So the Prime Minister is rattling the sabre again. After a week of embarrassment and bad news, he is to announce a tough new approach to crime and imprisonment, in which ‘retribution will not be a dirty word’. And the £46 routinely given to prisoners on release may be cut. The BBC reporter said that this would ‘steady Tory nerves’, and presumably thereby re-establish David Cameron’s authority as leader.
It’s a very well-known syndrome: you experience a failure or defeat, and respond by asserting power and a strong-man image. That was what I found in today’s gospel (Mark 10:35-45): James and John had shared the disciples’ failure to cope with 5000 to feed, or to understand the Transfiguration, or to heal a young epileptic. So they ask to have the best seats in heaven – blustering their way to power, covering failure with assertion of ego.
Contrast Aung San Suu Kyi who simply accepted her situation and did not try to grab power by compromise of her principles or sheer force. Once ‘despised and rejected’, she is now being hailed and welcomed and honoured.
The tragedy is that there is always a cost. Aung San Suu Kyi’s family suffered. And it may well be that many prisoners will suffer too from Cameron’s law and order drive, for not all prisoners are alike, and many women in Scotland really need that £46 to get a bus, a meal and a bed when they emerge from Cornton Vale Prison. I thought we had passed beyond retribution as a solution to crime, or even as a category of thinking in justice policy, but it seems not. I just hope that his words about extending rehabilitation do translate into action. It’s about serving others, not bolstering the ego.