“Raoul Moat was a callous murderer. Full stop, end of story.”
So said David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. Looking at the brutal nature of Moat’s crimes – one dead, two very seriously injured – it seems at first sight that Cameron’s comments were fair. A callous murderer – full stop, end of story.
Except that’s not the end of the story, because no human story is ever that simple. No one is going to defend Moat’s crimes, which were hideous and brutal and awful, and which spark justifiable revulsion.
But we need more from our politicians, and the Prime Minister should set an example. Dismissing people as callous murders is the easy, simplistic reaction of someone who doesn’t know all the facts. But we need better from our Prime Minister; we need him to see the nuance of each situation on which he comments.
Raoul Moat’s crimes were abhorrent, but he was also a damaged individual. He was both dangerous and vulnerable – as a significant number of people in Britain are. These crimes were heinous; but they were also tragic.
This new government, with a liberal ethic at its core, is not going to imprison every criminal (nor should it) . Thinking about how to maintain liberty while protecting the public is a major policy issue – and dismissing people simply as criminals, or murders and ending the debate there is not the answer to complex problems, esepcially since we know that understanding the reasons that criminals behave they way they do is a key to preventing further crime.
The Prime Minister betrayed a lack of nuance in his thinking and communication yesterday which should concern us, because of the way it implies he deals with other difficult situations: one look at the issue, one sentence, full stop, end of story. Few issues that cross the Prime Minister’s desk will ever be so simple.
Public policy is complex, the economy is complex, each person in this country is complex and contradictory. The Prime Minister operates in a world of shades of grey not black and white – and he has to show that he understands this if he wants to raise the standard of public debate in this country. We need nuance from the Prime Minister, not populism – we can get that in the tabloids or in the pub. The Prime Minister needs to show that empathy is not a vice, that the ability to recognise and evaluate different perspectives on any situation is a key attribute for a national leader, that the ability to understand why people do the things they do makes for an effective Prime Minister.
Good soundbite, Mr Cameron, – but we need to see that you see shades of grey.