Labour Plays the Willie Horton Card

by Alex Massie

There's one great advantage Labour has in this election: experience. Campaign experience, that is. Gordon Brown has been a tireless political bruiser for more than 30 years. Peter Mandelson is known as the "Prince of Darkness" for a reason, while Charlie Whelan, Brown's bovver-boy in the union movement, is a shameless propagandist only at home in the darker recesses of the political game. The Tories, by contrast, are young and inexperienced at this level.

So it's not a great surprise that Labour will play for keeps. Consider this passage from a speech Brown gave on crime today:

"Some argue that liberty dictates we should immediately wipe from the DNA database everyone who has been arrested but not convicted of an offence. But if we did this, some sickening crimes would have gone unsolved, and many dangerous criminals would have remained at large.

"Let me give you just one example. In May 1991, a woman confined to a wheelchair was attacked and raped by a man who tricked his way into her home. A DNA sample was recovered, but no suspect was found. In June 2007, South Yorkshire Police's 'cold case team' reinvestigated the case and the DNA sample was re-analysed using new techniques.

"A match was made with a profile from a man named Jeremiah Sheridan who had been arrested in 2005 in Cambridgeshire for a public order offence, but not convicted.

"It proved very difficult to trace Sheridan - but after the case was highlighted on 'Crimewatch' in 2008, South Yorkshire Police got several new leads including one that Sheridan was in Australia. He was arrested on his return at Heathrow airport and, last September, having pleaded guilty, he was sentenced to 16 and a half years."

[...]"The next time you hear somebody question the value of retaining DNA profiles from those who have been arrested but not convicted, remember Jeremiah Sheridan."

Yes, some of us do argue that liberty dictates that the state keep its paws off our DNA! Among those people: the Scottish Labour party who, in eight years in power at the devolved government in Edinburgh, refused to copy the DNA-farming approach favoured by the Labour party south of the border.

Sometimes, it is true, this will have unfortunate, even grisly, consequences, but this is one of the few areas in which the Tories approach to civil liberties has inspired some small measure of confidence. (Though even here many Tory MPs are less than enthusiastic about the leadership's approach to such matters of principle. As Henry Porter says, these are bleak times for liberty-minded folk in Britain.)

The chutzpah is, in its way, as magnificent as it is revolting. In a speech that, as Chicken Yoghurt points out, complained about the Tories exploiting fear of crime, the Prime Minister suggests that unless the state can maintain a comprehensive DNA database Britain may become a rapists' paradise.

Perhaps it's not quite a Willie Horton kind of affair but it's taken from the same playbook and shows both Labour's desperation and the levels to which it will sink.

And the logic of the government position is that everyone, regardless of police interest in their activities, should be on the DNA database. Otherwise the criminals will win. What next? Mandatory tracking chips to be implanted in all citizens? Why not? If it saves just one life then it will be worth it, as they say.

Except it won't. Because the general principle is, in this instance, more important than the particular cases the government chooses to highlight.

Sadly, however, we know live in Panopticon Britain so this kind of thing no longer comes as any surprise.