Yesterday, I wrote...
"Hold your fire while I straighten my body armour. Commenters armed with arsenals of insults about handwringing liberals may care to spare me their best shots on discovering that I hope the killer of Rhys Jones is quickly found and then locked up for a long time. They may be interested to learn that I didn't choke on my wholemeal muesli while reading yesterday morning's newspaper applause for David Cameron's speech and mini-manifesto on crime.
True, what the seething classes applaud as solid, old-school commonsense I regard as more PR than the sturdier stuff that had gone before: cheerleaders for "zero tolerance" policing never explain why murder rates dropped just as quickly everywhere else in America as they did in Rudy Giuliani's New York, but, hey, it sure sounds tough! That said, I'd be quite happy for a future PM Dave to trash the police targets culture and have more cops walking the beat. I doubt they'd catch more teenage gangsters but their presence might encourage the fearful to re-take the streets and that would help.
Listen, punk, I don't eat muesli. And I'm all for any measure that keeps violent youths from spreading fear in neighbourhoods, even if it means my losing a bit of civil liberty along the way. We can quarrel forever about what the crime stats really mean but it is graphically clear that among certain groups in certain places - including the one where I live - the gang and the gun have grown from rarities into fixtures and that is not acceptable.
Tough action is required. Trouble is, politicians and much of the public have warped ideas about what counts as tough. If by tough we mean swaggering about swinging a pair of handcuffs, then Tony Blair and the string of Rebekah-pleasers he appointed home secretary - Straw, Blunkett, Reid - put on a big, butch show that bombed. But if by tough we mean effective, then let's soberly accept that the toughest remedies are by far the hardest both to implement and to sell.
On Sunday night's Westminster Hour (listen again from 10 minutes in) I was cheered to hear junior justice minister Maria Eagle rebut the usual crowd-pleasing slogans. There were no muesli-fed illusions. The people who need dealing with "are not," she understated, "a prepossessing bunch". But she challenged, for example, the glib view that lads turn bad simply because some of them don't see dad, pointing out that, on the contrary, many are the products of long-established criminal families: they are hoodies born of hoods just carrying on the family firm. Far from abdicating personal responsibility, its members are exercising their own version of it in their own terrifying - and sometimes terrified - way.
Such are the stark truths the seething classes will not face. They'll bluster all day about longer sentences and more jails but lack the brains, bottle or both to recognise that even if the swish of a big stick were to produce results it wouldn't solve the ingrained problem, something even David Cameron knows. The nihilist element that blights urban lives, especially those of the poorest - booming Britain's forgotten third - can imagine leading no other kind of life. So our society has a choice: it can hold its nose and help them to become civilised or it can hide from reality. As Maria Eagle put it: 'Tabloids that now complain about gun-related crime would be the first to complain about spending lots of money to focus effort on these people who are beyond the pale. We have to decide as a society do we want to tackle this problem or do we just want tabloid headlines?'"
I know where I stand. Do Eagle's bosses feel the same way? And have they the courage to behave accordingly?"
...and here's where I wrote it.