A View From Middle England - Conservative with a slight libertarian touch - For Christian charity and traditional belief - Free Enterprise NOT Covert Corporatism

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Prison won't work for Stephen Fry - Tweet-Tweet!

Working at a proper pace in a disciplined manner
I've read or heard about two things this morning, tenuously linked in my brain. The first is that Kenneth Clarke has been harrumphing about prison not being a suitable punishment for offenders. He'd rather criminals do eight hours a day unpaid work. Stephen Fry has been twittering about going to prison if a certain Paul Chambers, convicted and fined for sending a menacing communication (by Twitter), does not have his appeal upheld. Two problematic issues for me.

First, Kenneth Clarke is often seen as a liberally minded conservative. He likes his Hush Puppies, his jazz (he had his own coalition once with Michael Meadowcroft and John "Johnny" Prescott!) and his cigars. However, I think he makes a good point in a blunt and bruising way. In an interview with The Times, he said the current number of people being sent to prison was “financially unsustainable”. He said, “It is just very, very bad value for taxpayers’ money to keep banging them up and warehousing them in overcrowded prisons where most of them get toughened up.” He insisted that he was not “soft on crime”. He said that offenders would be given tougher community service punishments involving doing unpaid work for up eight hours a day. “I want them to be more punitive, effective and organised. Unpaid work should require offenders to work at a proper pace in a disciplined manner rather than youths just hanging around doing odd bits tidying up derelict sites.”

A proper pace in a disciplined manner? It all sounds good but it gives the impression of not being thought out properly. Perish that thought, maybe? Yes, we have overcrowded prisons but some criminals need to be behind bars. In much of what he says there is truth. But I'm afraid this truth needs to be in far more voter-friendly words and in a policy that will truly convince. The vast majority of the public care little about prisons. They would far rather gossip about perceived crime.

Stephen Fry is often seen as a liberally minded thespian , writer and comedy guru. He has proved to be an all round talent in such shows as Not The Nine O'Clock News, Kingdom, QI and the Blackadder series. And he is a self-confessed Twitter geek. He is apparently taken with computer things, an interest sparked by his friendship with Douglas Adams. It is his twittering that often gets him into the public eye as a controversial character. He has now said he is "prepared to go to prison" in support of the appeal which Mr.Chambers has lodged.

The thing here is that I don't think that banter, fair critical comment or even sarcastic humour enters the fray. This man admits he was suffering from a "moment of frustration" caused by Doncaster Sheffield (Robin Hood) Airport being closed due to snow. He sent a tweet saying, "Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!". We've all experienced a moment of frustration at airports but we don't tell them we'll blow them sky high. How is this described as banter, as his solicitor David Allen Green suggests?

Nobody at the airport reading this could have taken it as "banter". Quite rightly, they were concerned. This is nothing to do with free speech. Mr Green says, "We should be able to have banter. We should be able to speak freely without the threat of legal coercion." But, going back to Oliver Wendell Holmes, that does not mean being able to shout fire in a crowded theatre.

Where is the scintintilla of humourous banter in saying "otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high"? Freedoms must surely come with personal responsibilities. I don't want Twitter or any other communication method curtailed, but this is not the case to be fighting for freedoms.

If Stephen Fry does go to prison he may not be in for long. He could end up writing plays eight hours a day for no pay, at a proper pace in a disciplined manner! Now that would be something.


"Quite rightly, they were concerned."

As a matter of simple fact, they were not. You really should get your details correct before writing...

Well, they were reported as being concerned! You appear quick to find fault. I might take it that you don't find any of this alarming. Actually, from what I can find of your comments, you appear totally at ease with a person suggesting that an airport should be blown sky high. Your moments of frustration might be something to behold!

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