It is always fascinating to watch how, as Tory ministers sniff ways of saving money, they reach for policies that seem to run against the natural instincts of their party. For example, open-plan primary schools, allied to informal, child-centred education, became all the rage under the Tories in the early 1960s. This was because somebody in the bowels of the Treasury calculated that, as internal walls cost money and use up space, open-plan would make for cheaper, smaller buildings to accommodate a growing child population.
Again, in the 1980s, the Tories decided they agreed with liberals who had been saying for years that it was a bad thing to lock up the mentally ill in big, rambling Victorian institutions. This enabled ministers to shut mental hospitals, sell off the buildings and their extensive grounds, and invent something called "care in the community", a distant ancestor of the "big society".
Now Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, tells us that far too many people are being locked up in prison and we should stop building new ones, because the whole system is ridiculously expensive. To be fair, Clarke has always been a liberal on crime and punishment, but I doubt he would make such a clear statement on the subject without at least tacit agreement from the Prime Minister.
The trouble is that "liberal" policies often are not as cheap as Tories think they are going to be. Teachers needed to be trained for open-plan schools, community services needed beefing up to look after the mentally ill. If people are to be kept out of prison, much more has to be spent on probation services and drug rehabilitation. If reconviction rates are to fall, prison education also needs to improve beyond all recognition. Yet the country's biggest provider of prison education, Manchester College, has announced plans to cut 300 jobs.
Doctoring the truth
Poor Dr David Kelly seems to have joined the improbable company of John F Kennedy and Diana, Princess of Wales in the list of those who can never be laid to rest. The Daily Mail continues to insist that he did not commit suicide, as do several MPs, including Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat--now a parliamentary undersecretary at the Department for Transport--who has written a whole book on the subject.
Kelly's death, in common with the deaths of the president and the princess, requires an extraordinary cover-up involving ministers, their aides, the police, the intelligence services, various members of the medical profession and numerous others if it was anything other than suicide.
It also, I think, requires a murderer. Mohamed Al Fayed named the Duke of Edinburgh as the guilty man in the case of Diana, and the vice-president (and presidential successor) Lyndon B Johnson was in the frame for Kennedy's murder. But the "it wasn't suicide" squad is strangely …