November 04, 2003

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Daniel McCarthy has an interesting analysis of Michael Howard, the most probable next leader of the UK's Conservative Party:

The sinister reputation that has dogged him was acquired while he served as Home Secretary in John Major's government. He had made some missteps before, such as supporting the massively unpopular Poll Tax that brought down the Thatcher government. But it's for his tenure as Home Secretary that Howard is best remembered by the British public. He was a champion of hard-line policies. "Prison works" was his motto.

Howard campaigned to create a national ID card as a means to fight illegal immigration, and he curtailed the British "right to silence" -- roughly analogous to the Fifth Amendment -- so that juries could infer guilt from a defendant's refusal to answer questions. He tried to centralize Britain's police forces under the control of his office, a move which prompted one former Home Secretary, fellow Tory Sir Willie Whitelaw, to accuse him of politicizing law enforcement.

Controversial these measures were but crime statistics fell by some 18 percent under Howard, and his policies proved popular not only with the Tory grassroots but also, surprisingly, with certain Labour ministers. The present Home Secretary under Tony Blair, David Blunkett, has resurrected Howard's idea for a national ID card, for example, as a post-September 11 counter-terrorist measure. Howard himself, in turn, has supported some of Labour's Home Office initiatives, such as a proposal to abolish the prohibition on "double jeopardy" in murder cases.