Ex-convict Jonathan Aitken has been asked by the Centre for Social Justice to serve on a policy review commission on prison reform.
Adam Boulton’s blog reports the following reaction from Government Whip, Tom Watson:
This is a return to the disgraced, scandal-ridden Tory past.
What can we expect next from the Tories?
David Cameron should go all the way, bring in Jeffrey Archer to run a truth and reconciliation committee, draft Neil Hamilton in to advise him on parliamentary modernisation and scrutiny, and bring in Shirley Porter to overhaul his housing policy.
Hmm. Interesting. And here I was thinking that the Labour Party was into rehabilitation of wrongdoers and all that.
This is my view: Jonathan Aitken committed a very serious offence. He was duly punished, and he served his sentence. He has also publicly repented of his crime. As such, he should be free to contribute to society in any way that he can. If he has something to contribute to prison reform policy, then by all means, let’s hear it.
This issue reminded me of something that happened on this blog some months ago. I was taken to task by some people for allowing John Hirst, otherwise known as the Jailhouse Lawyer, to comment on my blog. The argument was that he had committed a very serious crime, had shown no public remorse, and so should not be permitted space on any decent weblog. Some people threatened to boycott my blog until I barred him. I refused. Part of my reasoning was that he had been punished for his crime, and that if he had something useful to say, I was interested in hearing it. I must say that almost all the supportive comments and emails I received were from people on the Left of the political divide. Maybe they understand instinctively the whole rehabilitation thing, I don’t know. However, for many reasons, I was very much cheered by their support.
Back to Jonathan Aitken. I wonder if Tom Watson would be making these comments if a non-Tory ex-offender had been appointed instead. Take the the Jailhouse Lawyer: he was in prison for a very long time, challenged the prison system in court, and is very well-versed in many aspects of prisoners’ rights. He has a lot of interesting insights into prison reform, and would no doubt have so much to offer to the debate, if asked. If the Jailhouse Lawyer had been invited, and had accepted, to serve on the panel, I wonder if Tom Watson would have condemned the appointment.
Of course he wouldn’t have condemned the appointment. The only reason he has criticised Aitken’s appointment is because Aitken is a Tory. That is the simple truth. I wrote a few days ago about principled bloggers, those who praise or criticize policy based on principle, regardless of whether or not the policy in question was advocated by their political allies or opponents. I know that Tom Watson is a party political man who owes much of his career achievement to the Labour Party, but that is no reason to eschew principle. If you believe in the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, particularly those that have shown remorse, and indicated a desire to serve, why should that principle change just because the ex-offender in question is from a different political party to yourself? Or maybe Tom Watson does not believe in rehabilitation at all, in which case, his comments are completely consistent. Somehow I doubt that.