater column for the Spectator - now, alas, defunct - will have noted that from time to time it gave a cameo role to David Davis.  The former Shadow Home Secretary and Conservative leadership contender was portrayed as a fatigues-clad, gun-toting, military-fixated maniac.  Perhaps surprisingly, this caricature was sketched with indulgent affection, and suggested that journalist and politician were on sound lobby terms.

Davis has given Kite an interview in tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph, and in it he repeats the criticisms he made of the Justice Secretary's plan to put fewer criminals behind bars a few days ago on the BBC's Straight Talk.  The news report drawn from the interview is headlined "David Davis says Coalition prison plans are dangerous and unworkable" - which gives the flavour of it.  Davis says that Clarke's plan could do "much more harm" than locking criminals up, and implies that the Coalition is trying to "save money rather than solve the problem".

He also says -

"Prison may be expensive but it's less expensive than the alternative which is rising crime in the community which does much more harm.  You could end up with a false economy. It is perfectly right to have the debate but let's not jump to conclusion."

"There is nothing wrong with the initial concern which is that the reoffending rate in prisons has gone up. However there are a number of problems with it.  This throwaway line that it is more expensive than sending a kid to Eton – it may be, but it is not more expensive necessarily than sending a criminal out onto the streets.

A typical criminal will commit 140 crimes a year and that costs from £100 to £380,000 and that is not accounting for the harm done to people...My slogan was Make Prison Work. They seem to have lost sight of all that. They have jumped from the Michael Howard approach to the opposite, when the solution lies in the middle ground.

I don't think you can jump to the conclusion that Ken has jumped to because there are no well proven methods of improving reoffending rates any more than custodial sentences, which leaves you with the impression that this is about saving money rather than solving the problem.

"There is nothing wrong with saving money, but you want to make sure it is more effective not less effective.  Let's have a debate, but let's have a very serious assessment. They have got to answer all these questions."

Davis also raises the possibility of deporting some of the 10,000 foreign prisoners currently serving sentences in British jails and, when asked whether the majority of Conservative MPs are of his view rather than Clarke's, says "I think they are."

Some Tories will see Davis's comments as evidence that he's a bold politician and principled Conservative who won't stay silent when he believes that he should speak out.  Others will read them as confirming that he's a compulsive soloist and disloyal maverick.  You pay your money - so to speak - and make your choice.  What's certain is that a second Davis interview on the subject in a week - following sharp interventions from him on the 55 per cent election controversy and the decision to maintain 28 days detention without charge - is bound further to irritate Downing Street.  It's more evidence of the three-cornered nature of the Coalition that I wrote about this morning.

Paul Goodman


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