The new shadow Home Secretary is arguing for the return of the death penalty for cold- blooded, planned killing. He says that serial killers would be obvious examples - which raises the interesting question of whether serial killers necessarily plan or kill in cold blood; the evidence is, for example, that Dennis Nielsen killed when he was drunk and randy and listening to Wagner. He didn't plan anything except disposal of the bodies afterwards.
Now, you could argue that to kill one person thus is a misfortune, to kill thirteen looks like a bad habit - but I don't think you could call the man cold-blooded.
And why is the deciding thing going to be several killings ? - a single killing might be just as atrocious, or even more so, might have been planned in its every detail for months and years and luxuriated in long before it was done.
I oppose the death penalty partly because it is obscene that the state should engage in the business of revenge killing - my emotional reaction here comes in part from the fact that my father, who believes in capital punishment, always spent hours throwing up after he had been an official witness at hangings.
It is partly also because there will never be equity - people will be executed by mistake, as happens rather often in the US, or just because the newspapers decide that a particular crime is a capital one.
As it is, there are certain killers whom no Home Secretary will ever parole and politicians compete to ensure this. There are some trials where the newspapers decide guilt well in advance of any jury verdict or all the evidence - Soham is a case in point; if we bring back the death penalty, sooner or later someone innocent will be killed because of the combination of a police screwup, a newspaper campaign and politicians being greedy for votes.
If the Tories think this is a winning policy, then they will have to be fought even harder all the way than one would anyway.
The trouble is, you can't trust Blunkett not to decide that he believes in the death penalty too.
You have only to look at the nonsense that is being talked about the new high-tech identity/entitlement card to realize that the Home Office ministers would not recognize a principle if one bit them on the bum. Or, which is more worrying, a common sense idea.
I object to identity cards in principle, because ordinary citizens going about their business should not be accountable to anyone. This is why we have liberties as well as rights - liberties are non- negotiable and rights are part of a contract with the state. Since we do not have a constitution, it is important to preserve liberties even when they seem irrational - they are freedoms that keep an over-mighty state at bay. ( I value eighteenth century radicalism quite as much as utilitarianism.)
There is an idea around that an id card that is not just a piece of paper with your photo and signiature on it is somehow less objectionable rather than more. I object to the idea of having my fingerprints, retinal photo and probably before this is done my DNA in a central register - I object not for any particular reason, just because.
The idea that we will be made safer from identity theft by technology is a nonsense - forgery is a technology, and technology makes it easier rather than harder. If it is possible to steal someone's identity electronically, how much more so will it be when there are cards copied from the originals but with new biometric data substituted. Either the cards will be checked with a central register every time they are used - which would seriously compromise the security of the data since a register that is accessed millions of times a week is a register into which hacking is probable - or they won't be checked, in which case forgeries will not be detected. Since there is going to be a long period of grace during which registration is voluntary, identity thieves will be able to exploit that period to get their biometrics into the register ahead of the real person's.
Hi-tech id cards will encourage laziness and lack of checking - they will make us less secure because everyone will believe them to be entirely reliable.
The argument that their introduction favours the poor, who will otherwise be excluded from Europe and the USA when biometric cards become common is daft for three reasons. It assumes that we have to have things because the other cool kids have them - which has always been the argument for id cards and still sucks. It ignores the fact that to bar people from other European countries would be a breach of treaty obligations. It also includes the bizarre idea that everyone would be done a favour by being expected to cough up seventy pounds or so every few years.
I am particularly affronted by the way that my old colleague Fiona Mactaggart, who is now a junior minister at the Home Office, has chosen this moment to renegue on her past opposition to id cards. Actually, I don't think it is a matter of her sacrificing her principles to the lure of office, because I never especially thought of Fi as having principles; she is charming and ruthless and hard-working and it is perfectly possible to like and respect her without believing in her entire integrity.
What is the issue is that she has never quite got over being the socialist daughter of a mad right- wing Scots baronet. Tell her that something is good for equality or good for the poor and she will be suckered into believing in it rather too easily - it worries me that all David Blunkett has to do is tell his posher colleagues that a policy will play on the housing estates and they'll trip over in their hurry to swallow it.
Fiona has a record as a civil libertarian - she was chair of Liberty when I was deputy co-chair. She is also the woman with whom I quarreled first time around over her support for the Khmer Rouge, whose crimes she thought were evil lies spread by the CIA rather longer than was decent. It saddens me that now I have to quarrel with her over this - but she is wrong again and there is a pattern to her wrongheadedness.
And when it comes to the argument that nobody should object to id cards unless they have something to hide - well, frankly, most of us have something to hide. And that is just how it is.
Oh, and I saw 'Love Actually' and it is neither very good nor very bad, but it made me laugh in places and it made me wistful in others. Too much of the time it relies on soundtrack oldies to cover arbitrary segues from one storyline to another and there is too much cheap irony - on the other hand, I actually like the coincidences and the way it relies on six degrees of separation among a vast cast of characters. Richard Curtis is not a great figure in cinema, but he does have a voice that is all his own - this is getting slated, but it is pretty much a critical backlash rather than a fair judgement. I saw it with a large preview audience and they will all be telling their friends what a good time they had.
Its combination of cynicism and sentimentality disarms criticism - it does not hurt that it has an unsympathetic US president (Billy Bob Thornton) who gropes Martine McCutcheon thus causing the PM (Hugh Grant) to terminate the special relationship. A film in which that happens is kind of blessed in coming out in the week Bush comes to London...