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Cameron takes giant steps towards re-establishing his law and order credentials

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen shot 2011-06-21 at 11.20.25

With Mr Clegg safely despatched to Brazil David Cameron appeared on his own at today's press conference. The PM's political aides didn't want him to appear with Nick Clegg for his big announcements on law and order. George Osborne, in particular, was determined that today's sentencing commitments were owned by the Conservatives - presentationally as well as substantially. It had been thought that the Lib Dems would object to the tougher approach announced by David Cameron but, as James Forsyth has blogged, Clegg decided that he couldn't afford to be on the wrong side of public opinion on this huge issue. The campaigning on crime by the Mail and Sun, in particular, has worried every senior member of the Coalition.

So what did the PM say?

David Cameron began his announcement by saying that prison wasn't working. Taxpayers pay £45,000pa for every prison place but half reoffend within a year, half are on drugs and 10% are foreigners. We have a hugely expensive system that doesn't work.

We need a prison system, he said, that serves three main purposes:

  1. first protects the public - the people who play by rules;
  2. second it must ensure serious offenders go to prison for a long time;
  3. third it must break the cycle of reoffending by paying all involved from the prison service to the probation service according to the results he achieved.
Screen shot 2011-06-21 at 11.59.27In addition to confirming that the plans for 50% discounts on sentences for those who plead guilty had been dropped the PM said...
  • There would be a compulsory jail term for criminals who make threatening use of knives.
  • He also promised life would mean life for violent offenders
  • There would be tougher punishments for sex offenders with none enjoying remission until at least two-thirds of a sentence has been served.
  • Squatters would no longer qualify for publicly-funded representation to fight eviction
  • Finally he promised to put beyond doubt that householders using reasonable force against intruders wouldn't be prosecuted.

David Cameron declined calls from The Sun to sack Ken Clarke. The PM said the Justice Secretary was a robust minister who would deliver "more for less".

Responding to a question from Channel 4's Gary Gibbon about whether this new hard line was compatible with 'hug-a-hoddie' the Prime Minister denied that he ever used those three words! He did say, however, that there was no contradiction between proper punishment of people who overstepped the line and commit crimes and doing everything to help young and vulnerable people from getting on to the conveyor belt to crime.

On other issues:

  • On the €uro he said that turbulence across the currency zone would be bad for Britain but confirmed that UK taxpayers' money would not help Greece beyond existing commitments to the IMF.
  • Cameron says few voters are worried about U-turns. If anything they think the Govt may have been doing too much and welcome greater focus. It's weak, he said, to stay on course when you are going in the wrong direction.
  • Asked about Scotland Mr Cameron said he was genuinely committed to 'respect for Scottish devolution' but he warned Alex Salmond against playing a game that would engineer grievances between London and Edinburgh.
  • Asked about whether the Barnett formula might be reviewed during this parliament he did not say "no".
  • Reflecting on last week's incident when a hospital consultant interrupted a bedside photo opportunity, the broadcasters promised not to show the footage. I believed that promise for 50 seconds, said the PM. He was right not to trust the broadcasters - as we know.
  • He ended the press conference by saying that he had two important guests arriving for lunch: The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh - for a celebration of the Prince's 90th birthday.

5pm: Read full Downing Street statement on sentencing.


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