There’s been a lot of talk this past week about “Tory knife crime plans”. (The plans under discussion are for mandatory prison sentences for anyone convicted twice for carrying a knife.)
News websites change rapidly, so one headline that particularly caught my attention – “Clegg attacks Tory knife crime plan” – is no longer to be found. I’d made a note of it, though, as that badly chosen verb “attack” bothered me.
For a bored subeditor, making up punny headlines can be fun, but I think there’s a point when serious news should be treated seriously. (True, my post title is slightly frivolous, but this is a personal blog not an official news provider.)
I have a personal interest in the story as I almost always carry two knives with me: a Swiss Army knife and a tiny silver penknife with a mother-of-pearl handle. I’ve carried them for years and, after living abroad for so long, I’m out of touch with current UK laws.
Although the headline has changed, the news story is still on the BBC website, but the text has been tweaked and re-jigged and the emphasis is now on Labour’s support rather than Clegg’s disapproval. I didn’t take a screen shot of the page when I first saw it, but Google has a cached version which confirms my feeling that the earlier page was very much darker and bleaker.
The big picture of a knife was particularly melodramatic, and not improved by the caption: The proposal seeks to jail an adult convicted for the second time of possessing a knife for six months.
I read it and wondered: would my two knives mean only one conviction is needed to result in jail time? After all, I’ve been in possession of them both for a lot longer than six months.
In the earlier version of the BBC story, Mr Clegg was quoted as saying, “Imagine a vulnerable young girl hanging round with members of a gang. She could be forced into carrying a knife by another gang member; it happens a lot.”
He could equally well have said, “Imagine an elderly lady with badly fitting dentures who aspires to gentility yet wishes to eat fruit in public.”
Or even, “Imagine a middle-aged female who wants to be able to adjust a curtain rail, re-wire a plug, or open beer and wine bottles and spread brie on French bread at an impromptu picnic.” The Swiss Army has come to my aid in all those situations and more.
As I write this, there is another recent news story in the back of my mind. Sometimes, when life is particularly fraught, a tiny part of me has wondered whether a short spell in prison might give a respite from the world: time to think; time to catch up on some reading. That’s no longer likely to work, though, given the ban on books being sent to prisoners. That link is to an article by Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform; there is more recent news about the Books for Prisoners Campaign on the English Pen website.