Softly-softly approach to crime has failed dismally

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Kenneth Clarke has stymied the Prime Minister’s plans for a reshuffle because he refuses to budge from his job as Justice Secretary.

Most people think it’s a perfect moment for the boss to exercise some authority, but David Cameron is nervous about forcing the issue.

He realises Clarke is more left-wing than some of his Lib Dem coalition colleagues, and acts as a sort of ideological buffer zone around the fractious cabinet table at Number 10.

But Cameron should follow his instincts, do what most Conservatives want and rid himself of Clarke before more damage is done.

What the Justice Secretary and his ilk refuse to accept (or are too arrogant to acknowledge) is that their softly-softly approach has failed dismally.

Why? Because they continue to credit thugs and yobs with far more intelligence than the vast majority of them actually possess.

Bleeding-heart liberals fondly believe these reprobates appreciate the help and consideration invariably offered by the courts – but they regard them merely as a sign of weakness.

This is why figures reveal almost 20,000 criminals re-offended last year after being given community service orders, while a similar number were dragged back before the magistrates after failing to comply with the terms of the punishment.

The police must think they are operating on some sort of tragic roundabout, as, month in and month out, they arrest and re-arrest the same people who have no respect for themselves, for us or the law.

This is because they are being indulged by a government which appears to have forgotten that punishment must also involve a deterrent if it is going to work.

It’s not always possible to reason with young criminals, who routinely reoffend because they have no fear of authority or the consequences of flouting it.

If justice is to be seen to work in a civilised society, offenders have to be punished and the public has to be protected.

Under Kenneth Clarke’s calamitous watch, neither of these priorities has been acknowledged, let alone properly implemented.