Election Diary

I took a break over the Easter weekend, but the politicians didn’t. So yesterday we had one of the staples of any election campaign – a photograph of the Prime Minister with a cute farm animal. How can the other party leaders counter this? A pundit suggested that Nick Clegg should be pictured with a giraffe. I’m not so sure, though I’d like to see Natalie Bennett with Jeff, the oversized rabbit (1.25 metres long and still growing).

Bennett’s interview with the increasingly tedious John Humphrys on the Today Programme was a model of what is wrong with political journalism today. Humphrys knows, Bennett knows, and everyone listening knows that the Green Party is not going to form the next government. For that reason, their manifesto doesn’t matter. Is it costed? None of them are, for god’s sake. Is it coherent? Who cares?  The interesting political question is why the Greens have longevity and traction, and a clear appeal to a substantial segment of the electorate. They’ve had an MP, elected under her party’s own colours, for five years, they’ve had MEPs for longer, and they are an important and serious part of the political landscape. That’s where the interesting questions lie.

But for me, one of today’s – and Today’s – more revealing electoral moments came in an interview conducted by Sarah Montague with Anthony Ray Hinton. Hinton can be forgiven if he is unaware of the British general election. He was convicted in 1985 of a double murder in Birmingham Alabama, and has been on death row from his conviction until his recent release. Most shamefully, this apparently gentle and forgiving poor black man spent the last sixteen years of his incarceration knowing that the Alabama state preferred to see an innocent man remain imprisoned and under sentence of death to the alternative of “looking soft on crime”.

Funny how the image of Chris Grayling, our odious ‘justice’ minister, appeared before my eyes as Hinton’s lawyer spoke. For whilst we do not have death row, we do have poisonous politics around crime and punishment. We lock up villains (unless bankers) with large numbers of the weak and unfortunate. Disproportionate numbers of prisoners are people who had been ‘in care’ as children. People with mental health problems, trafficked people, people with addictions, even people, often women, who are just very poor and couldn’t prioritise paying for a TV licence over feeding the kids.  Yet few politicians dare discuss all this in rational terms – not since the Tories weaponised crime as a political issue.

The rot started in the 1980s, as did so much that is rotten in our society. The little remembered David Waddington was the punitive fool who abandoned the patrician liberalism of his predecessors Hurd and Whitelaw. Even the now worrying name of Leon Britton was not especially hard-line in his handling of prisons. Self-interest? No. Just a general political consensus that some issues require unexcitable handling and input from technocrats and people who understand the subject, rather than populist scaremongering of the tabloid type.

So that’s my election issue for today – Anthony Ray Hinton: A Warning.

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